Hava Nagila: The Movie shows how the titular song has become a cultural touchstone, both loved and loathed.
HAVA NAGILA: THE MOVIE (Roberta Grossman). 75 minutes. Opens Friday (May 31). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNN
This entertaining documentary tracks the journey of the titular song from 19th-century Chassidic melody to North American bar mitzvah staple to international cliché.
Conversations with musicians, archivists and Jewish scholars shed light on the roots of the tune and why it had such an impact, and clips of parodies by Laugh-In, Alan Sherman and, yes, Bob Dylan, prove its pop cultural power.
The song has been covered by everybody from Chubby Checker to Celia Cruz. Even Elvis had a crack at it, and it was a huge hit for mainstream artists like Harry Belafonte and Connie Francis, both interviewed here. Strangely, the pic fails to mention how Hava Nagila pumps up the fans at hockey arenas all over the continent.
The song, especially during the 50s and 60s, became identified with Jewish culture - home movies of bar mitzvah blowouts in the American suburbs figure prominently - much to the embarrassment of Jewish klezmer artists, who have made it their mission to bury it.
Director Roberta Grossman deftly pursues the premise that the Hebrew ode to joy (Hava Nagila translates as Come, Let Us Rejoice) has a way of starting the party, no matter what your religion or ethnicity.
But I'm not sure the appeal of the film goes beyond a Jewish audience.