If you think you know Westport history very well, be prepared to be knocked down a notch or two.
The Westport Historical Society’s “A Gathering of Glory! ,“a Martin West film with music by Paul Alan Levi premiering today at the Westport Public Library, will surprise even the most knowledgeable about their town and neighboring Weston.
Two years in the making, the 58-minute film is a tour de force of the world of art and artists in the community. It was funded by the society as well as private donors.
West, an award-winning film maker who used to act in films and soap operas, neatly avoids a chronological history of the towns by dividing his work into four separate segments.
“The Brush, the Hand and the Eye” documents the heritage of the visual arts and artists who made Westport and Weston art havens.
“The Players” looks at the actors in films, the theater, and television who made the towns their homes.
“Pen and Harmony” focuses on the contributions of the many writers and musicians who helped create a nurturing environment during the last century.
“Inescapable Destiny,” the final segment, explores the future of the arts in Westport and Weston and includes interviews with young people who will carry on the tradition.
The well-known names are there—Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward but so are some of the not so well-known names like modernist painter Arthur Dove and Russian-American painter Pavel Tchelitchew.
With the help of Levi֒s music, West seamlessly weaves a living quilt of Westport and Weston and their residents. The film preserves the works, faces and voices of those long departed and those only recently lost.
There’s a marvelous clip promoting Westport’s Famous Artists School, enabling the audience to see and hear Norman Rockwell and Stevan Dohanos, among others.
Jim McKenzie, the long-time Westport County Playhouse executive director and artistic director who died last year, is there, too, explaining the origins of the theater were tied to New Yorks hot summers.
“Because the theaters were not air conditioned and so they were unlivable and all the actors wanted to do something in the summer, so they came to Westport and other towns and did a play every week,” he said. “And thats how it started.”
Ruth Steinkraus Cohen, who also died last year, long supported the arts in Westport.
“I first came here in 1929, and it was very hard to get to New York because we didn’t have transportation,” she said. “We had no highways and only when we had the highways and the improved transportation system did the musicians come.
“Because musicians have to get to Carnegie Hall, they’ve got to practice to get there, but they also have to get there physically.”
The Society plans to make the film available to schools as well as publish a companion study guide. It will also air on public television and copies will be available for sale on VHS and possibly later on DVD.
Fast, furious, and fascinating, “A Gathering of Glory!” is a must-see for all Westporters and Westonites and anyone who has lived here, is thinking of living here, or wished they lived here.
While today’s showings were sold out, additional showings, with no reservations required, have been scheduled at the library for Wednesday, Oct. 1, at 7:30 p.m., and Thursday, Oct. 2, at 1 p.m.
Editors Note: The editor of WestportNow is a director at large of the Westport Historical Society and while thanked in a screen credit, contributed little more than words of encouragement.