THE ANCIENT LAW (Das Alte Gesetz) - With live original score by violinist Alicia Svigals, co-founder of the Klezmatics, and acclaimed silent film pianist Donald Sosin

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Cinema Arts Centre - Cinema 2 Wed, Jan 30 7:30 PM


Anything But Silent

The Ancient Law
(Das Alte Gesetz)

Wednesday, January 30th at 7:30 PM
$11 Members | $16 Public
With live original score by violinist Alicia Svigals, co-founder of the Klezmatics, and acclaimed silent film pianist Donald Sosin
The Ancient Law is a rarely seen Jewish silent film from Weimar Era Germany that tells the dramatic story of Baruch, a young shtetl Jew and the son of a Rabbi, who leaves his family and community, seeking a secular career as a stage actor.

Set in Galicia in the 1860’s, Baruch is a Rabbi's son from the shtetl who leaves home to become famous Shakespearean actor and is disowned by his father. Baruch joins a small burlesque troupe and is discovered by an Austrian archduchess who introduces him to the director of the most important Theater in Vienna, the Burgtheater. Baruch receives a contract there and becomes more and more an assimilated Jew. But Baruch continues to long for home, and must find a way to reconcile his religious heritage with his love of secular literature.

The film paints a complex portrait of the tension between tradition and modernity. The Ancient Law is considered an important historical German and Jewish cinematic production recreating the introverted world of the Eastern European shtetl, contrasted with Vienna of the 1860’s and speaks to Jewish assimilation in Europe in the 1800's. In one memorable scene, Baruch takes a scissors to his sidelocks—his payos—to cross a symbolic bridge into the secular world. The film also features wonderful scenes depicting shtetl life. (Germany, 1923, 135 mins, NR, Silent with English Intertitles| Dir. E.A DuPont)

Just days after the film’s premiere in late October 1923, anti-Semitic riots broke out in Berlin, specifically directed at the kinds of Eastern European Jews represented by Baruch’s family. Like so many other film artists from Germany, director E.A. Dupont, a Jew, was forced to abandon his homeland in 1933 with the rise of Hitler.  After a stint in Great Britain, he made films in Hollywood. The star of The Ancient Law, Ernst Deutsch, also a Jew, abandoned his Austrian roots in 1933. He, too, made films and appeared in stage productions in many countries.  His most recognizable role by modern audiences is in the Carol Reed masterpiece, The Third Man, where he plays opposite Orson Welles as the mousy Baron Kurtz. The plot of The Ancient Law was adapted and reused for the iconic 1927 film The Jazz Singer, which heralded the commercial ascendance of sound films and the end of the Silent Era.