The world of Israeli cinema is now finishing the Sabbath for one of its pillars – Uri Klein. The bitter news of his death arrived last Friday, in the midst of the Jerusalem Festival, and it is hard to imagine a more poetic timing than this. Many of his lovers were at that time in one place, in the narrow corridor of the Jerusalem Cinematheque, so they could mourn him together. The festival responded quickly and accompanied the remaining screenings with a slide in his memory. The audience, for its part, responded to her with applause. There is almost no film lover in the country who did not know and cherish the legendary critic.
This death is also the end of an era. Klein together with Meir Schnitzer formed the legendary Nephilim duo known as “Schnitzklein”, and both are no longer active. Schnitzer, our beloved friend who wrote on the pages of this newspaper, chose to stop publishing movie reviews. Klein actually continued to write until the last moment, but death ended his work.
Thus ended the era of authority. Klein had a huge importance in the local market. His ongoing reviews had a great influence on the films that audiences chose to see in cinemas, cinemas and festivals; The “Movies on TV” section, one of the oldest sections in the Israeli media, had an equally great influence on what fans of the big screen saw on the small screen. Directors, producers, distributors and public relations people would wait with excitement or anxiety for what he would say about their works. No local critic was an authority like him, and not only in the field of cinema.
Seven years ago, Uri Klein was at the center of the Jerusalem Festival under happier circumstances – he received a lifetime achievement award from the festival. On this occasion, I tried to explain how he became a legend in his lifetime. Klein’s status, I wrote then and it is still true now, was built thanks to several factors. First of all, of course, the pure quality of his writing, which was eloquent, polished, flowing and enjoyable even regardless of his vast knowledge of the art of cinema and his understanding of it.
But there were also two more important reasons. The first – his fairness. People were so upset by Klein’s scathing reviews because they knew his mouth and heart were equal. He was not connected to any clique, and he had no extra-journalistic activities that might have biased his judgment, nor any prejudices. There are critics who can be accused of all kinds of interests or fixations. In his case, all that is left is to accept that this is his opinion.
A second and even more unusual thing: even after all these years, even after everything that happened to the world of journalism during them and even after all the grit that the world of modern cinema fed him, Klein did not lose his passion – neither his passion for writing nor his passion for the big screen. Until his last breath, his vision was sharp and his writing was as fresh as a cinematographer’s mouse that had just set out to plow the theaters on the big break.
Perhaps the best illustration of the significance that Klein had is the amount of obituaries that were written about him during this week, and the degree of emotion and appreciation that was in them. The obituaries were written by people who worked with Klein in the “Haaretz” system and also his direct competitors, as far as one can talk about “competition” in a niche field like film criticism. They were written by young and old, men and women, people who were close to him and those who never met him personally.
I have accumulated thousands of quality hours with Klein – at media screenings, at festivals, on work trips and the like, but on all these occasions, I never had dinner with him or drank coffee with him. Klein, who even now I dare not call “Uri”, never wasted his time on such things. He never “spent”. He had more important things to do.
Klein died too soon, but at least he always knew well how to use the time he had. Even in the last act of his life he was in a creative mood. In the last few weeks, for example, he met with the directors of Cinematech Tel Aviv to create a special program of some of his favorite films, and unfortunately it will already start without him. Not long ago I also talked to him about another idea: publishing a book that would include his best writings, and he will never see that again in his lifetime. What would be in such a book? There is no shortage of things to choose from. His texts are so memorable that successful examples can be pulled from the sleeve without the need to browse the archives.
The articles Perry wrote about “Schindler’s List”, about “One of Ours” and his meeting with François Truffaut, for example, are among the most amazing I have ever read, and not only in the field of cinema. Whenever I had to discuss a movie, I always checked what he wrote about it, and I will continue to do so. Uri Klein is no longer with us, but his legacy is here forever – bigger than life, bigger than him, bigger than the movies he loved.