April 23, 2024
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Old and new: Film and music event to showcase life in the shtetl

A still from the silent film A still from the silent film
A still from the silent film "The Ancient Law."

Silent films offer a glimpse into a now-lost world, but that experience wasn’t originally intended to be limited to the eyes. In their day, these films were often accompanied by live music.

That will also be the case on Nov. 3, when Binghamton University will screen The Ancient Law, a silent film from Weimar-era director Ewald A. Dupont. World-renowned klezmer violinist Alicia Svigals – of Klezmatics fame – and Donald Sosin, the celebrated silent film pianist, will perform an original score that brings the ground-breaking film to life. (Fun fact: Svigals is also the parent of a Binghamton student.)

Free and open to the public, the event will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. in Casadesus Recital Hall in the Fine Arts Building on campus.

Organized and sponsored by the Judaic Studies Department, the program is also supported by a grant from the Sunrise Foundation for Education and the Arts, based in La Jolla, Calif. Additional sponsors include the music, cinema, and German and Russian departments, as well as the College of Jewish Studies, a community outreach initiative through the Judaic Studies Department.

The 1920s German-Jewish film tells the story of a rabbi’s son, torn between his love of music and Vienna’s modern charms, and the joys of his small-town Jewish community. Told with loving authenticity, the story provides a perfect vehicle for the klezmer-based musical artistry of Svigals and Sosin.

“The movie is wonderful, and it features some amazing performances from the world of Yiddish theater in the 1920s. The film is also unusual for its loving depiction of what was known as the shtetl, the equivalent of small-town America but in Yiddish-speaking Europe,” said Judaic studies lecturer Gina Glasman.

“But there’s a dark side to this,” she continued. “Many of those involved in the making of The Ancient Law were murdered by the Nazis.”

Dupont was an experimental, cutting-edge film director in Germany at the time, but eventually had to flee with the rise of the Nazi regime. He ended up in Hollywood, where he was consigned largely to B-list projects, and took almost a 10-year hiatus before returning to filmmaking in the 1950s.

A first for Binghamton’s Judaic studies program, the event features an exciting and poignant fusion of cultures, according to Glasman.

“We have this unique combination of cinema and music — an old movie and the contemporary score — and a Yiddish story of old world versus a tantalizing glimpse into the possibilities of a European and Jewish world before the whole thing disappears,” she said.

Posted in: Arts & Culture, Harpur