Playing For Time -30th Anniversary Screening at Jewish Museum of Cultural Heritage
On Wednesday, March 23, the Museum of Jewish Heritage presented the 30th anniversary screening of the 1980 TV movie, “Playing for Time.” The screenplay was written by Arthur Miller and was based on the autobiographical book by Fania Fenelon, a Jewish cabaret singer in Paris at the time of the Nazi invasion. Sent to Auschwitz, she kept herself alive, along with several other women, by playing in an orchestra that entertained Nazi officers.
Abby Spilka, the museum’s Director of Communications, introduced the film by explaining that when it first aired, “Playing for Time” was seen by 41% of the viewing audience in New York City, 35% of the viewing audience in Los Angeles, and 36% of the viewing audience in Chicago. “I can’t even conceive of what kind of show would have that kind of impact now,” she offered.
“Playing for Time” was shown in the museum’s large and well appointed theatre. The screening was co-presented by New York Women in Film & Television’s Women’s Film Preservation Fund.
After the screening there was a panel discussion. The panel included the film’s producer, Linda Yellen, casting director Lynn Kressel and Terry Lawler, Executive Director of New York Women in Film and Television.
Yellen addressed the controversy over lead actress Vanessa Redgrave’s support of the PLO, that surrounded the making of the film. “We all had death threats and the head of CBS had death threats. There was a lot of controversy because of the casting of Vanessa and how people felt about her political views.” She went on to explain that, “When we came to cast it we didn’t even think about that. We were just thinking about who were the greatest actresses in the world who could possibly be part of this, and she was one of the greatest.” Yellen explained that the controversy over Redgrave’s casting became world-wide news and that pressure was brought to fire her. She explained that CBS “stood very strong and was against the firing of Vanessa and this is what we have to show for it 30 years later.”
Having not seen “Playing for Time” before, I was impressed with the impact that a thirty-year-old TV movie could still have. Although I did find the film to be a bit long, and not always clear on its story points, it was still an evocative and harrowing view of the nightmarish, desperate situation in which these women find themselves, and the moral choices they must make while trying to keep their humanity in a world that has been turned completely upside down.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage is located at 36 Battery Place in Manhattan. “Playing for Time” was released on DVD in 2010 and is available on Netflix.