Monday, November 10, 2008

Silver Jew: A Review

Last Friday night (after attending the monumental No On 8 rally on Market), we headed over to Mezzanine to check out the showing of Silver Jew, a film about David Berman's first tour in, well, ever. More specifically, the film focuses in Berman's time in Israel, and his religious as well as musical revelations during the journey.

The Mezzanine was setup in full on movie-theatre mode, with rows of folding chairs, popcorn for sale, and a monstrous digitally projected screen. We have to say that we were impressed that the club was so willing and able to perform this conversion. They had already crossed the multi-use threshold of being a club/concert/event space, and to see them fully embrace yet another option is pretty cool.

The feature was prefaced by two short films created by XLR8R magazine, which were frankly quite entertaining. They focused on Black Moth Super Rainbow and the DJ Daedalus, and did so with a fair bit of creative flair. Given that Silver Jew is under an hour long, it was nice to have something cool to fill out the time gap, and make the trip a bit more interesting.

If you (like we did) have a picture of David Berman as a slightly neurotic, obviously intelligent, somewhat abstract and spacey individual, then you've hit the nail on the head. Throughout the film, it was remarkable to see Berman simultaneously drift to the edge of sense-making, but then drop a bomb of a revelation. His conversational manner is actually not dissimilar to his lyrics and poetry: abstract and obscure, but at the same time poignant and relevant.

At first glance, Silver Jew, is more about Berman's religion than it is about his music. The number of concert scenes is minimal, and the concert footage is shoddy at best. In contrast, the number of scenes at religious monuments and in Israeli daily life is actually quite high. Throughout the film, Berman talks about his new found religion, how it's changed his perspective on life, and how it contributed to the decision to decide and tour.

However, all of these religious scenes actually serve as a veneer to a more subtle point about Berman's music. In realizing his new found religion, Berman also seems to have realized that he had been making music all these years. In one scene, Berman talks to a fan and says that he thought he had "never made anyone happy", but that the tour has made him realize that he can do just that. It's as though Berman's Judaism opened a door for him, that then allowed him to realize his full potential as a musician.

Today, all of this is somewhat old hat: Berman's been highly prolific, sober, and touring for a few years now. Still, seeing this film one realizes that you are seeing the emergence of Berman as a musician at the very root of his development. There are very honest scenes of Berman having realizations that he's creating music that makes people happy, and that those people can make him happy too. Is Silver Jew a genius music film? Probably not. However, as a film about what it means to be human, it's spot-on.