Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Day 61: White Wedding

Yesterday I waxed - possibly lyrical - about the first film in Krzyzstof Kieslowki’s Three Colours Trilogy, Three Colours Blue. Today, by way of the second film, Three Colours White, I would like to talk about one of the riddles hidden in the series of films, that is the Dutch composer, Van Den Budenmayer.

Kieslowksi was a true collaborator, with his actors, his writing partner Krzysztof Piesiewicz and not least of all, the man responsible for the music in most of his films, Zbyszek Preisner. Music features a great deal in the film that preceded the Three Colours - The Double Life Of Veronique - a story about a a young woman who sings beautifully but suffers from a heart condition. Throughout this feature film, the choral works of Van Den Budenmayer are heard. The composer, from Holland, also features in the Decalogue Series (Kieslowski's ten television drama films, each one based on one of the Ten Commandments).

In Blue, Van Den Budenmayer is mentioned and his music heard; the husband of the central character, Julie, was a composer who, in his last unfinished work was referencing the Dutchman, his own favourite composer.

In the last film of the trilogy, Three Colours Red, the central character of Valentine listens to Van Den Budenmayer on the headphones in a music store, before going to the counter to buy the disc, but they’re sold out.

Having an interest and deep affection for a great deal of classical music, after watching the Three Colours Trilogy repeatedly, I wanted to find out about this composer Van Den Budenmayer who had obviously been such an inspiration to Kieslowski and his musical partner Preisner. I had never heard of Van Den Budenmayer and assumed that he must have been an obscure lesser-known composer or he occupied a gap in my not exhaustible knowledge. I traipsed from record store to record store (they actually existed then) and had retail assistants wade through copies of the Penguin Guide to Classical Music and even Grove (the multivolume Dictionary of Music and Musicians); we drew a blank every time. Van Den Budenmayer would remain a mystery.

It wasn’t until some years later, when reading the Faber & Faber publication Kieslowski on Kieslowski that the puzzle was solved for me: "... Van Den Budenmayer is a favourite Dutch composer from the end of the nineteenth century. He doesn’t exist. We (Kieslowski and Preisner) invented him a long time ago. Van Den Budenmayer is really Preisner, of course. Preisner is now taking his old works and saying that they were written by Van Den Budenmayer. Van Den Budenmayer has even got a date of birth and a date of death. All his works are catalogued and the catalogue numbers used for recordings”. After all that, he is a phantom.

Day #61 Tip: Leave room for your collaborators
Film is a collaborative art form, despite what the “vanity credit” would have you believe (A Film By.....). If I want the best people to come and play with me on the scripts that I write, to be inspired by my screenplays, then I must leave room for them to do what they do best.

I consult on a number of first-time screenwriter’s scripts and one of the commonalities that I see and read, is the specification of a particular piece of music, often by a nominated recording artist or artistes. Apart from presenting a copyright problem (financial) to the producers of the film, it also does the would-be composer/sound designer/music editor out of a job and it's tantamount to we (the writers) saying that we know what's musically best here.....is that so?

But there’s something else. Green screenwriters often use a song or piece of music to lean on, emotionally. It could be a favourite track, often a track that inspired the scene or a character in the scene and, writers will often tell you, it was the music that they were listening to when they wrote the scene. A specific choice of music should only be referenced in the scene directions if it is integral and intrinsic to what’s taking place in the scene itself; like the song Misty by Johnny Mathis that was central to the Clint Eastwood film Play Misty For Me.

Preisner’s collaboration with Kieslowski was indeed rare and special. At the time of the director's untimely death, Kieslowski’s scriptwriting partner, Piesiewicz and his musical partner, Preisner, were working with him on a concert-cum-mystery play-cum-opera that was to be performed on the Acropolis in Athens. The first part of this work, now called Requiem For My Friend, is Preisner’s musical farewell to Kieslowski.

A demain mes amis.....Rouge.

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