Monday, January 4, 2021

Godspeed Joan Micklin Silver

Joan Micklin Silver, who directed such movies as Hester Street (1975) and Crossing Delancey (1988), died on December 31 2020 at the age of 85. The cause was vascular dementia.

Joan Micklin Silver was born on May 24 1935 in Omaha, Nebraska. Her family were Russian Jewish immigrants who operated a local, family owned lumber company. In 1956 she graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a Bachelor of Arts degree. It was that same year that she married Raphael Silver, to whom she remained married until his death in 2013. Raphael Silver's father was noted rabbi, Abba Hillel Silver. Raphael Silver served as a producer on her films.

In 1967 Joan Micklin Silver and her husband moved to New York City. There she began her film career writing scripts for children's educational films made by Encyclopedia Britannica. In 1972 she directed her first film, the documentary short "The Immigrant Experience: The Long Long Journey." It was followed by the shorts "The Fur Coat Club" in 1973 and the short "The Case of the Elevator Duck" in 1974. She made her feature film debt as a director with Hester Street (1975). Hester Street received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress for Carol Kane. In 2011 it was included in the National Film Registry. Hester Street was followed by Between the Lines (1977) and Head Over Heels (1979). She co-wrote the screenplay for the feature film Limbo with Linda Gottlieb. Mrs. Micklin Silver also directed the TV movie Bernice Bobs Her Hair, which aired in 1976..

In the Eighties Joan Micklin Silver directed the TV movies How to Be Perfect in Just Three Days (1983) and Finnegan Begin Again (1985). What was her biggest popular success, Crossing Delancey, was released in 1988. It received a Golden Globe nomination for Golden Globe for the film, for Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical for Amy Irving. It was followed by the comedy Loverboy (1989).

In the Nineties Joan Micklin Silver directed the TV movies A Private Matter (1992), In the Presence of Mine Enemies (1997), and Invisible Child (1999). She directed segment 2 of the anthology TV movie Private Stories: Women on the Inside (1991) and an episode of the TV show Sisters. She directed the feature films Big Girls Don't Cry... They Get Even (1991) and A Fish in the Bathtub (1998). In the Naughts she directed the TV movies Charms for the Easy Life (2002) and Hunger Point (2003).

In addition to her work in film and television, she and directed the play A... My Name Is Alice with Julianne Boyd.

Joan Micklin Silver may well have been one of the most courageous directors in film history. It was not enough that she was a female director working in a field dominated by men; many of her films were not of the sort that the movie industry thinks of as commercial. Hester Street not only centred on Russian Jewish immigrants, but contained dialogue in Yiddish. Studio executives thought Crossing Delancey was "too ethnic." As it turned out, Crossing Delancey appealed greatly to audiences, receiving positive reviews and doing modest box office. It has since become regarded as a classic.

What made Joan Micklin Silver such a great director is that she often gave audiences glimpses into worlds with which they might not be familiar, filled with three dimensional characters. Both Hester Street and Crossing Delancey gave audiences a glimpse into Jewish life, although the movies are set a century apart. Between the Lines centred on an alternative newspaper in Boston. Even her more mainstream movies, such as Big Girls Don't Cry...They Get Even, focused on worlds with which the average viewer might not be familiar. The protagonist of Big Girls Don't Cry...They Get Even was a teenager who belonged to a large, dysfunctional family, whose father has been married multiple times. It is sad that the Hollywood establishment so often resisted Joan Mickin Silver, as many of her projects were never produced. We are fortunate in having the seven features that Mrs. Micklin Silver directed, but we could have had much more. She was certainly a daring and talented director.

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