Nov 23, 2016

Huérfanos del cine: the Orphan Film Symposium at the Mar del Plata Film Festival

It's holiday time in the United States, but it's also the week of the 31º Festival Internacional de Cine de Mar del Plata, in Argentina. Programmer Fernando Peña invited two programs from the NYU Orphan Film Symposium as part of the festival's "Revisiones" section.  And the Museo del Cine de Buenos, thanks to museum director Paula Félix-Didier (NYU MIAP graduate), is co-presenting the screening. In particular, she will translate English to Spanish as needed -- and tweet!

The PDF of both programs pops up here.

The Friday program, "Amateurs & Animateurs," mixes home movies and amateur films (from Canada, the U.S., Uruguay, and the Soviet Union) with animation by DIY filmmaker Helen Hill (including Rain Dance her 1990 student film restored in 2007 by NYU Moving Image Archiving and Preservation students with Bill Brand and Paul Gailiunas).

The Saturday lineup, "Nontheatrical Nonfiction" consists of nine pieces, from Albanian, China, and the U.S., including a musical performance recorded in 1928 in Argentina. This Fox Movietone News outtakes, from the University of South Carolina Moving Image Research Collections, has never been publicly screened before.


Dan Streible
Orphan Film Symposium director
NYU Cinema Studies / MIAP Program

Nov 5, 2016


Orphans at MoMA
The Inner Whirled of Orphan Films
Saturday, November 19, 2016
4:15 p.m  [tickets here]
Museum of Modern Art, Titus Theater 2
11 W. 53rd Street, New York

Part of To Save and Project: The 14th MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation

Combining highlights from NYU’s 10th Orphan Film Symposium and its theme of sound with even newer rediscoveries, this eclectic program of short films is inspired by the creativity and experimentation found among works not made for theaters. "The Inner Whirled" is more than an allusion to the whirling of sound and of film projectors. The word play is also from experimental film maestro Ken Jacobs, who called his quartet of short films with Jack Smith The Whirled (1956-63). In 1969, Jacobs and filmmaker Larry Gottheim founded the Department of Cinema at SUNY Binghamton, where an avant garde film culture flourished. Among the eclectic mix of movies that entered the classroom there was an outlier that captivated Gottheim, the educational film The Inner World of Aphasia (1968), from Cleveland-based Edward Feil Productions.

We've just learned that the creative team of Ed and Naomi Feil will make their way from Eugene, Orgeon, to New York for this special screening. Ed began making films in World War II and went on to make dozens of nonfiction films -- documentary, educational, scientific, technical, industrial. When he and Naomi married in 1964, they began collaborating on scripts, editing, and soundtracks. She gives a powerful performance as the protagonist of The Inner World of Aphasia. 

Katie Trainor (MoMA) & Dan Streible (NYU MIAP)
Welcome & introductions

John Klacsmann (Anthology Film Archives)
“Jiffy” Film: SMPTE P16-PP-C (197?) 5 min.
Produced for the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers.
          Anthology's archivist introduces its rare vintage 16mm print of a test film meant to be seen and heard only by projectionists.

James Irsay (WBAI-FM)
Der Bajazzo: Duett der Nedda (ca. 1908) 3 min.
Produced by Deutsche Bioscop, Germany. Cast unknown.
Vocal by Emilie Herzog and Baptist Hoffmann. Gramophone Monarch Record, 1907.
Restored by DIF - Deutsches Filminstitut, Anke Mebold.
          The host of WBAI's "Morning Irsay," pianist, music historian, and raconteur sets the context for this recent recoupling of a 1907 phonograph recording (a duet from Pagliacci) and a 1908ish German motion picture  meant to be projected (more or less in synch) with the sound.

Deutsches Filminstitut - DIF                                                           Cinémathèque français
Premier Nocturne en fa # majeur de Chopin, Interprété par Victor Gille (1928)
Produced by Gaumont-Petersen-Poulsen, France. 4 min.
Restored by Cinémathèque Française, Céline Ruivo.
          Irsay also contextualizes this newly restored film of pianist Gille (1884-1964)

Robert Anen (NYU MIAP) &  Rachael Stoeltje (Indiana University Libraries)
[NY Fair 1964-1965]
Home movie filmed by Edward Feil. 11 min.
Preserved by Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive (IULMIA).
          The director of IULMIA and the NYU student-intern explain how the Edward and Naomi Feil Collection came to Indiana this year and how a home movie reel found there helped the Library of Congress reassemble the parts of of a multi-screen Eames production at the World's Fair.

Frames from Feil fair film.
Left: Naomi, Ed, and his camera captured in reflection; right, in IBM's Ovoid Theater for the Eames multi-screen Think.

George Willeman
(Library of Congress)
Think (1964) 10 min.
Directed by Ray Eames and Charles Eames for the IBM Pavilion, New York World's Fair. Reconstructed in 2016 by Amy Gallick at the Library of Congress.

Popular Science, July 1964.
The Ovoid, where Think was projected and in which Feil filmed some of it in black-and-white 16mm. 

Ken Feil
(Emerson College) with special guests Ed & Naomi Feil 
The Inner World of Aphasia (1968)  24 min.
Filmed, directed, and edited by Edward R. Feil.
Written by Naomi Feil. Cast: Naomi Feil as Marge Nelson. Named to the National Film Registry in 2015. Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive.

End credits. Naomi Feil (right) as nurse Marge Nelson.
Genevieve Havemeyer-King (New York Public Library; NYU MIAP '15)
EPH 4/27/16 (1979) 26 min.
Directed by Ephraim Horowitz.
Scanned by Colorlab for Fandor and the NYU Orphan Film Symposium’s Amateur Cinema Project. Named one of the Ten Best amateur productions of 1979.

Frame from the opening sequence of EPH 4/27/16. 
The 1964-65 New York World's Fair, constructed at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, may not have had the cultural impact of the 1939 World's Fair, but it was a touchstone for many of its 50 million visitors. Thousands shot home movies there, Horowitz as well as Feil. Ephraim Horowitz began his lifelong hobby of filmmaking in the 1930s and shot beautiful color 16mm film at the '39-40 fair. His movie club friend Richard Post told me recently that Eph lived and worked near the fairgrounds -- and therefore frequently lunched there during '64-65. These World's Fairs became part of his identity, including that side of him that was a collector of memorabilia. Shots of his collectibles -- coins, photographs, films, ephemera -- constitute much of EPH 4/27/16.

Ephraim Horowitz also appears in a short documentary: Amanda Murray's World Fair (2013), viewable at It begins with Horowitz's 1939-40 footage, with him talking in the 2000s. We see him at home and among the objects he lays hands on is a can of 16mm film labeled "64/65 Fair."  Compare to the label on the can of film Robert Anen saw in the Indiana University archive while processing the Feil Collection this summer. (Here's that story as told in the New York Times earlier this week.)

Top: Horowitz's hands as seen in a frame from Amanda Murray's World Fair.
Bottom: Snapshot of Ed Feil's labeled can. (See Anen's IULMIA blog post of August 5.) 

As described in my blog post on Horowitz's 100th birthday, EPH 4/27/16 caught the interest of we amateur film history researchers and seekers because it was on the filmography "The 'Ten Best' Winners, 1930-1994 from the Amateur Cinema League and American International Film & Video Festival," published in Alan D. Kattelle's "The Amateur Cinema League and Its Films," Film History 15, no. 2 (2003). The whereabouts of surviving prints of those more than 600 titles are almost entirely unknown. Seeing a film from the Ten Best list is rare. The blog post of 4/27/2016 also describes Genevieve Havemeyer's success in tracking down the Horowitz films some three years after her fellow NYU MIAP graduate Kimberly Tarr told me about this unique filmmaker.

As with the 2014 Orphans at MoMA program -- An Amateur Cinema League of Nations -- this showcase is the culmination of years of collaboration among archivists, curators, scholars, and students dedicated to finding and saving these orphan films. In addition to the students and alumni of NYU's Moving Image Archiving and Preservation master's degree program, others who have been working on the history of amateur films include Charles Tepperman, University of Calgary professor and architect of a grant-funded three-year project, "Mapping an Alternative Film History: A Database of Significant Amateur Films (1928-1971)."

Home movies and amateur films have always been part of the Orphan Film Symposium. As it happens, the "Orphans" origin story includes a tangential connection to the 1964 New York World's Fair. The final dinner reception at the first symposium in 1999 took place atop the University of South Carolina's Capstone House. The dining space called the Top of Carolina is a rotating restaurant with grand views of the campus and the city of Columbia. It was too novel not to put to use at the conclusion of the four-day soiree. The novelty proved a hit. People began to put notes to one another on the window sill, whose rotation carried them to neighboring tables. Funny, even flirtatious, notes and totems multiplied as the evening went on. The symposium finale returned to this space a couple more times, with some visiting New Yorkers choosing to disbelieve the placard noting that the entire golden rotating restaurant had been moved from its original site in Queens at the 1964-65 World's Fair.

Here's what the University of South Carolina website says.

"Housing the first, and only, revolving restaurant in North and South Carolina, Capstone gave the area an attraction comparable to those in several major cities. The rotating platform and mechanism were acquired from an exhibit at the [1964] New York World's Fair and were gifts of a South Carolina manufacturer, Robert G. Wilson."

In 2011, I caught a short glimpse of the rotating restaurant in a home movie shot at the '64 fair and shown at the Queens Museum during Home Movie Day. Several NYU MIAP students co-organized that event, which transpired during the time when Karan Sheldon (Northeast Historic Film) was working with the museum and George Eastman House on a grand-funded project to document and preserve amateur films shot at the 1939-40 World's Fair.

Ephraim Horowitz, who passed in 2012, was a long-time member of the Queens Museum [of Art]. And it wouldn't be surprising if his Flushing fair films wound up in its permanent collection.

-- Dan Streible 
Director, NYU Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program
Director, the Orphan Film Symposium

Nov 1, 2016

Lost Snippets of Film History Need a Lot of Helping Hands to Get Found-- and Preserved.

It's not every day that a major news outlet runs a film preservation story that doesn't focus on restoring a classic feature film or rediscovered silent-era motion picture. So I would be remiss if I didn't relay here this New York Times story:  "A Lost Snippet of Film History, Found in a Home Movie Shot in 1964," October 30, 2016."

James Estrin / The New York Times
 It's part of writer James Barron's "Grace Notes: A bimonthly column that captures the essence of the people and places of New York."

The report is well written and entirely accurate, so no need to recap it here. As Mike Mashon of the Library of Congress said in related post, "Sometimes it really does take a village." The films mentioned in the Times piece -- a home movie shot by professional filmmaker Ed Feil, Ray and Charles Eames's Think (1964), and Feil's The Inner World of Aphasia (1968) -- involved many mutually supportive institutions and people.

Two not mentioned in the story who deserve much credit are Rachael Stoeltje and Andy Uhrich of Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive. As IULMIA Director, she acquired the Feil Collection and got the processing work underway earlier this year. As Film Archivist, he led the work and also mentored Robert Anen during his summer internship for his NYU degree. There's double continuity there, since Uhrich is a graduate of that same NYU MIAP master's program and a board member of the Center for Home Movies.

The Times page does not link to the 18-minute home movie, so here it is, streaming from the Indiana University site.

See it "live," as part of To Save and Project: The 14th MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation.

Orphans at MoMA
Sound: The Inner Whirled of Orphan Films
Saturday, November 19, 2016, 4:15 p.m.
Museum of Modern Art, Titus Theater 2
11 W. 53rd Street, New York

Combining highlights from NYU’s 10th Orphan Film Symposium, and its theme of sound, with even newer rediscoveries, this eclectic program of short films is inspired by the artful and creative flair found among works not made for theaters. Sound and vision serendipitously connect the work of two couples – partners creative and marital: the acclaimed designers Ray and Charles Eames and the prolific but little known Naomi and Edward Feil. Added to the National Film Registry this year, The Inner World of Aphasia (1968) is the Feils’ empathic medical education film, directed with poetic dimensions and a powerful lead performance by. When Ed Feil shot home movies at the World’s Fair of 1964-65, he captured a rare look at the multi-screen installation Think, which the Eameses created for the IBM pavilion – and which the Library of Congress now unveils as a single-screen reconstruction. Also newly restored, and in time for the filmmaker’s centennial, is EPH 4/27/16, Ephraim Horowitz’s sophisticated, wry Super 8 memoir, named one of the Ten Best amateur films of 1979. Rounding out the program with panache are a seldom-seen projection test, a 1908 German film synched to a 1907 opera record, and the Cinémathèque Française’s superb restoration of an early synchronous-sound film of pianist Victor Gille performing Chopin.  

Katie Trainor (MoMA, Film Collections Manager) Welcome
Dan Streible (NYU MIAP) Opening remarks: The Sounds of Orphan Films

John Klacsmann (Anthology Film Archives) 
“Jiffy” Film: SMPTE P16-PP-C (197?) 
Produced for the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. Vintage 16mm print from Anthology Film Archives. 5 min. 

James Irsay (WBAI-FM) introduces to classical music films
Der Bajazzo: Duett der Nedda (ca. 1908)
Produced by Deutsche Bioscop, Germany. Cast unknown. 
Soundtrack: Vocal by Emilie Herzog and Baptist Hoffmann; conductor Bruno Seidler-Winkler, from Gramophone Monarch Record 044064 II (disc), 1907. 
Restored by DIF - Deutsches Filminstitut, Anke Mebold. DCP. from 35mm. 3 min. 
Premier Nocturne en fa # majeur de Chopin, Interprété par Victor Gille (1928) 
Produced by Gaumont-Petersen-Poulsen, France. 
Restored by Cinémathèque Française, Céline Ruivo. DCP from 35mm. 4 min.

Robert Anen (NYU MIAP)
[NY Fair 1964-1965] 
Home movie filmed by Edward Feil. Preserved by Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archive. Digital from 16mm. 11 min. 

George Willeman (Library of Congress)
Think (1964) 
Directed by Ray Eames and Charles Eames for the IBM Pavilion, New York World's Fair. Reconstructed in 2016 by Amy Gallick at the Library of Congress. Digital. 10 min. 

Ken Feil (Emerson College) and Rachael Stoeltje (Indiana University)
The Inner World of Aphasia (1968) 
Filmed, directed, and edited by Edward R. Feil. 
Written by Naomi Feil. Cast: Naomi Feil as Marge Nelson. Named to the National Film Registry in 2015. 16mm print from Indiana University Libraries Moving Image Archives. 24 min.

Genevieve Havemeyer-King (New York Public Library; NYU MIAP '15)
EPH 4/27/16  (1979) 
Directed by Ephraim Horowitz. 
Super 8 film scanned by Colorlab for Fandor and the NYU Orphan Film Symposium’s’ Amateur Film Project. 26 min.  

Oct 29, 2016

Orphans 2017 / Orphelins de Paris, la Cinématheque française, March 2-4

Very exciting news about a special event we can call "Orphans 2017" and/or "Orphelins de Paris." The grandest of showcases, la Cinémathèque, historic and spiritual home for cinéphiles, cinéastes, preservationists, and film historians. Now, it's welcoming a line-up of orphan films in the midst of its glorious restoration festival. Merci! 

(a rough draft of a logo)
In addition to unveiling some restored rarities from the Cinémathèque's own collection, the symposium will include presentations from other nations -- and content to be determined by responses to this Call for Presentations.

* * * * *

The Cinémathèque française and New York University host a special edition of the Orphan Film Symposium, in Paris, March 2-4, 2017.

The theme: Tests, Essais, et Expérimentations

The symposium will take place during three mornings (9am to 1pm) at the Cinémathèque française during Toute la mémoire du monde, International Festival of Film Restoration (March 1-5).

Scholars, researchers, and archivists will explore a variety of neglected films: those derived from experimental and alternative uses of film; technical tests of any sort; production elements, including outtakes, alternate takes, screen tests, dailies, and deleted footage; unreleased or incomplete films maudits; unedited or unidentified footage; compilation reels and found footage; avant-garde cinema and nontheatrical films.

What are the challenges of preserving and presenting these voluminous but often hidden collections? How should we document, archive, and research these film elements? How can we situate tests and experimentation in the histories of cinema and visual culture?

We invite one-page proposals for presentations (15 to 40 minutes) that include the screening of seldom-seen material. Presentations may be in French or English. Proposals should summarize the argument or rationale and identify AV materials by title and format. E-mail a file attachment to orphanfilmsymposium [@] We ask presenters to attend all three mornings of the symposium. Deadline: December 10, 2016.

Registration -- open to all -- gives access to both the Orphan Film Symposium and all five days and nights of Festival Toute la Mémoire. The fee is 200 USD  ($100 for students). Simultaneous French-English translation provided. Symposium registration begins November 21 via

The 2017 Toute la Mémoire du Monde runs March 1 through 5, offering more than 90 screenings, as well as roundtables, master classes, cine-concerts, and an international symposium on the future of cinematheques. The program pays tribute to CinemaScope and the origins of widescreen, Soviet melodrama (with 35mm prints of Gosfilmofond), leading Finnish director Valentin Vaala, the American silent-era producer Triangle Film Corporation, and more. The complete program will be announced February 1.

Worth noting: 

March 1st includes an an international symposium on the future of the cinematheques proposed by the CNC -- Centre national du cinéma et de l'image animée. 

February 27-28: The second FIAF (International Federation of Film Archives) Winter School on Programming, a follow-up to the first in 2016, a training course in cinematheque programming. 

* * * * *
La Cinémathèque française et New York University accueillent une édition spéciale de l’Orphan Film Symposium (Colloque sur les films orphelins), à Paris, du 2 au 4  mars 2017.

Le thème: “Tests, essais et expérimentations.” 

Le colloque se tiendra  durant trois matinées à La Cinémathèque française, dans le cadre du festival international du film restauré Toute la mémoire du monde. 

Les chercheurs, étudiants, archivistes ou historiens du cinéma exploreront les fonds cinématographiques méconnus :  ceux qui proviennent d’utilisations alternatives et expérimentales du film ; les tests techniques de toutes sortes ; des éléments de tournage qui incluent des prises coupées ou alternatives, des essais d’acteurs, des rushes;   les films maudits qui ne sont jamais sortis ou qui n’ont jamais été achevés ; les œuvres non montées ou identifiées ; des extraits compilés ou du found footage ; les films indépendants, techniquement ambitieux.  

Si vous souhaitez présenter un film ou un fonds en particulier,  vous pouvez nous envoyer une proposition d’une page (entre 15 et 40 minutes) qui inclut la projection d’un matériel rare. Les propositions peuvent être envoyées dès maintenant et ce jusqu’au 10 décembre 2016 à l’adresse suivante orphanfilmsymposium [@]

Quels sont les enjeux de la conservation et de la valorisation de ces fonds cachés ou négligés, bien souvent volumineux ? Comment archiver, cataloguer ou rechercher ces éléments films ? Comment resituer les tests, essais et expérimentations dans les histoires du cinéma et dans la culture visuelle?

Le colloque annuel sur les films orphelins, réunit les archivistes, chercheurs et artistes dévoués à la sauvegarde, l’étude et la valorisation d’un corpus éclectique d’éléments.  Orphan films inclut des travaux abandonnés par leur propriétaire ainsi que la plupart des œuvres filmiques produites en dehors d’un circuit commercial dominant et qui ont été historiquement négligées.

Inscription (accréditation pour Orphan et le festival): 200 USD (~ 183 euros)
Inscription étudiant (accréditation pour Orphan et le festival): 100 USD (~ 91 euros)
Les inscriptions seront ouvertes à partir du 21 novembre 2016 via

Traduction simultanée français/anglais à disposition.

Festival Toute la Mémoire du Monde
L’auditoire pourra aussi bénéficier du riche programme du festival (projections, tables-rondes, master class et ciné-concerts) dans la mesure où l’inscription inclut l’entrée au festival. Le festival se tiendra du 1er au 5 mars et proposera plus de 90 projections, un colloque international sur l’avenir des cinémathèques et de nombreuses autres rencontres. Le programmation rendra hommage au CinémaScope ou aux débuts de l’écran large, au mélodrame soviétique (avec des copies 35mm des collections du Gosfilmofond), à l’un des plus importants cinéastes finnois, Valentin Vaala, qui débuta sa longue carrière dans les années 1930, et à la Triangle Film Corporation, l’un des premiers studios américains. Programme en cours.

A noter : 

1er mars : colloque international sur l’avenir des cinémathèques proposé par le CNC.

27-28 février : FIAF Winter School. Formation de deux jours sur la programmation (2ème volet)

La Programmation  complète du festival sera annoncée le 1er février.

Oct 11, 2016

Careers in moving image archiving, an NYU MIAP Information Session Oct. 20

Since the Orphan Film Symposium is a production of Cinema Studies at New York University and the department's Moving Image Archiving and Preservation master's degree program, I'd offer the following information about our upcoming Information Session. RSVP here

-- Dan Streible, MIAP Director and Orphan Film Symposium Director

NYU’s MIAP Program is now accepting applications for its Master of Arts degree. MIAP is a two-year, interdisciplinary course of study that trains future professionals to manage and preserve collections of film, video, new media, and digital works.MIAP is situated within New York University’s Department of Cinema Studies in the renowned Tisch School of the Arts.

Our application deadline for fall 2017 admission is December 1. You can learn more about the program and application process by visiting our prospective students page, where you can also access MIAP faculty bioscourse descriptions and syllabiinternship summariesexamples of student workalumni testimonials, and more. MIAP provides intensive professional development and prepares its graduates for rich and varied work in archives, museums, libraries, production companies, the art world, and other organizations. 

We will provide an overview of MIAP and answer questions during an Information Sessions on October 20, starting at 6pm EDTPlease join us in person, by phone, or online to learn about the field and our exciting, interdisciplinary graduate degree program! RSVP here.
You can also contact

Or put more graphically . . .  

Sep 8, 2016

ALL VOWS + Historical Recordings of Kol Nidre

I'm revisiting and updating a post from three years ago about the collaboration between cellist Maya Beiser and filmmaker Bill Morrison, since the two principals are now unfurling new work. Beiser performs at (le) Poisson Rouge in New York on September 13, playing music from her new album TranceClassical (Innova Recordings #932); Morrison premiered his feature-length Dawson City: Frozen Time at the Venice Film Festival this week and it plays the New York Film Festival on October 2 and 4.

Here are the trailers for both artists.


The new album is directly connected to the post below, which is all about the pieces entitled All Vows and the many recordings inspired by the Yom Kippur declaration Kol Nidre. Both the Michael Gordon composition "All Vows" discussed below and a new piece called "Kol Nidrei" appear on TranceClassical (with a version of Lou Reed's "Heroin" in between). The new interpretation is from composer Mohammed Fairouz and features Beiser singing the Aramaic text. She tells me in an e-mail she will play "All Vows" at the New York show, but it will be accompanied by a video created for the new album and not by "Bill Morrison's gorgeous film which you have helped commissioning." She refers to the premiere at the "Orphans Midwest" symposium, for which Jon Vickers of Indiana University Cinema joined with the Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program to commission Morrison's All Vows film. The project was also supported by Indiana University’s New Frontiers in the Arts & Humanities Program and College of Arts & Humanities Institute. (It takes a village.)

* * * * * *

All Vows: The Film, the Music + Historical Recordings of Kol Nidre

Bill Morrison's new film-to-HD transmogrification of materiality into the ineffable, All Vows,  finds moving images to accompany composer Michael Gordon's musical composition of the same name, first performed in 2006 (although Gordon has revised the piece for 2014). Cellist Maya Beiser, for whom Gordon wrote "All Vows," premiered the work at Zankel Hall in New York, part of her program "Almost Human."

The New York Times review of that performance noted:
Electronics play a more vital role . . . in Michael Gordon's "All Vows," a reimagination of Kol Nidre, the central prayer of the Yom Kippur service. Ms. Beiser played a plaintive, arpeggiated line amid a variegated electronic cloak woven mostly of voices, and against an attractively simple video by Luke DuBois.
 *         * A Conversation of Cultures, Spoken Through a Cello's Voice," March 11, 2006.

I haven't seen Mr. DuBois's attractively simple video. But it's safe to say (based on Morrison's past films and DuBois's videos -- 51 of which are excerpted here -- that Mr. Morrison's source materials and aesthetic will bring a much different visualization to the Gordon-Beiser piece. Both media artists have collaborated with the Bang on a Can All-Stars (see again Gordon, Beiser) on multimedia musical presentations. But DuBois works more closely with computer music and digital video; Morrison with film qua film: good old-fashioned nitrate cellulose material, infamous for its unquenchable flammability and chemical decomposition. It was that decaying quality that brought forth the Gordon-Morrison collaboration Decasia, one of the most celebrated experimental film works of the new century.

For the spiritual, religious, ancient, reflective, somber substance of Kol Nidre, Morrison's return to images taken from decaying 35mm films makes sense. As momento mori, few things better conjure up thoughts of mortality than a life recorded on film curiously decomposing. Although the chemical breakdown of film emulsion lying on a nitrate base can lead to the erasure of any recognizable trace of an original photographic image, Morrison's images are seldom abstract. They are moments carefully selected for their uncanny impact.

Here's a Morrison sample from the forthcoming All Vows.

courtesy of Bill Morrison

Few things are more ghostly or, in this case, we might even say scary. Only a phantom of a human figure remains. Nothing is digitally manipulated in these swirls and naturally occurring "brush strokes."

To return to the musical qualities of the traditional Kol Nidre invocation of Yom Kippur, since a Beiser recording of Gordon's "All Vows" is not yet available, we can prepare for it with a reminder of other musical interpretations. And indeed to a landmark of cinema.

Below is singer Al Jolson's Kol Nidre, in a semi-synchronous portion of what is often mistakenly referred to as the first "talkie."  Two minutes from The Jazz Singer, with the jazz singer Jack Robin honoring his cantor father's dying wish, returning to his synagogue as Jakie Rabinowitz.

Twenty years later, Jolson released this remarkable recording, "Kol Nidrei" on Decca Records (4200 LX 4698). (The flip side of the 78rpm disc was entitled "Cantor on the Sabbath," sung in Yiddish. The Kol Nidrei is in Aramaic.) The basso reach of Jolson's voice is the unexpected part, particularly given that he was then 61.

Other significant historical recordings of this music can be heard on the Library of Congress's fabulous resource, the National Jukebox. All three Kol Nidres are from Victor records (Victor Talking Machine Co.).

* A 1912 recording by violinst Maximillian Pilzer, with piano accompaniment, listed in the Victor catalog as Plegaria hebraica. 

* Cantor Josef Rosenblatt sings Kol Nidre in Hebrew on a 1913 record, accompanied by organ.

* Rosenblatt's "Die Neuer 'Kol Nidre'" recorded in English in 1923, with an ensemble (violin, viola, cello, flute, and organ) conducted by Victor's musical director Nathaniel Shilkret.

Josef "Yossele" Rosenblatt was a popular singer ("the Jewish Caruso") and recording artist until his death in 1933, as well as the leading cantor of his era. From the foreword to his book Selected Recitatives by Cantor Yosef Rosenblatt for the Synagogue (1927):

He performed as himself in The Jazz Singer (1927).  In this scene, Jolson's title character attends a Rosenblatt concert of sacred songs, thereby preparing for his return to sing Kol Nidre in his father's synagogue.

As Hillel Tryster points out, he died while in Palestine to make one of the earliest sound films produced there.

Released in 1934 as The Dream of My People (Halome Ami, Palestine-American Film Co.), the movie was narrated in English by Zvee Scooler, later a familiar character actor in American movies. The National Center for Jewish Film restored this, as well as other films dealing with Kol Nidre. In the 1940 Yiddish film Overture to Glory (Der Vilner Shtot Khazn, aka Der Vilner Balebesl) singing star Moishe Oysher plays a cantor who becomes an opera sensation before ultimately returning to his Vilnius synagogue, where he joins the singing of Kol Nidre -- and dies at its conclusion!  (Watch the un-restored movie ending here.)

Oysher recorded an LP, Kol Nidre Night (Rozanna Records, 195?) Audio here.

The NCJF also produced the DVDs Great Cantors of the Golden Age (1990), with the track "Cantor Adolph Katchko – Kol Nidre (1937)" and Great Cantors in Cinema (1993), with a selection of Rosenblatt in The Dream of My People and Oysher's Kol Nidre from Overture to Glory. These were re-released as a double DVD in 2006.

Finally, the magazine Reform Judaism (Fall 2007) compiled a great annotated list of "Ten Kol Nidre Tracks." Here's my condensation of the ten citations, with some amplifications and additional metadata.

1. Alberto Mizrahi, Greek-born tenor, with the Western Wind Vocal Ensemble. The Birthday of the World: Music and Traditions of the High Holy Days: Part II: Yom Kippur (Western Wind, 1996), narrated by Leonard Nimoy! 

 2. Spanish-Portuguese sung by Abraham Lopes Cardozo (Congregation Shearith Israel, NYC) (private recording). See also, sung in Hebrew, the CD album The Western Sephardi Liturgical Tradition (Jewish Music Research Centre, 2004; SISU Home Entertainment, 2006).

 3. Cantor Manfred Lewandowski (1895-1970), late 19th-century arrangement by German composer Louis (Eliezer) Lewandowski. On Great Synagogue Composers, Vol. X (Musique International, 1979; CD 1989). Out of print. But available online at Judaica Sound Archives (Florida Atlantic University Libraries). Sung in Hebrew, with organ accompaniment by Franz Doll. PDF of original liner notes. No date is given for the audio recordings, which came from the private collection of Joseph Greene, and from New York Public Library's Benedict Stambler Memorial Archives.  Nimbus 7096 CD Legendary Cantors (2000) reproduces a 78 rpm recording of Kol Nodre by "Manfred Lewandowsky," but only dates the compilation as recorded between 1908 and 1947. Other Lewandowski recordings appear on Vorbei -- Beyond Recall (BCD 16030, 2001), a CD issued by the German label Bear Family Records, which describes its content as "a record of Jewish musical life in Nazi Berlin, 1933-1938."
[Addendum: As R. S. Hillel Tryster (former director of the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive in Jerusalem) offers in this comment below, cantor/baritone Lewandoski in his later years hurt his voice by trying to sing tenor to please American congregations. Tryster's fond memory -- hearing the Gregor Piatigorsky cello version as a 78 rpm disc on his grandmother's gramophone -- brings us back to the cello motif that emerged in this blog report about Kol Nidre (all vows), Morrison's new film All Vows, the Orphans Midwest Films for Cello program, and cellist Maya Beisier's upcoming All Vows tour.]

Here's a 1941 verision on Decca, cello solo with piano and organ. Judaica Sound Archives has kindly merged the A and B sides for us.

On the Internet Archive, there's this 1947 recording of Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in Max Bruch's "Kol Nidrei, Adagio on Hebrew Melodies, Op. 47," with Piatigorsky on cello, of course.

Ah! But here ("archived" as a .rar file), from a website in Russian (, is a reproduction of the 78 Tryster inherited from his grammy's gramophone: the B side of a 1929 Odeon recording.

Piatigorsky and his cello can be seen as well as heard playing Kol Nidre in a documentary for the Jewish Chautauqua Society, Choose Life (1976). I haven't seen the film, but a book of the same title has this to say about it:

It is the eve of Yom Kippur, 1973, and Gregor Piatigorsky, the world-renowned cellist, is introduced by Rabbi Nussbaum and begins the Kol Nidre. Half way around the world the Arabs have launched their attack on Israel. This is the first time Piatigorsky has played in a synagogue, and significantly he is playing Kol Nidre, which Tolstoy said described the "martyrdom of a grief stricken people". As that magnificent music is played so eloquently and heart-rending by Piatigorsky, the rabbi is giving his sermon, which that night was entitled "Choose Life," and which he says is our prayer for peace. 
Terry King's book Gregor Piatigorsky: The Life and Career of the Virtuoso Cellist (2010) says only Choose Life shows him playing portions of Bruch's Kol Nidrei "interspersed within a historical backdrop." The JCS Facebook page says the film "relates the modern relevance of the Yom Kippur liturgy," and was given awards at the New York International Film Festival.

There are at least 25 Kol Nidrei recordings on Judaica Sound Archives.

Another is here: Pablo Casals's "solo on violincello" (with orchestra accompaniment) in 1914. Columbia A5722. And on YouTube, there's a copy of the sublime Casals recording of the Bruch, with piano accompaniment, from 1923 (Columbia 68019-D).

 4. Richard Tucker, with organ and choral accompaniment on the LP Kol Nidre Service (Columbia Records, 1978). Setting by composer Sholom Secunda. The Secunda setting was also used in the Yiddish-language film Kol Nidre  (dir. Joseph Seiden, 1939) restored in 2012 by the National Center for Jewish Film. Now available in Blu-Ray and DCP!

Apparently the Secunda setting was also used in the 1930 short Kol Nidre (Judea Films, Inc.; produced by Seiden, dir. Sidney M. Goldin). [Is the 1930 film extant?]

 5. Cantor Lisa Levine, setting by Samuel Adler. Gems of the High Holy Days (Transcontinental Music, 1999).

 6. The Immortal Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt (Cantors Assembly, 2007), 6-CD set, includes the 1913 recording heard (above) on the LOC National Jukebox.

 7. Haifa Symphony Orchestra, Jewish Prayers (Mace Records, 1965?). Max Bruch’s setting of "Kol Nidrei" (sic) for cello. Soloist Hamissa Dor . Out of print LP.

 8. The 6th movement of Beethoven's String Quartet in C# minor, Op. 131 (1826). On, for example, Emerson String Quartet, Beethoven: The Late String Quartets (Deutsche Grammophon, 2003).

 9. The Electric PrunesRelease of an Oath: The Kol Nidre (Reprise, 1968). In English.

In spirit of the times, here's the liner note to this LP, written by someone named Jules B. Newman (about whom I can find no information).
Through the centuries and out of the travail of the past, man has many times, in his search for a better life, been forced by powers beyond his control to foreswear the principles of his fathers and to accept the yoke of a conqueror who might vanquish his body, but not his soul. But no man of principle can live with himself having foresworn the ideals that he lives by. In yearning to free his spirit of the conqueror's yoke, he has conjured up a psychological release that enables him to break the chains that bind him to any oath made under duress and in violation of his principles. Such a lament is the Kol Nidre - a prayer of antiquity which cleanses the spirit and enables man to start anew, with his eyes again on the stars.  
This, then, is the music of the Kol Nidre, which is as modern and meaningful today as when it was first written. David Axelrod has brought the music into a contemporary stance by blending the melodies of the centuries with today's contemporary sounds. David Hassinger has taken the efforts of David Axelrod and, with his provocative talents, has in turn blended them into this artful presentation by The Electric Prunes.

 10. For sitar! Nicolas Jolliet, "The Jolliet Kol Nidre," Kol Nidre Goes East (2006). Independently released MP3.

And this media archaeology about the presence of Kol Nidre ends with another surprising turn -- in an Afghanistan war zone in 2009. The Jolliet sitar version of the incantation led the Canadian Broadcast Corporation to produce this radio documentary -- The Kol Nidre in Kabul -- for its series Outfront. Listen at

Producer Harold Levy wrote on the website words we might think serendipitous with the creation of Michael Gordon's "All Vows" and the new All Vows by Bill Morrison and cellist Maya Beiser.
The Kol Nidre has exercised a powerful religious and musical influence over the centuries. One of the adjectives most commonly used to describe the Kol Nidre -- the opening prayer recited on the eve of Yom Kippur -- is “haunting”. The great cellist Jacqueline Du Pré is said to have asked that her recording of Kol Nidre be played by her bedside as she lay dying. “She knew music, and she knew her urgent need: to hear the haunting strains of this mysterious, magical melody, leading into a personal and communal song of remembrance and of promise”, a writer Joann G. Breuer] noted. Other commonly used adjectives include “plaintive”, “meditative”, “intoxicating” and “liberating." 
Here is one of many Web links to: Jacqueline Du Pré's recording of Max Bruch's Kol Nidrei, Op. 47, Adagio on Hebrew Themes for Cello and Orchestra (1881), performed with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and her newly-wed husband Daniel Barenboim. The EMI recording is from 1968, when Du Pré was 23 years old. She made her last cello recordings in 1971 and died of multiple sclerosis in 1987, at age 42.

Her earlier recording was made in 1963. Herbert Downes and Jacqueline Du Pré, Bruch "Kol Nedrei" on the LP Music for Viola and Cello.

His Master's Voice, CSD-1499, UK (1963 LP)  ****  EMI Classics, Bruch: Kol Nidrei (2002)

 In 2007, EMI Classics issued the CD box set Jacqueline Du Pré: The Complete Recordings (#04167) -- with 17 discs!  

Du Pré               ||           Beiser


-- Dan Streible