More Than Stories | Anya Lewin
+ Q&A With Filmmaker
More than Stories is a film composed of three parts and made over 12 years, that has at its heart the haunted memories of Jewish life embedded in stories passed down to artist Anya Lewin by her father. The film takes place in three different cities that his family inhabited during their wanderings: Cairo, Berlin, and Los Angeles and is shot in studio locations with built sets recreating locations central to each story (a perfume shop, a dental office, a coffee house). The title More than Stories alludes, not only to the ‘realness’ of stories, but also to both the wider realm a story might sit in and the instability of methods of historical retellings and recreations. Lewin begins with the unstable tale and journeys through biographies, novels, films, archives, interviews, and into the imaginary to create her film.
Part 1: Berlin
With Heartfelt Gratitude for the Painless Treatment springs from an inherited and unexplained collection of autographed photographs of 1920s film and theatre stars who frequented the Berlin dental practice of Lewin’s grandfather, Dr Ignatz Lewin. The Jewish Polish family, fled to the USA in 1938, soon after Krystallnacht and before Hitler invaded Poland. The film travels through the Weiner Library archive to discover the original Berlin address of the dentist surgery to reveal a film within a film of the fascinating patients, with a nod to silent German Cinema.
Part 2: Los Angeles
Chez Paulette on the Sunset Strip brings together the launch of the European style coffee house in Los Angeles, the experience of Jewish immigration to Hollywood, the influence of Europe on Hollywood, and the blurring of fact, fiction, the real and the reconstructed.
In 1958 Max Lewin took over his family’s failing cake shop. Capitalising on its hip location on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip he turned it into a coffee house called Chez Paulette. With the help of Marlon Brando, who became a regular customer to help build its reputation, Chez Paulette became a popular Hollywood bohemian hangout favoured by actors, poets, folk singers and flamenco guitarists and dancers. At the same time as Chez Paulette emerged, along came 77 Sunset Strip (also 1958 -64) one of the first detective television series. 77 Sunset Strip and Chez Paulette were brought together when a set of the café was built on the Studio lot, and featured in the series with Max Lewin as host.
Part 3: Cairo
Fez: The Royal Scent takes place from 1926 to 28, when Lewin’s father was a child, and his father and mother decided to leave Berlin for Cairo, Egypt, which had a large Jewish immigrant community. Once settled in Cairo the family opened a perfume shop – as Lewin’s grandmother had a degree in chemistry – and her grandmother invented a scent called Fez in a bottle in the shape of the common Fez hat. The bottles were stacked in the window when one day King Fuad I happened to drive past, stopped the royal car and bought all the stock. Fez became the Royal Perfume and the family stayed in Cairo for two years. The film is shot in four languages: Arabic, French, Polish and English, acknowledging the multi-lingual environment the family would have found themselves in.
These tales and tidbits, TV and film scenes, facts and momentary glimpses from photos in a scrapbook have been reworked, copied, quoted, and reconfigured into a film script and made into a film that is finished and unfinished at the same time. As the director/detective figure in Chez Paulette says, “there is no mystery, just history”.
Following the screening there will be a Q&A with filmmaker Anya Lewin.
The production of More Than Stories has been made possible through support from Arts Council England, University of Plymouth and Spike Film and Video.