Over the weekend I watched ‘Song to Song’, a move directed by Terence Malick, the acclaimed and visionary film-maker.
Working with so many different artistic people really gives you an opportunity to broaden your horizons. I say that as a person still relatively sheltered, but, over the last three years or so, I’m definitely more embracing of things I hadn’t been before.
I had heard of Malick before I worked with Charles Baker because I’d heard about the movie Tree of Life, though, I admit, I hadn’t seen any of his movies (Malick’s). Part of working with people on their life story includes digesting as much information as possible and if they are an actor it becomes a duty to watch everything you can that they have starred in. Charles was in Malick’s To The Wonder and spoke enthusiastically about the film-maker and once you see the movie it is easy to see why; the cinematography is wonderful, absorbing, and emotional. Up until this weekend I’d only seen To The Wonder, though from all I have read, that is a trademark of Malick’s.
What is certain is that Malick obviously believes in strong storytelling and creating strong characters for the audience to invest in; what is divisive is how an audience engages with it, and though the same kind of thing can be said for any filmmaker, Malick’s individuality makes him a director that you either love or hate — and by hate, I guess, what I really mean is, you either feel a strong connection or you feel nothing, or little. I can understand criticism about his indulgence.
If I can digress for a second.
As a writer, I admire Cameron Crowe’s movies, or more accurately, I admire the dialogue he writes for his characters. I find it to be engaging and intellectual, and the relationships his characters develop are more engaging and believable because of it. Particularly in Elizabethtown and Almost Famous there are exceptional moments of dialogue, and exceptional moments of body language, moments which serve as pay-offs for the investment you have made in the characters, emotional triggers which help to make those stories memorable.
I would go as far as saying that I am inspired by that; it is those moments I chase as a writer, and sometimes, that might mean writing ten thousand words, or fifty thousand words, or a hundred thousand words, or a hundred and twenty thousand words, to build to that point, to reach a moment that hopefully connects to the reader and says something to them. It may not necessarily be in the words a character speaks, it may be in an action, but almost always, when I’m writing fiction, I’m aware of where I want these moments to exist and one of my most enjoyable spells writing fiction is the anticipation of coming up to those moments.
Music enhances those moments; it can serve as the tap to the emotion, some audible articulation where words serve no purpose (even if the song has lyrics, I mean, the sound). I’m thinking of, for example, the scene in Almost Famous where Penny Lane has just boarded the airplane and William shouts after her, but she doesn’t turn back. Penny sits on the plane and has a sixth sense that William is trying to get her attention from the lounge; she wears a melancholic expression, and you can almost feel her windedness as she realises the mistake she’s making. Okay, it’s hardly the most obscure reference in the world, but I absolutely love the sadness of that moment and that is down, in a large part, to the music; it’s soundtracked by an instrumental piece shorter than two minutes entitled ‘Cabin in the air’ which can be found on YouTube. I wonder if when Cameron Crowe and Nancy Wilson came up with that, they knew just how incredible the moment would turn out to be.
Back to Song to Song; I will say that the movie has stayed with me for forty-eight hours although I will confess I don’t know if I liked it, much less loved it. It was beautifully shot and while I engaged with the story, I’m not sure I engaged with the characters. What I am sure of though, is that by far the biggest reason the movie has stayed with me is because it had one of those moments.
I don’t know if I could say I felt empathy with Rooney Mara’s character (or Gosling or Fassbender, for that matter), but their journeys and the story told by Malick drew me in enough that when this song by Lykke Li began to play at a certain part of the movie, I admit I was momentarily taken aback by how engaged I was. I hadn’t heard of the artist before and having looked up some more of the songs I’m not a huge fan, I must admit, but I have had this song on repeat, because of how strongly the sounds and the words resonated with me – it completely caught me off guard. The message of the film, or at least that which I took from it, was that of characters who were individually flawed who felt it was better if they were with someone rather than be lonely; all of which sounds incredibly simple, but the dichotomy of companionship and being with someone to avoid being lonely was so emphatically told by the story and complemented by the song that it almost felt as if one were written for the other, though in an uncontrived way.
Out of context, I don’t think the song would have anywhere near the same impact (for example, The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Just Like Honey at the end of Lost in Translation, which is great with or without its connection to the movie) on me without having seen the film but it most definitely enhanced the experience for me.
It also stressed on me the importance of establishing those moments in storytelling; as I prepare to write the third story in the trilogy after Peach and Green it was definitely a timely reminder! In all the fiction I write, it is those moments which serve as the most satisfying, and it is in the intended connection of those moments with the readers that I hope my ‘art’ can be enjoyed. It is healthy to be reminded why that’s the case.
Which movies or songs hit those moments for you?