(New York Jewish Week) — While hiding from the Nazis, the German Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon began a series of autobiographical paintings and texts with a painfully simple description of her aunt, and namesake’s, suicide: “Scene 1: 1913. One November day, a young girl named Charlotte Knarre leaves her parents’ home and jumps into the water.”
Intense and memorable, that image is the launching point for “Life? or Theatre?”, a series of hundreds of gouaches Salomon made between 1940 and 1942. Best described as an “autobiographical play,” it features personal stories illustrated with vibrant paintings and cues for music. Salomon, in her 20s when she made the body of work, called it a “singspiel,” a play with music.
And now, a new film directed by French sisters Delphine and Muriel Coulin, delivers a cinematic representation of her best-known work. “Charlotte Salomon: Life and the Maiden” will make its world premiere at Lincoln Center on Weds., January 18 as a centerpiece of the New York Jewish Film Festival.
The film lies somewhere between cinema and art installation: Aside from a brief opening and conclusion, Salomon’s expressive paintings take up most of the screen time. Sound design brings the paintings to life, as does the music Salomon indicated in her original script, along with text read by the actress Vicky Krieps (“Phantom Thread,” “Corsage”), who plays protagonist Charlotte.
“We didn’t want to make a pure documentary of her,” co-director Delphine Coulin told the New York Jewish Week. “What had never been done was to make a true film with the painting, the music and the text, and to imagine what Charlotte was visualizing when she was painting… Because the neighbors said they could hear her singing while she was painting.”
These days, Salomon — who died at Auschwitz at age 26 in 1943 — is something of a cult favorite among art lovers and Jewish historians. In a 2017 New Yorker article, writer Toni Bentley notes that “Life? or Theatre?” is “the largest single work of art created by a Jew during the Holocaust.” She is also sometimes compared to Anne Frank. Critics have noted this comparison does neither artist justice, distinguishing between the youthful directness of Frank’s writing as an adolescent in hiding with the more mature, sophisticated representations made by Salomon as a young artist.
Born in Berlin in 1917, Salomon grew up in a cultured German Jewish family. Her mother died when she was 8. She studied at the German capital’s prestigious Academy of Arts until the Nazis’ rise to power made it impossible for her to continue. In 1938, her father spent a brief period in an internment camp — after his release, he sent his daughter to stay with her grandparents in the south of France, where he hoped she’d be safe.
After Salomon’s arrival at Villefranche-sur-Mer in 1939, her grandmother attempted suicide and eventually died. Only then did Salomon learn that her mother had died by suicide as well, and that the women in her family had a history of depression (though it isn’t covered in the film, there is some evidence that her grandfather may have been abusive).
In “Life? or Theatre?” Salomon writes: “My life began when my grandmother ended hers, when I learned that my mother too had ended her life, and that deep down I felt the same predisposition to despair and death. I thought to myself: either I kill myself too, or I create something really crazy and extraordinary.”
For the next two years, Salomon did just that, creating some 1,300 paintings about her life in exile. She accompanied these paintings with text and musical cues that included Bach, Schubert, Mahler and the German anthem “Deutschlandlied,” creating an entire multimedia body of work.
As the Nazi grip tightened in France, Salomon, realizing the danger she faced, brought a box containing all her paintings to a friend, the town’s doctor. The film recounts what she tells him: “Take care of it. This is my whole life.” Just weeks later, Salomon, five months pregnant, was sent to Auschwitz, where she died on Oct. 10, 1943.
While Salomon’s work includes depictions of Nazis, antisemitism and persecution, the majority of “Life? or Theater?” — and therefore the film — is dedicated to the explosive inner life and autobiography of its creator. She explores suicide, Freudian lust, psychological distress, music, philosophy and her own artistic impulses.
Yet “Life? or Theatre?” is unmistakably a product of its time, and as such the film includes historical images of Hitler’s rise. Though the French filmmakers don’t identify as Jewish themselves, Delphine said that she and her sister have some Jewish family, and she noted the film’s content is more relevant than ever. “Antisemitism never did end, but now in France and in Europe, it is stronger and stronger than ever, since 1945,” she said. “We really see it and we talk to it nearly each day. We can’t ignore it.”
“With all these strange times we’re living in, Charlotte gives you strength, because she really crossed the times with a strong belief in art and love,” she added.
The film ends with astonishing footage from the early 1960s of Salomon’s father and stepmother, who survived hiding in the Netherlands, looking through their daughter’s paintings as they are interviewed about her. “I was surprised when I discovered her work,” says her father Albert Salomon. He had known nothing of his late daughter’s project until the couple visited Villefranche-sur-Mer after the war, hoping to find some traces of Charlotte’s life.
“The work is very, very vivid — very expressive of life in all its aspects,” said Delphine of Salomon’s art — and the Coulin sisters, in turn, were inspired to bring the work to a broader audience. In 2019, Muriel directed her first theater piece, “Charlotte,” a rendition of Salomon’s work for the stage that played in Paris at the Théâtre du Rond Point. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the production, the Coulins transposed their medium to film.
Delphine added that they were also drawn to what she called the “poignant story” of Salomon’s brief life, now immortalized by her singular creative impulse in the face of adversity.
“In difficult times — and her times were probably the most difficult times ever — she really believed in art,” she said. “How art makes you survive. How it can give you a piece of eternity. We wouldn’t speak about her this way if she had not been able to make this wonderful work.”
“Charlotte Salomon: Life and the Maiden” will screen on Weds., January 18 at 12:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. at the Walter Reade Theater at 165 West 65th St. For additional information on the New York Jewish Film Festival, which runs through Monday, January 23, click here.
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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