The Sickle and the Klezmer


The latest bumper crop of documentaries to be released on video includes a quirky look at Marxist musicals, a sweet tribute to a klezmer band and a fun-filled history of local burger joints.

“East Side Story” (Kino), a rollicking 1997 German documentary from filmmakers Dana Ranga and Andrew Horn, chronicles the history of Marxist musicals made behind the Iron Curtain during the height of Communist rule.

These musicals were populated not with glamorous Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers types, but singing and dancing farmers, collective workers, happy-go-lucky factory employees and socialist rock ‘n’ rollers.

Stalin, of all people, was a huge fan of the genre. During the 1930s, he saw “Volga Volga” hundreds of times. He was so smitten with director Grigori Alexandrov’s “The Jolly Fellows” that when the movie was banned because of a lack of ideology, Stalin had the ban lifted.


Besides a wealth of clips, the documentary features interviews with Chris Doerk and Frank Schobel, the former teen idol stars of the East German musical “Hot Summer,” and Karin Schroder, the “Doris Day of the East,” who starred in the charming “The Lovable White Mouse.”

Also new from Kino is Stefan Schwietert’s 1996 film “A Tickle in the Heart,” a delicate, charming little documentary about Max, Willie and Julie Epstein, three brothers who began playing klezmer music in New York six decades ago. As time changed, though, the sentimental music died out in their Brooklyn neighborhood. After moving to a retirement community in Florida, they found their careers revitalized.

To order either video, call (800) 562-3330.

Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that writer-director Henry Jaglom is a true auteur. H. Alex Rubin and Jeremy Workman’s “Who Is Henry Jaglom?” (First Run, $30), looks at the man some critics have called the “world’s worst director.” To order, call (800) 488-6652.

Animal lovers will coo over Acorn Media’s three-volume boxed set “First Breath: Cradle in the Sea” ($20 each; $50 for the set), a well-crafted wildlife documentary offering an intimate look at the ocean’s most adorable baby animals--the spotted dolphin, killer whale, sea

otter, gray whale, manatee and harbor seal. Susan Sullivan narrates.

Also available from Acorn is the PBS documentary “Kangaroos: Faces in the Mob” ($20). Winner of more than 20 international awards, the documentary presents an in-depth examination of the complicated society of the kangaroo.

For history buffs, Acorn has just released the Learning Channel documentary “Legends of the Isles” ($20 each, $80 for the set), a six-part series exploring such myths and legends of the British Isles as St. Patrick, Brendan the Navigator, the Holy Grail, Merlin the Wizard, Robin Hood, King Arthur and Bonnie Prince Charles. To order any of the Acorn products, call (800) 474-2277.


Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day is the BBC Video’s “The Celts” ($50), an ambitious, six-hour, three-part exploration of the vibrant, colorful heritage of the Celts. The documentary, which originally aired on the Learning Channel and PBS, features a soundtrack by Enya.

“Sex, Drugs & Democracy” (Red Hat Productions, $25) offers an eye-popping, uncensored visit to the Netherlands, the world’s most liberalized society. Not only is there a legalized sex industry in the country, there is also open sale of marijuana, equality for gays, government-funded abortion and sex education for children. Remarkably, the nation also has one of the lowest rates of drug use, addiction and AIDS transmission. To order, call (888) 311-9333.