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London Calling

Two Philip Glass Interviews

By Published: October 15, 2003

PG: One of the most interesting things about working with people is that they are all different. It could be Allan Ginsberg or Bob Wilson or Doris Lessing or Michal Rovner or Shirin Neshat. One of the reasons I like to work with people I haven't worked with before (although I often work with them again) is to discover how that encounter is going to happen. Michal and I work very close to each other, just a few blocks away, so we had the opportunity to speak frequently. She came to my studio. I went to her studio. I did that also with Shirin Neshat, who also lives down the street. She had a storyboard and I actually began writing music to the storyboard and showed her what it was going to be like. Although I did that also with Michal. So with these two I was able to work very closely. With Peter Greenaway, he was living in Holland. I was in Holland, so I went to see him and he had a film idea. The Man in the Bath was something he had been working on and had completed, and I wanted to talk about that. He didn't want to talk about that. He wanted to talk about something completely different, which didn't help me at all, and I went away not having had the conversation I wanted to have. And then I just wrote the music. But he did something even stranger. When I finished the music, he actually completely re-edited it. It was far too late to do anything. Fortunately, the film and the music are both so chaotic, in a way, that one can hardly notice. But I notice. And Michael, who had learned the score, he had to relearn it. That is the difficulty; we had to do it that way.

GS: So this was a filmmaker completely re-editing his film as a result of hearing your score?

PG: From my point of view, it was a disaster. From the point of view of the actual piece and the audience, I don't think it makes any difference at all. My personal problem with it doesn't really matter. We ended up using it the way he did it. With Atom, we had quite a different situation, where there were some images he wanted to use of this church that was burning. They were images made by Elia Kazan and he had been very protective and wouldn't let anyone use those pictures. But I happened to know the family and I got a message to him that I was very interested in doing this and I think they somehow got him in a weak moment and persuaded him. He was afraid it would be very political, which of course it was. And I said, "It's not going to be political. It's going to be purely aesthetic." But I had no idea what Atom was going to do. So then Atom sent me this picture and it was completely the opposite of what I thought it would be. The night of the first performance, Mr. Kazan's wife came, who had been the intermediary, and I didn't say anything to her but she was clearly going to see a film that was very brutal and very political. Afterwards, I said to her, "Francis, how did you like the movie." And she said, "I thought it was very, very good." I don't know what she thought, but it was done, it was a done deal. She could have said, "Oh my God. You've taken this image and?" But she didn't say that. Every relationship was different. With Atom, I thought we were doing one piece and ended up doing another. With Peter, he didn't even properly talk to me. With Shirin and Michal, we talked a lot. If you look at them, in a way, I don't know that you can tell. These interactions are highly personal. It's how you work but has nothing to do with what happens in the end.

GS: It is interesting that there are a number of themes and images and ideas that keep recurring in the films, even though they are by totally different people and they didn't speak - fire, journey, Diaspora...

MR: No entertainment.

GS: [Question from the audience] Philip, have you ever felt frustrated and wanted to edit the film yourself?

PG: No. I have watched a lot of film editing - especially with Godfrey [Reggio] - for the last twenty-five years. I have never wanted to do it myself. On the other hand, in the commercial projects I have done, where I have to make changes I don't want to make, I have done my best to persuade the director not to do what he wants to do, and they never listen. But I have never been tempted to make a film or become a filmmaker. To me, it is a metier that is so refined and professional in its own way that I wouldn't dare to do it. I hope for the best with my collaborators, and very often the best happens. Sometimes it doesn't.

GS: [From the audience] The repetitive phrase in the Shirin Neshat film sounded very Persian. Was that deliberate?

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