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The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground (Erik Greenburg Anjou, 2010). Seventh Art Releasing. 106 min.
Eatala: a Life in Klezmer (Barry Dornfeld & Debora Kodish, 2011). Philadelphia Folklore Project. 37 min.
Reviewed by Mikel J. Koven
Music documentaries are difficult creatures to discuss. How does one approach them? Should the evaluation of any documentary be based on its cinematic principles, that is, as a film? Or should discussion be limited to an evaluation only of the documentary’s content? Music documentaries complicate the discourse further: is this a biography film, charting the history of a band’s development? A film documenting a particular event, like a tour or particular concert? Or is the film exploring a particular ethnomusicological idea, a filmed essay on a music topic? All of these questions are up in the air when discussing any music documentary film, and one hopes that particular films will focus on one of these potential discourses. But, alas, that almost never happens.
Erik Greenburg Anjou’s The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. On Holy Ground covers tremendous ground trying to be, simultaneously, a history of the New York-based klezmer revivalist band The Klezmatics; a documentary of The Klezmatics’ 2007 tour of Poland; an exploration of the significance of Yiddishkeyt and its revival over the past twenty years; and a document of the band’s 2006 project of recording its first all-English album, Wonder Wheel, an album of unrecorded songs written by Woody Guthrie (who had a Jewish grandmother, Aliza Greenblatt). Because Anjou tries to cover so much content, each of the topics or themes he touches is never satisfactorily developed.
The Pope’s Maestro. Gilbert Levine. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010. 456 pp. + DVD. ISBN 978-0-4704-9065-5
Reviewed by John T. Pawlikowski
At the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II on May 1, 2011, a Brooklyn-born Jewish orchestra conductor had an honored seat in the audience. How this came to be for a traditional Jew with little prior contact with Catholic religious leaders is the basic narrative of this volume told from a first person perspective by Levine.
Levine’s grandparents emigrated to the United States from Poland. His mother-in-law is a survivor of Auschwitz. He has been a distinguished conductor who has performed with leading orchestras in North America, Europe, and Israel. In 1987 Levine was invited to serve as a guest conductor of the Krakow Philharmonic for one week. This is where his story begins. Read the rest of this entry »
The Socalled Movie (2010). Dir. Garry Beitel. Prod, Barry Lazar (reFrame Films) & Ravida Din (The National Film Board of Canada). 86 min.
In dispensing with the pretext of a continuous narrative and dividing his biopic on Josh Dolgin into eighteen parts to create a fragmented and kaleidoscopic portrait of this multi-faceted Montreal musician, Garry Beitel’s The Socalled Movie has made a symbolic statement that registers in a Jewish key. For the structure of the film signals in Jewish numerological terms (where Chai/Life = 18) that it is the superabundance of life itself with all of its gusto and exuberance that this project seeks to capture in documenting the on- and off-stage antics of its restless musical subject. Tracking Dolgin at home and on tour, the film illustrates how he has blended the genres of klezmer, hip hop, and funk into a potent and often rambunctious mix. Read the rest of this entry »
Music in Terezín 1941-1945. Joža Karas. 2nd ed. Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1-5764-7030-5
The Wonder and the Grace of Alice Sommer Herz: Everything is a Present. Dir. Christopher Nupen. DVD and Liner Notes. Allegro Films, 2009.
Shortly before his death in December 2008 Joža Karas completed the second edition of his book Music in Terezín 1941-1945, the culmination of a life’s work. When the book was originally published in 1985 it was path-breaking, documenting a largely unknown chapter in the history of the Holocaust: the lively and wide-ranging musical life in the “model ghetto” Terezín (in Czech, Theresienstadt in German). When Karas began his work as a “modest summer project” in 1970 (ix), very little music from the ghetto had been uncovered, and even less had been written about it. Karas, a Czech researcher and musician based in Connecticut, devoted the rest of his life to passionately researching the subject, conducting interviews across Europe, Israel, and the United States, undertaking archival research, and transcribing scores. In addition to publishing his book, he lectured widely on the subject, produced performing editions, and tirelessly promoted Terezín compositions in performances with his own string quartet, established expressly for that purpose. Karas himself conducted the American premiere of Brundibár in 1975 and the world premiere of the English version (in his own translation) in 1977. In short, the subject of music in Terezín has become well known among Western audiences thanks in large part to Karas’s pioneering efforts. Read the rest of this entry »