Over the years the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival, which takes place annually at the local cinematheque, has given us a fair share of documentaries and feature films from across all kinds of fields, cultures and epochs. Some have been intriguing, some eye opening, others comic and emotive.
A Standard Love Song answers all the above descriptions with ease. The screening, which will take place at 11 a.m., on December 1, the first day of the six-day program, incorporates the first three of the six-episode package made for the Yes Docu TV channel.
The series was deftly crafted by London-born Avida Livny, Asaf Amir and Yoav Kutner – scriptwriter, producer and editor respectively – and includes material that spans the full career breadth of arguably the country’s most iconic singer, Arik Einstein. The adjective legendary is often bandied about with much gay abandon, and often unjustifiably so, but if anyone earned it Einstein did.
Einstein died suddenly, five years ago at the age of 74, but for many, he is very much still here with us.
There is no mistaking his ubiquitous honeyed vocals, which always seemed to be laced with a warmth, and a mischievous wink, that made you feel he was singing just for you.
Kutner, who interviewed the increasingly reclusive singer on several occasions over the years and knew him well, says Einstein’s passing has left a gap in life in this country.
“There was something comforting about Arik. You felt safe when he was around, no matter how bad things got here. He was always saying, ‘It’ll be all right.’ You really felt, with him, things would work out OK.”
Kutner, our preeminent rock and pop radio presenter, and in-demand speaker on Israeli commercial music, across the full breadth of its various subgenres and nuances, says he took a professional and personal approach to the work on the series. “I looked on this project with a lot of love, and without any criticism, and I didn’t try to reveal journalistic items – definitely with a lot of love.”
The rock and pop mavin knows more about Einstein than most.
“I have been involved in Arik and his work for a long time,” he notes. “I did a 50-show series on him on Army Radio and I have lectured on him. A box set [of 16 CDs, originally released 1969-78] of his music just came out on Phonokol. Arik Einstein has always captivated me.
Beyond being a singer, for me, he has always been a symbol of this country and he is sorely missed.”
The roll call of Israeli pop and rock A-listers in A Standard Love Song is testament to Einstein’s standing in the local music community, and also to the breadth of his oeuvre. The interviewees include such music industry leaders as pianist-vocalist Yoni Rechter, guitarist-singers Shalom Hanoch and Mickey Gabrielov, American-born singer Josie Katz, singer-songwriter Shem Tov Levy and megastar rocker Berry Sakharof, to name but a few.
But, although Einstein leapfrogged ethnic frontiers with ease – irrespective of the fact that he was the national high jump champion as a youth – Kutner says it was not all a bed of roses for the singer.
“Yes, he is generally remembered fondly, and people say they love him and his music, but it wasn’t always that way. There was a period in the 1970s when he hooked up with [pioneer Israeli rock group] The Churchills, and did the Lul project.”
The Lul project was the brainchild of a motley crew of artists from across a range of showbiz disciplines, including Uri Zohar, Dori Ben Zeev, Yankeleh Rotblitt regardless of their cultural roots.
There was something in his voice, and the way he expressed himself, there was something so Israeli, so bonding.”
Quintessential Israeliness notwithstanding, Einstein proved adept at going with the developing flow, and keeping up with development in the music arena elsewhere in the world. Over the years, he evolved from a typical folk-pop based Israeli vocalist to an envelope- pushing artist. His 1969 album Puzi is considered to be the harbinger of Israeli rock; one critic even went so far as to describe it as the Israeli White Album, because, like the Beatles record, it took in a broad range of styles.
Einstein always seemed to be at the forefront of developments on the local music scene. In 1966, he joined up with singer songwriter Shmulik Krauss and Josie Katz to form The High Windows. Katz was born in Pittsburgh and made aliyah in the late 1950s, and brought something else to Israeli pop, something from “over there.” Einstein was more than happy to take that spirit, possibly the real spirit of the 1960s, and run with it.
It proved to be a highly successful, if short-lived, project that produced one album but also landed the group prestigious shows in the UK and France. At the time, there was talk of a record deal in Spain and elsewhere, but Einstein balked at the idea of not singing in Hebrew. He was an Israeli through and through, and felt he would be faking it if he performed in anything but Hebrew and anywhere but in Israel.
Einstein maintained his developmental continuum throughout his long career, which spanned over half a century. While he may have parodied the Fab Four back in the mid-1960s, he quickly caught on to the social and musical revolution that was under way in the States, Britain and Western Europe. He may have come across as something of a goodie-goodie, happy in this little backwater of western civilization, but he was hip to everything going down.
“I think one of the reasons why he was so successful is that he never rested on his laurels,” Kutner notes. “He was always striving to improve, and he was always searching for something else, something new. He was instrumental in sparking the rock music revolution here but, at the same time, he joined forces with Shem Tov Levy who came from a classical music background. He did ‘good old Israel’ songs, but he also sang children’s songs. He was always influenced by all kinds of things, and always stayed rooted. He was successful because he was never just one thing.”
But he was always Arik Einstein, who contributed much to the soundtrack of this country.For tickets and more information: www.jer-cin.org.il
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