GPJFF Season Concludes, Spotlights Kurt Weill


Film producer Stuart Samuels describes his long-time friend Ruth Perlmutter as a “cultural jeweler” for her ability to discover cinematic gems.

Perlmutter, 93, who founded the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival in 1980 alongside her late husband, Archie, will be honored through the Gershman Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival’s final program of the season.

The program, Ruth’s Reels and Archie’s Archives Double Feature of “The Threepenny Opera” and “September Songs: The Music of Kurt Weill,” will run virtually until Aug. 16.

The program pays homage to Kurt Weill, a 20th-century German stage composer whose music is emblematic of Germany’s Weimar Republic and who shaped the creation of opera in America. 

The first of the two films, “The Threepenny Opera,” is director G.W. Pabst’s interpretation of the compositions of Weill and the writing of Bertolt Brecht from 1931. The story of criminal Mack the Knife and his pursuit of Polly Peachum, whose father controls London’s beggars, is Brecht’s socialist critique of capitalism. As the Ruth’s Reels selection, the film will make its GPJFF debut at this program.

“The Threepenny Opera” is complemented with “September Songs: The Music of Kurt Weill,” a 1995 film by Larry Weinstein, which features an eclectic and eccentric collection of interpretations of Weill’s music by Nick Cave, Lou Reed and Elvis Costello, among others.

The program also includes an interview with Weinstein moderated by Samuels, a former history professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Weill was ambitious in the content of his music, writing about his grievances toward Shell Oil, a controversial subject matter in the 1920s, Weinstein said. Unlike modern composers who write but don’t arrange their music, Weill also orchestrated all of his pieces, a time-consuming process.

“I love that he was a European artist who could evolve, who could adapt, who could reinvent himself,” Weinstein said.

Weinstein had always been interested in writing films about composers and musicians and was first introduced to Weill’s music in 1985 after hearing Hal Willner’s “Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill,” a tribute album.

Willner was planning a new project about Weill, pitched as a different director — Federico Fellini, Orson Welles and Francis Ford Coppola had signed on for the project — directing a unique video component. Weinstein was too green for the project, which was never filmed, but he was given a second chance to create his own tribute to Weill a decade later, enlisting the help of Reed, his personal deity.

While working on his film, Weinstein acquired an even deeper appreciation for the composer, considering him “a quiet friend.”

“Kurt Weill himself was just this quiet, gentle genius,” Weinstein said.

Samuels believes that the interview he conducted with Weinstein will help to augment the viewing experience.

“It gives people a chance to take an expansive experience, which is to listen, to watch these two works of art and creativity, and also be able to go beyond that and find other depths that you can’t find with the traditional mediums of traditional film or old archives,” Samuels said.

An image of Kurt Weill projected in the warehouse where “September Songs: The Music of Kurt Weill” was filmed | Courtesy of Larry Weinstein

According to Samuels, the Perlmutters had deep familial ties to Germany and an interest in German film and culture; Ruth Perlmutter is a music-lover.

Samuels met Perlmutter in the 1970s when they teamed up to create a film and video center on the third floor of the Walnut Street Theatre. Prior to then, Samuels said, there weren’t any other film centers in the area outside of universities or the Theatre of Living Arts.

“We had films every night, people lecturing and talking,’’ Samuels said. “It wasn’t a great, popular success, but it was a seeding of the ground for Philadelphia.”

Perlmutter was always avant-garde, according to Samuels, and had a way of connecting with young people that made her a compelling mover and shaker in organizing cultural events in the city. She and Archie Perlmutter, a businessman with a love of the arts, would bring joy and fun to whatever social gathering they attended. 

“She’s one of those unknown forces that exists in a city like Philadelphia, that continues that kind of tradition of art, pop culture and film,” Samuels said.

Though Perlmutter, who served as GPJFF’s artistic chair emeritus, retired from chairing the screening committee several years ago, she sponsors Ruth’s Reels and Archie’s Archives as a way to stay involved in the film community and continue her legacy of introducing audiences to new and novel films.

“She was certainly instrumental in nurturing a truly vibrant film scene in Philly,” said Olivia Antsis, executive artistic director at GPJFF.

Additional information about and tickets for the events can be found at General admission for the program is $12.

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