by the standards of a professional musician, Stuart Canin’s timing has been impeccable. As a
young G.I., he arrived in Europe just as the Germans began to recognize their
inevitable defeat. He also had the presence of mind or naïve optimism to bring
his violin with him. Transferred into a morale-boosting entertainment unit,
Canin found himself playing for the big three at the Potsdam Conference. Canin
looks back at the historic command performance in Sam Ball’s fascinating short
documentary, The Rifleman’s Violin (trailer here), which proceeds a
special performance of the Potsdam concert at the 2016 New York Jewish Film Festival.
in conjunction with the prestigious Hoover Institution’s Potsdam Revisited educational and multimedia project, Rifleman documents one of the more
edifying footnotes to a pivotal juncture in Twentieth Century history. Canin
expected to fight, but instead he staged performances in military hospitals and
as part of outreach campaigns to the local population. He quickly forged a
rapport with concert pianist Eugene List. One of their specialties was Manuel
de Falla’s “La Vie Breve” or as Canin redubbed it: “The Infantryman’s Theme
Song.” When the contemporary Canin plays it in Rifleman, it is clear the violinist still owns the three minute
piece, so patrons who attend the concert are in for a real treat.
brush with titans is rather mind-blowing, but there is more to Rifleman than that. Throughout the film,
Canin modestly drops nuggets of wisdom that will have great resonance for
aspiring musicians and music lovers alike. Canin was concertmaster for elite
ensembles like the San Francisco Symphony, but he learned how to put together
an accessible concert set for general audiences while playing for Uncle Sam.
Yet, much of his advice boils down to “if it means something to you, keep your
violin with you.”
is a terrific short (fourteen minute)
documentary and the concert of the Potsdam program, featuring Thomas Sauer on
piano, is sure to be incredible. The intriguing details Ball captures should also
whet viewers’ appetites for more films from the Potsdam Revisited project. Highly recommended, The Rifleman’s Violin screens this Sunday afternoon (1/24) at the
Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYJFF.
Labels: Documentary, NYJFF '16, Potsdam Conference, Short Films, Stuart Canin