This year’s Jewish Film Festival’s program, running through Sunday at the New Vic, sports a music-related highlight with Sascha Jacobsen’s new score for the rediscovered 1924 silent film “The City Without Jews,” on Saturday night.
Santa Barbara Jewish Film Festival
When: Friday through Sunday
Where: New Vic, 33 W. Victoria St.
Cost: $12 for individual tickets, $15 for “The City Without Jews”
Tickets: 957-1115, www.sbjewishfilmfestival.org
One of the highlights of this year’s edition of the Santa Barbara Jewish Film Festival, holding court at the New Vic Theatre through Sunday, dips into “real time” performance and a live musical presence in support of “screen time.”
On Saturday evening, composer and bassist Sascha Jacobsen will bring his own quintet to perform his new score for a lost and re-found treasure of a silent film, “The City Without Jews.” Made in 1924, the satirical film, directed by Austrian director Hans Karl Breslauer based on the novel by Hugo Bettauer, was presumed lost and dead, but a copy materialized in a flea market in Paris only in 2015.
As for the Bay Area-based musician, Mr. Jacobsen spent time studying at the Music Academy of the West, has a career that is nothing if not varied and multi-directional, as he explained in a recent interview. Add silent film composer to his expanding list of achievements.
Diversity prevails on Mr. Jacobsen’s upcoming musical horizons, with a list of activities ranging from a single and music video for his tune “Contra un Bajo de Magia” to a dance project with Argentine tango dancer Raquel Makow to the world premiere, next month, of a new oratorio, “Kanta Judezmo,” “where I explore the Spanish roots of my Sephardic Heritage. I am very excited to keep making music and to move people’s hearts in that way that only art can provide.”
News-Press: Just to get some perspective on your musical life—including local tentacles—what was your Music Academy of the West connection, and how did that experience affect your musical life?
Sascha Jacobsen: I attended MAW for two years (in the late ‘90s), and it was an incredible place to learn, practice and improve my craft as a musician. I was studying at USC when I attended, and my teacher, Nico Abondolo, is an SB local. Also, my great-grandfather (whom I was named after) taught violin at MAW and while I attended, his pupils, Zvi Zeitlin and Lynn Blakeslee, were teachers there.
NP: Your resume is impressively diverse, and moving into areas of film, dance, and jazz and pop music along with classical studies and professional activities. Is that diversity something that comes naturally to you, and goes back to your formative days as a musician?
SJ: In my musical career I always followed my passion, which led to many different detours. When I first began, I was playing rock and reggae on electric bass, then through a teacher in high school, I fell in love with Jazz. In college, I studied classical music, at first only because I thought the technique would improve my Jazz playing, then I became immersed in the classical world.
However, at the same time, I followed my passion to Afro-Cuban music, Eastern European Music, then finally, I hit Argentine Tango which for the last ten years has been a focus in music and dance. Actually, I have always loved dance, and dance music as well.
NP: How did your scoring of “The City Without Jews” come together?
SJ: I was commissioned to write this score by the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, where we did the American Premiere of “The City Without Jews” in 2018. In attendance were the films restorers and the grand-daughter of (director) Hugo Bettanauer. I was referred by the SF Silent Film Festival, where I have been performing for many years.
NP: Have you done much work with scoring silent films before?
SJ: I first began performing with the SF Silent Film Festival as a sideman with the great Donnie Sosin, and Guenter Buchwald. I eventually convinced the amazing staff at the festival to let me write and perform a score with my own group. Since then, I have written for quite a few films, including “The Rat”, “Diary of a Lost Girl”, “Mother Krause’s Journey to Happiness” and many short films.
NP: Has this whetted your appetite to do more such work with silent film? That seems a more and more valid artistic byway, having been done by Kronos Quartet, Clubfoot Orchestra back in the day, Bill Frisell and many others…
SJ: I will be performing at the 2019 SF Film Festival in May, and coincidentally, I have been performing with the Club Foot Orchestra for the last couple of years. I also was lucky enough to record with the Kronos Quartet, not a film, but a very film-like video game score (“Destiny 2”).
NP: What are the challenges in composing music for silent film, generally, and maybe this film, specifically?
SJ: For silent film, I am mainly trying to set the correct mood for each scene. I start by watching the film over and over and taking notes about the scene changes and the mood. I need to give the audience the right emotional cues so that the movie makes sense and flows seamlessly. The hard part about this film is that it is a parody, a dark parody, but one that has a much different meaning given what we now know took place. I that sense, I had to approach it with care, and approach it with a post WWII mind set.
NP: The film is a prescient satire from 1924, years before the Nazi machinery enacted its anti-Semitic horrors up through WWII. In your music, were you conscious of tapping into the period—this being the time of the Weimar Republic, Kurt Weill, and that atmosphere of the day?
SJ: I am not specifically trying to write period music, but the influences are there. I think Kurt Weill is a perfect reference for the period, and I tried to invoke a portrait of this fictional city using a mix of themes, some sounding Judaic, others just elegiac.
NP: “The City Without Jews” is also a film rescued from obscurity—rediscovered only 2015 after being given up for dead. Does that add a layer of intrigue to the whole project?SJ: I am extremely honored and humbled to be a part of this historic film, and I do believe the message is just as important today. The discovery of lost films is incredibly important for history and understanding of the times, especially a film like this that was so prescient.