With the flicker of a film and the strike of a piano key, the audience became engrossed in the celluloid imprint of actors many years passed. No words came out of the characters’ mouths, and yet the audience was able to empathize with the hopes and dreams, the love and loss translated through the music that filled the room.
Last Sunday night, the Villard Room travelled to 1910s Warsaw in a film screening of the 1918 silent film “The Yellow Ticket.” Presented by the Jewish Studies Program, the film was accompanied by a live score performed by Alicia Svigals on violin and vocals and Marilyn Lerner on piano. “The Yellow Ticket” is especially notable for being filmed in the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw, Poland,, remaining one of the few cinematic documentations of pre-World War II Jewish ghettos.
“The Yellow Ticket” follows Lea, a young Jewish woman who lives in the Warsaw Ghetto. Hoping to study medicine at a university in St. Petersburg, Lea is forced to register as a sex worker, receiving a “yellow ticket” as proof of her status as a prostitute, or else she will go to prison for being Jewish. Posing as the deceased Christian sister of her former tutor, Lea reluctantly lives these dual lives until a classmate discovers her at the brothel and she tries to commit suicide.
Associate Professor of English and previous Director of Jewish Studies Peter Anteyles discussed the discourse created from this screening of a film with Jewish characters featuring a score inspired by traditional Jewish music: “It allows us to talk about Jewish film but also Jewish music, and also finally to expand our understanding of conditions Jews lived in and the diversity of positions they held. There’s not a lot talked about, for instance, that there was a Jewish brothel in the U.S. during this period in downtown New York, that Jews were in every profession. And this is a way we can expand what we look at and what we think about as Jewish culture.”