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Telling Alma's tale



Published: Thu, June 14, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The screenwriter is proud of her upbringing in Youngstown.

By MILAN PAURICH

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

Not many first-time screenwriters get the chance to see their dream for a movie make the leap to the silver screen. But that's just what happened to Youngstown native Marilyn Lockshin Levy.

A former Rayen High School student, who graduated in 1955, Levy wrote "Bride of the Wind," a critically acclaimed new Paramount Classics release that tells the romantic true-life story of Alma Schindler and the various men in her life (composer Gustav Mahler among them) against the backdrop of fin-de-siecle Vienna.

"I love that early 20th century period," Levy said in a recent telephone interview. "It was the dawn of cutting-edge modernism and where what we do today musically and artistically started."

Levy was first introduced to her little-known protagonist more than a decade ago by a New York Times review of a Schindler biography.

"I bought the book and became fascinated with Alma, so I decided to write a 'psycho-biography' about her for one of the courses I was taking at the time," she said. "All in all, I must have read 15 books about Alma, Mahler and Vienna during that period and thought: 'I have all this material; it's a fascinating story; why not write a screenplay?'"

Helping husband: Serving as Levy's mentor and muse of sorts was "Wind" producer Lawrence Levy, her husband of 41 years and an award-winning documentary filmmaker and television director. "I'd show my husband a draft, and he'd make his comments. It was incredibly helpful to the whole process."

Gaining financing for this labor of love was a struggle, though. Fortunately for the Levys, acclaimed Australian director Bruce Beresford ("Driving Miss Daisy," "Tender Mercies") fell in love with the script.

"When Bruce hit in big with 'Double Jeopardy' (the 1999 Ashley Judd/Tommy Lee Jones blockbuster), that was a major help. Within two weeks, we suddenly had a deal."

Levy credits Beresford's loyalty to the project for helping get the film made.

Although it was made on a spartan budget of $11 million, Levy attributes the film's sumptuous visual quality to their estimable cinematographer (Peter James, who previously worked with Beresford on such films as "Miss Daisy"), as well as the use of Viennese locations. Plus, "the actors worked for much less than they've ever done before," she admitted with a laugh.

Real characters: "I wanted it to be intimate and for the characters to seem like the real people they were, unlike in most period films," Levy said. She's also thrilled to have been given the chance to tell the story of such a fascinating woman as Schindler.

"Mahler's music was fuller and richer after he met her; Oskar Kokoschka became a famous painter; architect Walter Gropius began the legendary Bauhaus school of design; and Franz Werfel went on to write 'The Song of Bernadette.' ... Love or hate her, Alma was someone who definitely held everyone's attention."

Levy is also satisfied with her film's expos & eacute; of the virulent anti-Semitism in Vienna during that time period. "Here were the most cultured people in Vienna, and they were rabidly anti-Semitic. The Jews were booted out of Austria long before Hitler cleared them out of Germany."

Levy has done plenty of traveling since her formative years on Youngstown's Cordova Street before leaving to attend Northwestern University. She taught school in both Cleveland and Chicago before relocating to Los Angeles with her husband in1978, and did a stint as a psychotherapist for troubled teens.

Young adult novels: Before penning "Wind," the literary works Levy was proudest of were her 17 young adult novels, two of which were voted best of the year by the American Library Association. In between her academic, psychiatric and book-writing pursuits, the very busy Levy found time to raise two children.

Still, no matter how many years she's been away from the Mahoning Valley, the fledgling scenarist's Youngstown roots remain strong (her mother still lives on the North Side) -- and proud.

"Recently an artist friend of mine in California told me that he was trying to get his work shown at the Butler because of their strong reputation as a progressive modern art museum, and I felt elated," she said. "Youngstown is a good place to come from. You know everybody, you feel part of something, and you're really connected. In a place like L.A., that just isn't true."

X"Bride of the Wind" opens Friday at The Cedar Lee in Cleveland Heights. For further information and show times, call (440) 717-4696.




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