Film and music event to show life in the shtetl

Silent films offer a glimpse into a world now lost, but this experience was not originally intended to be limited to the eyes. In their time, these films were often accompanied by live music.

This will also be the case on November 3, when Binghamton University will screen The old law a silent film by Weimar-era director Ewald A. Dupont. World-renowned klezmer violinist Alicia Svigals – of Klezmatics fame – and Donald Sosin, acclaimed silent film pianist, will perform an original score that brings this groundbreaking 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 the Casadesus Recital Hall of the Fine Arts building on campus.

Organized and sponsored by the Department of Judaic Studies, the program is also supported by a grant from the Sunrise Foundation for Education and the Arts, based in La Jolla, California. Other sponsors include the Departments of Music, Film, and German and Russian, as well as as the College of Jewish Studies, a community outreach initiative through the Department of Judaic Studies.

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

“The film is wonderful, and it presents depictions of the Yiddish theater world in the 1920s. The film is also unusual for its loving depiction of what was known as a shtetl, the equivalent of a small American town but in Yiddish-speaking Europe,” said Gina Glasman, professor of Judaic studies.

“But there’s a dark side to it,” she continued. “Many of those who participated in the making of The old law were murdered by the Nazis.

Dupont was at the time an experimental and avant-garde filmmaker in Germany, but eventually had to flee with the rise of the Nazi regime. He found himself in Hollywood, where he was largely assigned to B-list projects, and took a nearly 10-year hiatus before returning to acting in the 1950s.

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

“We have this unique combination of film and music – an old film and the contemporary score – and a Yiddish history of the old world against a tantalizing glimpse of the possibilities of a European and Jewish world before everything is gone,” said she declared.