The movie was released in the United States in 1922. Andy Ingall, who managed the New York Jewish Film Festival before heading the arts program at the Foundation for Jewish Culture, says its sympathy for Lea’s plight contrasted strongly with the portrayal of Jews as underhanded and greedy in U.S. films of that era.
“ The Yellow Ticket was remarkably progressive for a time known for ethnic stereotypes,” Ingall says.
Working with Marilyn Lerner, a jazz and new-music pianist, Svigals incorporated elements of klezmer, jazz and classical into her score. She tried to make the music illuminate the film for modern audiences.
“The filmmakers made all sorts of assumptions about a viewer who lived in a different context and time,” she says. “I wanted to help the viewer have the intended emotional experience through the music, so it would be a non-verbal guide to the movie. The biggest challenge was to find music that would evoke the feeling of shame, because a lot of the movie revolves around shame and humiliation.”
The project enthralled Svigals. “I watched it so many times and knew it so well, I could act along with the people, like with the Rocky Horror show,” she says. “I ended up scoring every gesture and wave of their hand.”
The challenges gave her new appreciation for her grandfather, a silent film pianist who met her grandmother in a theater on the Upper West Side near where Svigals lives.
“It’s definitely this multitasking vortex of attention,” she says. “We don’t know whether to look at the movie, the score, each other or our fingers.”
Svigals and Ingall went to extraordinary lengths in reconstructing the film. They translated the original 1918 intra-titles, which they got from a copy of a Nazi censor’s report justifying the movie’s destruction. Previous reconstructions used the intra-titles from the 1922 American release, which were altered to make the character played by Negri, by then a star in America, more acceptable.
Miami audiences will be the first to see a high-quality digitized version of the movie, which eliminates the herky-jerky quality of many silent film restorations.
“We wanted to be faithful to the original version, and for people to experience it as it was in the original time period,” Ingall says.