O Come Let Us Adore Him 

David Berman rocks the Holy Land in the tour doc Silver Jew

David Berman rocks the Holy Land in the tour doc Silver Jew

For over a decade, Silver Jews founder/frontman David Berman produced critically acclaimed albums and poetry that garnered a substantial fan base—even though they only weeks ago embarked on their first-ever national tour. That makes the brief tour of Israel documented in Michael Tully's Silver Jew something of an event. Shot over three days in the summer of 2006, Silver Jew (which comes out on DVD next week from Drag City) follows Berman & Co.'s first touring dates in the Holy Land shortly after the release of the album Tanglewood Numbers, and Berman's rediscovery of Judaism.

Aside from a handful of title cards up front, Silver Jew hardly delves into the history of the band. Those unfamiliar with Berman's well-publicized struggles with substance abuse and depression will find little background here. Instead, Tully centers almost exclusively on Berman's awakening spirituality. The film opens in Tel Aviv, where current Nashvillian Berman and the Silver Jews touring lineup—including drummer Brian Kotzur, Lambchop members William Tyler and Tony Crow, and Berman's spouse and bassist Cassie—sight-see between their packed shows at various rock clubs.

These well-photographed, great-sounding live performances are easily the film's highlight. Because Silver Jews songs have always elevated lyrical content over pop sentimentality and general catchiness, it's intriguing to watch a roomful of Israelis sing along passionately to "Smith and Jones Forever," an anthem for America's faceless, nameless and homeless that's a world apart in more ways than just geography. In his face-to-face interaction with fans, Berman proves to be more approachable than his stony persona would have you expect—a suggestion of the newfound peace and humility he seems to have drawn from his faith.

Resolutely experiential in its hand-held shooting, the mildly engaging Silver Jew, produced by Nashvillian Matthew Robison, seems unlikely to convert those unfamiliar with Berman or his music. Scenes in the marketplace and popular tourist stops in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem rarely transcend personal vacation footage. While Berman is more clever and insightful than your typical aging tourist on pilgrimage, sequences showing his search for a Jewish-themed chew toy for his dog or band members haggling with the locals are less inspirational than self-indulgent—although at just 50 minutes, the film's brevity certainly works in its favor.

Even so, in his frequent anecdotes and off-the-cuff rants about his spiritual quest and the role of Silver Jews in his personal life, the typically reclusive Berman provides factoids that will doubtlessly captivate avid Jews fans. The most moving sequence occurs at the Western Wall, where the overcome singer-songwriter gives full vent to his emotions—a much-needed catharsis after the movie's spiritual meanderings. The movie's title may have started as a kind of private joke, but by the end of Silver Jew it's a statement of self.


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