IMAGE BEFORE MY EYES -- At the Inner Circle.
"Image Before My Eyes," a sporadically effective 90-minute documentary about Polish Jews between the world wars, would have been better suited to PBS so that interested parties could resort to "Silas Marner" during drier moments.
Funded by the National Endowment for the arts, "Image," a film by Josh Waletzky, was first presented four years ago as a photographic exposition of the culture that evolved in the shtetls before the Nazi invasion in 1939. Much of what's good about the film derives from the original portfolio, an ephemeral collage of wraiths and shadows.
A scratchy soundtrack, mellifluous narration and first-person interviews in Yiddish or Polish accompany the photographs and home movies taken before the Nazis eliminated all but 250,000 of the 3.5 million Polish Jews.
Many of the home movies were made in the 1930s by successful American Jews who traveled to Poland in search of their roots. There are jerky frames of large, proud families in stern Sabbath garb, bowing to the camera, then solemnly circling the clan patriarch, who peers over his long white beard at the camera with shy patience and an awed eye for technology.
The four-part photographic parade, occasionally interrupted for a rambling, intimate interview, goes on: beggars, bagels, farmhouses, townhouses, schools for the poor, schools for the rich, Montessori schools for the smart, schools for kids with tuberculosis, Hebrew schools for boys, vocational schools for girls.
It's a numbing, plodding catalogue of the budding and wilting of a culture.
What remains of the last days of Polish Judaism? An ancient emigre sings in a bright reedy voice the Yiddish pop music of her girlhood. Dreams have turned to ashes. "Image Before My Eyes" has not breathed life into the dust.