Die Stadt ohne Juden
The City Without Jews (German title: Die Stadt ohne Juden), an Austrian silent film by Hans Karl Breslauer from 1924 based on the 1922 novel of the same title by Hugo Bettauer, is a unique historical document with a jarringly topical relevance. The film – “like an apocalyptical vision of what was later to become reality” (Olga Neuwirth) – follows the original novel’s satirically embellished dystopia (deportation of the Jews), as well as its humanistic closing appeal: A good future is only possible with the peaceful coexistence of Jews and Christians. The discovery of a lost copy of the film at a flea market in Paris in 2015 enabled the reconstruction and digitisation of the film, which provides insights into Jewish life in Vienna and how anti-Semitic thinking emerges in the societal centre, while it shows open violence and attacks on the Jewish population.
In 2017 Olga Neuwirth, the multiple-award winning Austrian composer and member of the Akademie der Künste, wrote a new score to the film; it premiered in 2018 performed by the ensemble PHACE from Vienna. Neuwirth analysed the film footage frame by frame and, using sophisticated camouflage techniques and a combination of ironic distance and sonorous anger, created a personal, contemporary musical approach to the complexity of the footage and the cruelty of humans. With an introduction by Dr. Nikolaus Wostry, head of Filmarchiv Austria.
“Let us be afraid of humans, for there is much in us to be afraid of!” (Olga Neuwirth, 2017)
Nacho de Paz, conductor
Walter Seebacher, clarinet
Michael Krenn, saxophone
Spiros Laskaridis, trumpet
Stefan Obmann, trombone
Mathilde Hoursiangou, keyboard
Berndt Thurner, percussion
Samuel Toro Perez, electric guitar
Petra Ackermann, viola
Barbara Riccabona, violoncello
Alfred Reiter, sound director
A production of the Wiener Konzerthaus, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Barbican Centre, Sinfonieorchester Basel & ZDF/ARTE in cooperation with Wien Modern and Filmarchiv Austria
PHACE is funded by SKE-Fonds (Austro Mechana), by the Federal Ministry for Arts and Culture (BMKÖS) and by Stadt Wien Kultur.
“ (...) it was not about the question 'why now’; I was asked to do it (the new score) when lost parts of the film were discovered at a flea market in Paris and handed over to Filmarchiv Austria. This film, however, is not just any old silent film, but rather a politically engaged work. And now that politicians are once again resorting to empty, formal excuses for racism and everyday hatred, there needs to finally be an end to the downplaying of outdated language usage. It really is time to stop playing dumb and to stop trivialising the slogans that we are being inundated with. The silent film »The City Without Jews« was the most sought after lost film in the history of Austrian cinema. According to Filmarchiv Austria, which carefully restored the film, there is no other film from this period that so uncompromisingly deals with the persecution of the Jews and depicts Jewish life. Today we see this hatred of Jews being expressed once again, in increasingly blunt terms, even in Western democracies. Made in 1924, the film is like an apocalyptic vision of what would later become reality. The journalist and author Hugo Bettauer, who wrote the book that the film is based on, was murdered in his office by a young Nazi just months after the film’s premiere. The murderer was never convicted, as he enjoyed the protection of anti-Semitic lawyers and influential politicians.
(...) I felt it was important not to exaggerate any of the characters too much, but rather to take them seriously enough that the viewer does the same. Because despite my being paralysed in horror (also because not much seems to have changed since the book was published in 1922), and in the interest of avoiding clichés, even if I often hint at them, I’ve tried to maintain a certain vitality by making the music both touching and hard at the same time, heartfelt and open, amusing and angry, involved and distant, humorous and sad – although I found this quite difficult to do. It's not just about the anti-Semitism that is so deeply rooted in the Austrian soul, but also about identity and alienation, home and flight. (…)”
(Olga Neuwirth in an interview on the occasion of the 2018 premiere, quoted from the programme booklet Konzerthaus Wien/Wien Modern)
Accompanying programme to the POWER SPACE VIOLENCE. Planning and Building under National Socialism exhibition