Silent Film Returns in Cine-gogue

Opus Osm

Molly Picon brings some wild western ways to the east, in the latest classic silent film with music performed by The Berg Orchestra.

Classic Silent Film Returns to the ‘Cine-gogue’

Composer Jan Dušek Premieres New Score for Film Series

Fans of classic silent films, the Berg Orchestra, composer Jan Dušek, or an entertaining evening — rejoice. A world premiere film score by Mr Dušek, performed by The Berg, to accompany the 1923 silent film East and West, awaits you Monday and Tuesday evening (Oct 15-16) at the Spanish Synagogue.

According to the film’s restorer and distributor, the National Center for Jewish Film in Massachusetts, the 85-minute film features classic comedy scenes starring the long-ago box office favorite Molly Picon.

She teaches young Jewish villagers in Galicia how to “shake it up, boys” in a shimmy (a risqué dance for 1923), steals away from religious services on Yom Kippur to enjoy a food binge before sundown, and even lifts weights and tries her hands at boxing.

Nearly a hundred years ago, this delightfully scandalous film might have been accompanied by a lone piano player. Next week, though, The Berg Orchestra will perform the lush mixture of both jazz and classical music composed for the event by Mr Dušek, scrupulously timed to the split-second action on the movie screen.

To prepare for his musical portrait of the ‘eastern’ world of the shtetl, Mr Dušek listened to old Prague recordings of authentic synagogue cantors, Eva Kesslová, public relations manager for the orchestra, says. He also listened to authentic recordings from an online data base of cantors and synagogue chants.

On the other hand, she tells Opus Osm, “The ‘western’ side of the film is influenced by jazz. For example, one of the main themes Mr Dušek chose for inspiration is ‘Shim-me-Sha-Wabble,’ the very first shimmy dance, by Spencer William.”

She confides that Mr Dušek even includes a very small citation of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in his score, “because the main character with glasses reminded him so much of Dmitri Shostakovich. He told me that probably nobody will notice … but he enjoys it.”

You can watch a short excerpt here (with piano accompaniment only) from next week’s film; click on the video below. But for the real thing by Mr Dušek and The Berg, from Shostakovich to the shimmy, you’ll just have to go to The Spanish Synagogue Monday or Tuesday. — oo

You can read Opus Osm’s earlier article about The Berg Orchestra’s ‘Cineogogue in the Synagogue’ series by clicking here; and about how Mr Dušek composed his music for Child of the Ghetto, a previous film in the silent-film series, by clicking here.

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Photo, top: c Dana Cabanová. Video excerpt: c National Center for Jewish Film (USA)

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