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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

James Marsh replies to Godfrey Cheshire's score-bashing

At House Next Door, Godfrey Cheshire recently expressed disdain for Man on Wire because of its use of Michael Nyman’s back catalog, leading him to walk out. Marsh replied; excerpts below. “I don’t want to get into a protracted debate about Man On Wire – I think it’s right to keep some separation between critics and film makers and I also think it is unseemly to whine about perceived critical slights. So, whilst I had MOW-UK-ICON-poster.jpgno objections to [Godfrey] Cheshire’s comments, I just wanted to correct some of the false assumptions he made about the process of making the film… [I]t was a perverse pleasure to see him getting so worked up about Greenaway’s legacy and the sacred documentary tradition and protecting them both from ignorant & lazy philistines like me… Cheshire manufactured his attack on the movie (or what little of it that he saw) from a series of hypothetical speculations (you might even call them dramatic reconstructions) so for the record, I’ve attached a short essay that I’d written by way of liner notes for the soundtrack CD of Man On Wire… Like many people, I first encountered the music of Michael Nyman in the films of Peter Greenaway. No one who has seen The Draughtsman’s Contract could possibly forget the way the music defines that film – it is mischievous, eccentric, achingly melodic and it serves to make the film emotionally accessible. But it was the score for Drowning By Numbers that completely bowled me over – almost all the emotional life of the film was expressed in Michael’s music and he found an uncanny depth lurking in the chilly narratives of the movie… The idea to use Michael’s music in Man On Wire actually came from the impeccable source of Philippe Petit himself… Philippe and I had just begun working on the film and I used to go and watch him as he performed his daily practice routines on a purpose built wire in his back yard. He likes to rehearse to music and amidst an eclectic soundtrack of classical pieces and gypsy music, I was ambushed by Michael’s stunning ‘Memorial,’ originally composed for the Greenaway film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. It was familiar but I couldn’t immediately place it – it seemed so perfect for the grace and energy of Philippe’s tight rope routines that it was hard to imagine it ever had any other purpose. And for Philippe, of course, it really hadn’t. I finally realised what it was – but I didn’t care at all that it was embedded in another film. Philippe had completely dislodged that association and reinvented its meaning. It’s a testament to the music’s power and mutability that this theme has now come to define Man On Wire, too… Mercifully, but perhaps not unexpectedly, [Nyman] loved Philippe’s fairy tale story and then literally opened up his entire back catalogue – both film scores and operas and other pieces he has written over a prolific career – for us to ransack with his guidance and support… [A] lot of the musical decisions were driven by cost and budget. The film was originally being made as a documentary for British television and we hadn’t factored in the massive costs of an original score or music clearances for theatrical. Recycling Nyman (and hopefully making it our own for the duration of the film) was the most effective way of scoring the film – and given Petit’s affection for it as performing music – it felt more than right creatively… [I]t’s worth pointing out: Michael constantly re-works, re-orchestrates and re-cycles his own music without shame or embarrassment. He doesn’t feel any of it is ‘owned’ by Greenaway or anybody else.”

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon