ALBANY– The University at Albany Performing Arts Center, in partnership with the New York State Writers Institute, will present a free screening of “The City Without Jews” accompanied with live original music composed and performed by klezmer violinist Alicia Svigals and silent film pianist Donald Sosin on Sunday, Sept. 19, at 7:30 p.m. Released in 1924, “The City Without Jews” (“Die Stadt ohne Juden)” is 91 minutes in length with English intertitles.
Based on the controversial and dystopian novel by Hugo Bettauer, H.K. Breslauer’s silent film was produced two years after the book’s publication, shortly before the satirical events depicted in the fictional story transformed into an all-too-horrific reality. Restored by Filmarchiv Austria, all complete prints of the film were thought to have been destroyed, but a nitrate print was discovered in a Parisian flea market in 2015.
Set in the fictional Austrian city of Utopia (a thinly-disguised stand-in for Vienna), the story follows the political and personal consequences of an anti-Semitic law passed by the National Assembly forcing all Jews to leave the country. At first, the decision is met with celebration, but when the citizens of Utopia eventually come to terms with the loss of the Jewish population
— and the resulting economic and cultural decline —the National Assembly must decide whether to invite the Jews back. Though darkly comedic in tone and stylistically influenced by German Expressionism, the film nonetheless contains ominous and eerily realistic sequences, such as shots of freight trains transporting Jews out of the city. The film’s stinging critique of Nazism is part of the reason it was no longer screened in public after 1933.
Alicia Svigals and Donald Sosin met at a silent film festival in Italy and the two soon recorded their first original score for the 1923 German film “The Ancient Law” and “The City Without Jews” score followed soon after. Their third opus, the 1990 satire “The Man Without a World” by San Diego-based performance artist Eleanor Antin, will be released by Milestone Films.
New Yorker Svigals is a klezmer violinist and a founder of the Grammy-winning Klezmatics. She has performed with and written for violinist Itzhak Perlman, Kronos Quartet, Debbie
Friedman, Osvaldo Golijov, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, playwrights Tony Kushner and Eve Ensler, filmmaker Judith Helfand, and poet Allen Ginsberg. Her newest CD is “Beregovski Suite: Klezmer Reimagined,” with jazz pianist Uli Geissendoerfer —an original take on long-lost Jewish music from Ukraine. Svigals previously performed at the university’s performing arts center in September of 2011 with her Klezmer Fiddle Express.
Sosin is one of the world’s top silent film musicians. He has performed his scores for silent films, often with his singer/percussionist wife Joanna Seaton, at Lincoln Center, MoMA, BAM and National Gallery as well as at major film festivals in New York, San Francisco, Telluride, Hollywood, Pordenone, Bologna, Shanghai, Bangkok, Berlin, Vienna and Moscow. Sosin records for Criterion, Kino, Milestone and Flicker Alley.
This performance is free and no tickets or reservations are required. The Box Office at 518-442-3997 or the Performing Arts Center website at www.albany.edu/pac can provide details and nformation on the most up-to-date COVID protocols.
There will also be a morning matinee presentation for high school groups at 10 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 20. Admission is free but reservations are required. Educators wishing to bring groups may contact the UAlbany Performing Arts Center office at 518- 442-3995 or PAC@albany.edu.