A century ago, before sound entered movies, theater owners hired a pianist to play while images were projected silently onto the screen. When the organizers of the Miami Jewish Film Festival (MJFF) had the opportunity to show three recently restored silent films, they decided to bring the live scoring format into the 21st century.
“We thought a modern sound would create a unique fit for these films,” explains festival director Igor Shteyrenberg.
Every night, another local musician will live-score another silent film. On January 17, Richard Vergez scores Broken barriers, followed by Rostislav Vaynshtok with Jewish luck on January 18 and Sander Willig adds sound to Hungry Hearts on January 19th.
“These films were recently discovered and restored by the National Center for Jewish Film,” says Shteyrenberg New Times. “During World War II, so many of these prized treasures were destroyed. Somehow these films were able to survive in obscure places. They show what Jewish life once was.”
Shteyrenberg says he has given the musicians enormous leeway – so much so that he wants to hear the score for the first time on the night of the screenings with everyone else in the audience.
“Sander Willig from the Miami Music Project wants to play with a bandmate,” notes Shteyrenberg. “What he’s doing Hungry Hearts is very personal to him. The film reminded him of the stories he heard about his family immigrating from Eastern Europe to the United States. ”
On January 17, artist Vergez, founder of Noir Age Publishing, says his goal was “to create a sonic mood and let the film’s visuals tell the story. The instrumentation will consist of a synthesizer, clarinet, curved saw and hammered dulcimer. It is a mix of ambient and minimal music with touches of the Klezmer scale. And since the film is a drama, one can expect some thoughtful and existential soundscapes. ”
Vergez says the basis of his score is rooted in research.
“I was able to acquire some original vinyl releases of early Yiddish music – namely the cantor Mordechai Hershman, who performed music around the time Broken barriers was released in the 1920s, “he explains.” I felt a need to immerse myself in the sounds of this era to help inform the score and then deconstruct it the way I do. ”
Vaynshtok (AKA Slavvy) has a long history of live scoring for MJFF.
“In 2018, I made it to the animated film Fantastic Planet and Coral Gables Art Cinema. They oversold the event and had to pull out all those extra folding chairs, “says Vaynshtok.” I made a piano accompaniment with bare legs, but I loved it. It has become a tradition for me to do one of these every year for the Miami Jewish Film Festival. ”
Vayhshtok loves the freedom that a silent film allows.
“I can go insane,” he says. “I do not have to worry about having to stop playing every time there is dialogue.”
He adds that his creative process was heavily influenced by a documentary about the making of the video game Max Payne 3.
“I choose a scene in the film to give me a mood. Once I have a base, I hardly have to watch the rest of the film anymore,” Vayhshtok explains. “I compose two or three minutes for that scene, but I do it so that everything can be replaced. I usually watch the film out of action in bits and pieces, and I want to start falling into pieces of music that come with history.”
Recently, Vayhshtok created his own short film, What can be broken should be broken, who informed his scoring process for Jewish luck.
“When I did Fantastic planet, I had no film experience, “he says.” Now that I’ve made a film, it’s kind of affected my scoring. I think more while making the music about what they’re doing in a scene, why did they record it that way? ”
For his January 18 appearance on the roof of the Betsy Hotel, Vayhshtok will use an 80s-style synthesizer, the Roland D-50.
“I have not done a live scoring on a roof yet. I did it in cinemas that were closed so we knew what it would sound like,” Vayhshtok says. “Out in the open you lose a little control over the sound, but I patch into the system and see how it goes. I bring a small mixer and an intelligent sequencer that I can run the synth through so I take on. You need do not worry about playing it all live like I did the previous movies. “
Miami Jewish Film Festivals “Yiddish & Jewish Cinema Between Two Worlds.” 7pm Monday, January 17th to Wednesday, January 19th at the Betsy Hotel, 1433 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; miamijewishfilmfestival.org. Admission is free with RSVP at mjff.eventive.org.