Sunday, August 18, 2013

Philip Glass at Cinema Orion

Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Philip Glass), 18 August 2013

Fokus: Philip Glass is a main theme at Helsinki Festival, and Mr. Glass has a busy schedule in Helsinki with a Solo Piano concert at Temppeliaukio Church on 18 August, Koyaanisqatsi Live! on 20 August, and Philip Glass Ensemble: A Retrospective on 21 August.

We were delighted that the maestro could fit a visit into our cinema into such a schedule. Philip Glass has created a unique corpus in the cinema, his sound is distinctive and original, and there are more than 100 works in his filmography. We are screening two prominent entities: three documentaries by Errol Morris (Thin Blue Line, A Brief History of Time, and The Fog of War), and the Qatsi trilogy by Godfrey Reggio (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, and Naqoyqatsi) at Cinema Orion during the next two weeks. All in glorious 35 mm.

Philip Glass's discussion partner was Professor John Richardson from the University of Turku.

John Richardson asked about social ideas in the movies of Philip Glass. My collaborations with Errol Morris and Godfrey Reggio have not been a part of mainstream commercial film production. An interest in social ideas is true of both of them, both Morris and Reggio, but Godfrey's films have become more abstract. Godfrey Reggio is a category in himself, with no stories and no performances, with very radical ideas. They didn't like what he did. The interest in social ideas is more true of Errol, though. Glass discussed some of the unorthodox methods of Errol.

In the music for Thin Blue Line you used some of your pre-existing music. Yes, the piano concerto - some of that music comes in from there. Philip Glass told about the back and forth in composing film music, taking the music back, and so on. There are usually 30-35 cues for each film, but sometimes 50. Godfrey postpones the final cut as long as possible until there is a deadline from the distributor. It's a collaborative process.

The power of music: if you select different music to a film it will look different. The intelligent way is to work with the composer from the beginning, like Scorsese did in Kundun. When the images are cut to sound it makes the music very central. Godfrey once changed the order of the images, taking the music with them.

In the documentary on you last night on tv (Scott Hicks: Glass: A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts, 2007) the teams with which you work were discussed; does it vary a lot? The older they are the easier it gets. There  is a lot of give and take. Young film-makers are less secure, and they tend to be very bossy. The older ones won't say anything at all. The producer is not the problem. When the director was Hitchcock, he was the one who was making the movie. When there are three producers they are all fighting with each other. In commercial production the producers are not film people anymore. They come from consortiums. We know what we like. It has made the process of film-making awkward. But when it's Scorsese, he sets the agenda. A handful can resist the meddling.

Now there is a new Godfrey Reggio movie forthcoming, Visitors, which will have its first festival screening on September the eighth. Godfrey dropped the ideological, propagandistic aspect, and the movie became about the spectator looking at the film. The subtext is the subject.

Questions from the audience: Collaborations with other arts, in opera, and in the cinema. I cannot put it down in one word. It comes down to trust. Music has a lot to say.

Q: Your favourites? A: The one I'm working with. For each film for Godfrey the score has been completely different. For Visitors, it is again different.

Q: What happens when you get stuck, don't get the work done? A: No, no, no. I just do the work.

Thin Blue Line was a non-commercial production. There are places where the action is staged, which is really no, no, no, in a documentary. There were moments which were hilariously funny in the recreation of the event.

Errol changes the life of the people he films. He got the convicted person released. The murderer confesses on film. The person who benefitted most, the convicted man, three months later he was suing Errol.

Q: Do you have a favourite genre? I have made very few straight Hollywood films, such as Mishima, The Hours, and Kundun for Marty, also The Illusionist, a very small amount of such films. I'm an amateur film composer.

Q: What about abstract films? A: I work with abstraction, I scratch, I manipulate. Abstract film-makers are even less known than poets.

Q: Notes on a Scandal? A: The producer was under a lot of stress. Q: The score embodies the angst of the character. A: Do you think he was after that?

Q: The films - concert duality. A: Not all can be played. I don't even attempt to do that. The opening theme in this film: I have done a lot of that kind of work.

Q: La Belle et la Bête. A: It was an experiment. I got the rights from the Cocteau estate. A lot of the relationships are formulaic. I made three operas based on works by Jean Cocteau, Orphée, La Belle et la Bête, and Les Enfants terribles. Orphée I saw when it was new. When I look at a stage I picture it in a different way. The whole experience becomes radically different.

Peter von Bagh attended the event and reminisced how Michael Powell had visited Hvitträsk in 1987 and told that he would have wanted to shoot The Fall of the House of Usher there, with music by Philip Glass.

On his way to the rehearsal, waiting for the taxi, Philip Glass confirmed that it had been all set and the contract was ready for signing when Michael Powell died. As a consolation Philip Glass got to compose Kundun.

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