Everyone, and I mean everyone, knows the music for “Hava Nagila.” For sure you’ve heard it at bar and bat mitzvahs, but it also pops up at ball games and weddings–Jewish and Gentile alike. But who knew there was so much history behind it? Once you watch “Hava Nagila (The Movie)”, you’ll understand the joy and happiness behind the song.
Director/producer Roberta Grossman wanted to know how “Hava Nagila” began and what accounted for its universal appeal. She decided to explore the song’s history and what a history it is. The journey for answers takes her to the Ukraine, Israel, the Catskills and New York City. Along the way various theologians, professors and just plain folk weigh in with their thoughts about the song–some serious, some not so much. It’s all quite fascinating and much of it is very funny.
In addition to the history, Grossman provides us with many of the curious musical turns the song has taken—from Glenn Campbell who recorded it for the “B” side of “True Grit” to Chubby Checkers who turned the song into the Twist to Bob Dylan who offers the strangest, worse iteration “Hava Nagila” has ever known…it is truly awful. Harry Belafonte gives a lengthy interview and notes that “Hava Nagila” and the “Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” are his two most requested songs to this day. And the duet he performs with Danny Kaye is absolutely priceless. The film also features the queen of “Hava Nagila,” Connie Francis. Although she’s probably performed more Jewish songs than any Jew or Gentile ever…and for the record she’s Italian Catholic…”Hava Nagila” is one of her most popular songs.
The movie jumps into the current legal dispute regarding the authorship of “Hava Nagila’s” lyrics. For years it was thought to be written by musicologist A.Z. Idelsohn, but the family of New York cantor Moshe Nathanson recently claimed that it is Nathanson, who was Idelsohn’s student in Jerusalem, who wrote the lyrics as part of a school assignment. The dispute is now in the courts. Oy vey!
“Hava Nagila (The Movie)” also discusses the relationship between the Hora dance and “Hava Nagila” and how the two have become intertwined. The clips of so many different cultures performing the dance and song together makes for great comedy.
Grossman and writer/producer Sophie Sartain do a terrific job in capturing the fun and ubiquitousness that is “Hava Nagila.” The song is so universally known that it’s quite possible many people think it’s the Israeli national anthem. It’s not (and for the record, neither is Ferrante and Teicher’s theme from “Exodus”). In fact, Israel is one of the few countries and cultures not to fully embrace “Hava Nagila.” That is just one of the many fascinating facts you’ll learn from “Hava Nagila (The Movie).”
“Hava Nagila” (The Movie)” can be downloaded at: http://watchhavanagilathemovie.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/watch-hava-nagila-the-movie-2013-online/.