In 1954, in the landmark case Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the US Supreme Court found that separate but equal schools for white and African American children were unconstitutional.
It would be another 22 years before a federal district court decision in the case of Reed v. Rhodes would finally force the desegregation of Cleveland public schools. But by the mid-1960s, voluntary busing programs were in place. Although these programs didn’t always fully implement side-by-side classroom education of black and white students, they were still controversial.
In the mid-1960s, twenty-three year old Shaker Heights native Gerald Sindell decided that he wanted to "educate the world so that ignorance, war, and racism would end."
Sindell says, "Throughout my high school life in Cleveland, I had been concerned with what it would take to end racism in the country. The hope was that by integrating the schools, our cities could finally provide equal rights and equal opportunity to all our citizens. I was confident, in 1962, that within a few years racism would be a thing of the past."
Nor were social concerns Sindell’s only interest. In his childhood and youth, he’d been deeply immersed in music. He had seriously studied organ, flute, and piano, and played in a dance band. He’d grown up going to Cleveland Orchestra concerts, following a score as the orchestra played, sitting in a box right next to the Szells’.
But by 1967, Sindell had gravitated toward film as his medium of expression. With the help of his older brother Roger as co-writer and producer, he explored the issue of racial equality in an early independent film, Double-Stop.
Marrying his passions for social justice and music (double-stopping is the process by which a string player sounds more than one note at a time), Sindell built his story round a musical family. His protagonist is a fictional Cleveland Orchestra cellist, Mike Westfall (Jeremiah Sullivan). Westfall and his activist wife Katherine (Mimi Torchin) enroll their young son Pablo (Billy Kurtz; his character is named for the legendary cellist Pablo Casals) in a voluntary busing program.
When Westfall discovers the rough reality of conditions at his son’s new school, he pulls Pablo out, against the wishes of the more idealistic Katherine.
Sindell hired the entire Cleveland Orchestra to appear in his film. Music director George Szell declined to take part, so they were led by assistant conductor Michael Charry.
Some of the film’s music was composed expressly for the purpose by David Davis and James Streem, but the Cleveland Orchestra and chorus performed music from Bach’s Cantata #40. Cellist Daniel Domb, who was married to Sindell’s cousin and would later serve as the Cleveland Orchestra’s acting principal cellist, played the Bach cello suites for the soundtrack. He also modeled for shots of fingers on a cello’s neck.
Visually, the film was ambitious and unusual. It was shot in the fall of 1967 in Cleveland, and all the hues – costumes, sets, accessories – were deliberately designed to suggest autumn leaves. Even the cars were painted.
When Double-Stop was chosen for the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, it looked as if Sindell’s movie was on its way to international distribution. But civil unrest cut the festival short, and Sindell’s distributor let him down. After a few more film festival screenings, Double-Stop was largely forgotten. Sindell made a few more films, then moved on to other pursuits. Today he operates a California-based PR firm, the Agency for Social Media.
Finally, over 40 years later – thanks in part to some help from the Cleveland Orchestra – Cleveland is about to see Sindell’s dream on the screen. WKSU’s Mark Urycki has more on the film, and the story of how Double-Stop was rescued from oblivion.
Double-Stop will play at the Cleveland Cinematheque, Aitken Auditorium in the Cleveland Institute of Art’s Gund Building at the corner of East Boulevard and Bellflower Road in University Circle. Screenings are Saturday, 19 February 2011 at 7:25 pm, and Sunday, 20 February 2011 at 8:40 pm.
Double-Stop at Ohio.com
Double-Stop at the Cleveland Cinematheque