Adina Hoffman - Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures - Jonathan Rosenbaum

Wednesday, February 20, 2019 - 6:00pm - 7:00pm
Event Presenter/Author: 
Adina Hoffman

“Ben Hecht and the American movie business grew up together, trading punches. Adina Hoffman captures this often destructive force of nature in all his cynicism and fervor, and is especially incisive dealing with his long struggle to find a Jewish identity that could fit his cantankerous personality. This book makes you wish you'd known the guy, if only to watch the sparks he threw off.”—John Sayles

Adina Hoffman discusses Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures. She will be joined in conversation by Jonathan Rosenbaum. A Q&A and signing will follow the discussion.

At the Co-op

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About the book: Ben Hecht was, according to Pauline Kael, “the greatest American screenwriter.” Jean-Luc Godard called him “a genius” who “invented 80 percent of what is used in Hollywood movies today.” Besides writing dozens of now-classic scripts—including Scarface, Twentieth Century, and Notorious—Hecht was known in his day as ace reporter, celebrated playwright, taboo- busting novelist, and the most quick-witted of provocateurs. During World War II, he also emerged as an outspoken crusader for European Jews, and later he became a fierce propagandist for pre-1948 Palestine’s Jewish terrorist underground, a fact that brought about his own private blacklisting by Hollywood. Whatever the outrage he stirred, Hecht came to embody much that defined America—especially Jewish America—in his time.

In Ben Hecht: Fighting Words, Moving Pictures, to be published February 12, 2019 by Yale, award-winning writer Adina Hoffman brings this charismatic and contradictory figure back to life on the page. Hecht was a renaissance man of dazzling sorts, and Hoffman—critically acclaimed biographer, former film critic, and eloquent commentator on Middle Eastern culture and politics—is uniquely suited to capture him in all his modes.

Taking readers through the backstreets and backlots of Chicago, Hollywood, Broadway, Berlin, Racine, Wisconsin, and Nyack, New York, Hoffman’s vivid account is also a tour across twentieth-century culture, and features appearances by Sherwood Anderson, Katharine Hepburn, H. L. Mencken, Carl Sandburg, George Grosz, Clarence Darrow, David O. Selznick, Kurt Weill, Eleanor Roosevelt, Groucho Marx, Menachem Begin, Marilyn Monroe, the gangster Mickey Cohen, and many more.

About the author: Essayist and biographer Adina Hoffman writes often of the Middle East, approaching it from unusual angles and shedding light on overlooked dimensions of the place, its people, and their cultures. She is the author of House of Windows: Portraits from a Jerusalem NeighborhoodTill We Have Built Jerusalem: Architects of a New City, and My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century, which was named one of the best twenty books of 2009 by the Barnes & Noble Review, one of the top ten biographies of the year by Booklist, and won the UK’s 2010 Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize. She is also the author, with Peter Cole, of Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, which won the American Library Association’s award for the Jewish Book of the Year.

Hoffman’s essays and criticism have appeared in The NationThe Washington PostThe TLSRaritanBookforumThe Boston GlobeNew York Newsday, "Tin House," and on "The World Service of the BBC." She is formerly a film critic for The American Prospect and The Jerusalem Post. A Guggenheim Foundation Fellow, she was named one of the inaugural (2013) winners of the Windham-Campbell prize for literature. She lives in Jerusalem and New Haven.

About the interlocutor: Jonathan Rosenbaum was film critic for The Chicago Reader from 1987 to 2008. His books include Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia (2010), The Unquiet American: Transgressive Comedies from the U.S. (2009), Discovering Orson Welles (2007), Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons (2004), Movie Mutations: The Changing Face of World Cinephilia (coedited with Adrian Martin, 2003), Abbas Kiarostami (with Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa, 2003; expanded 2nd edition, 2018), Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films We Can See (2000), Dead Man (2000), Movies as Politics (1997), Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism (1995), This is Orson Welles by Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich (edited, 1992), Greed (1991), "Midnight Movies" (with J. Hoberman, 1983), Film: The Front Line, 1983, and Moving Places: A Life at the Movies (1980). He has taught at Béla Tarr’s Film.Factory in Sarajevo (2013-2015), the National Film School of Iran (2018), and at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago (where his course and film series devoted to Orson Welles starts at the Gene Siskel Film Center in late January 2019). He maintains a web site archiving most of his work at

Event Location: 
The Seminary Co-op Bookstore
5751 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637