Reel Time meets Showtime: TCM host back to present concert for the AJFF’s tenth anniversary

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Former intern and guest blogger Brianne Britzius spoke with the host of tonight’s Atlanta Jewish Film Festival Gala Concert, Ben Mankiewicz:

The new year has only just begun, and for those in the know
(or perhaps you’ve seen our issue already) January is the time relax with some
popcorn and enjoy the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival (AJFF). To help celebrate
their tenth anniversary, they’ve teamed up with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
for a special concert tonight, January 4, which will feature selections from the musical
scores of beloved Jewish films.

I spoke recently with Ben Mankiewicz, who will be hosting the Gala Concert, to
talk about how he landed this gig and the importance of music in film.
Mankiewicz, who comes from the same family that gifted us with films such as All
About Eve
and Cleopatra, works as a critic and the daytime weekend host of
TCM. He’s also an AJFF alum.

He will help introduce the scores of movies such as Fiddler on the Roof,
Yentl,
and Schindler’s List. The scores will be accompanied by stills from the
films, and in our conversation he hints that some special guests may make an
appearance to give him a hand.

Have you ever heard of an event like this?
I think this is the first
time ever that there is going to be a concert celebrating music of
Jewish-themed films, so no, I haven’t.

So, how did you end up as
host?

My deep passionate love
of Jewish music. [Laughs.] I’ve done some stuff for the (Atlanta) Jewish Film
Festival before, and this seemed like a good sort of fun fit, and it’s
certainly something I’m interested in and happy to participate in. After
meeting [conductor] Richard Kaufman I’m sort of even more jazzed about it.

Did you have any input in the scores
chosen?

Yeah, uh, no. You know,
we’re gonna leave that to the [conductor]. Richard [Kaufman] really picked what
should be in there . . . in consultation with Kenny [Blank, AJFF director] of course. You don’t bring
Richard Kaufman in to do the music and then tell him [what to do].

What will you be doing during
the concert?

Well obviously everyone
will be there to hear me. I think the music is really just getting in the way
of me talking.

I’m going to tell a little story about every movie. Well, just about every
movie. There are a couple of things where the introductions will be handled
differently because of the people they can get to do it.

The stories I’ll tell, they’re going to be entertaining stories about the
movies. They’re going to hopefully bring it home, put in in some context, and
give somebody a story to take away.

Do you have a favorite out of
the scores?

Well I crank the
soundtrack to Schindler’s List
in my car all the time. [Laughs.] Of those there’s a lot that I like. Obviously there’s going to be fun stuff
from The Producers. And the fact is the
music from
Schindler’s List and Life
is Beautiful
is great. It’s powerful stuff,
and we know that Richard, in the limited amount of time he’s going to have for
each film, he–and the orchestra–is going to deliver some powerful moments.

What do you think makes these particular scores great for this
concert?
These people aren’t coming to
see all these films, and these films are very powerful and they mean a great
deal to many Jews. What your hope is, is that the power of the music (and) the
film can be conveyed in a four to eight minute selection of the score.

The scoring is not an afterthought. These movies in particular, scoring
matters. When you’re conveying the darkest moments in Jewish history, that
music matters, and that music has to convey the somberness and seriousness, and
at times the hope and inspiration and remarkable nature of human perseverance.
And I think the music can do that.

How does a great score reach an audience?
The worst thing that films do,
other than being downright horrible sometimes, is tell you what they need to
show you. Too many poorly written films tell you how to feel. When music is
good, it conveys the mood and the power of the moment without beating you over
the head.

So many times when you’re moved to tears or filled with such
exuberant exhilaration, much of that is delivered (by the story). But constantly
undervalued in that is how the score conveyed that emotion.

When it’s done right, as it was in all these films, you
don’t feel manipulated. The scores enhance emotion, whether it’s true sorrow
and devastation or hope and redemption.

If the AJFF did this next year,
would you come back?

I would never work
another day for these bastards again, so no I will not come back next year.
(laughs) No, I’ll come back as often as they’ll have me.

Is there a score you’d suggest for next year?
There’s a ton of scores, but
I’ve got to think of a Jewish-themed score. I always thought the shark in Jaws

was Jewish . . .

The music was pretty interesting in A Serious Man. I didn’t love that movie. I found everyone so unlikable in that movie
that is was tough to like it. But the music was totally interesting. That’s
something I definitely think that they would look at if this concert comes back
again next year. In fact, I’ve just realized that I’ve now given them a great
suggestion.


For tickets and more information visit
ajff.org.

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