Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Swimming In the Collective Consciousness with Wojciech Kilar

As writers - artists, often we are let loose; we become searchers; we seek, swept on an endless trail of letters, ideas, music and images.

We hunger for more, enraptured by our quest; we seem to find ourselves, again and again, within the subtle interconnections between what we have loved, what we love, and what we grow to love.

The memory of what we have loved is re-ignited with every new discovery that we make, and there is enlightenment in this reunion with our nature.

But later we find, that our nature is not our own. Because by some unexplained happenstance, we flit back, we return, time and time again, to those who have inspired us, and there, through some subconscious force, we are awakened by them. By their side, we come to create.

In this pattern, the face of our obsessions slowly surfaces, and with it, the ties that bind us to those who have made us, come to be revealed.  It becomes evident that in this web, this collective consciousness, we have a place; snug, we fit. And those we look up to, are close, much closer than we could ever imagine.

Do you often experience this? As a writer? When all the stories, ideas, artwork, cinema or music that you have loved, and whose essence have shaped you, are somehow woven by the same thread. That everything you admire or that fascinates you, is related; magically.  That the more you look into these, the more you see that those obsessions are tightly bound.  That they have, not just one, not two, but numerous links between them, and that when all those inspirations are laid out, that you fit, in there, at the very center.

When you discover this center, you are surprised to discover that it is not yours alone. Your origin, those individuals whose art has imbued your psyche - you commune with them. They are there, by your side.

As a child, how I loved Jacques Prévert's and Paul Grimault's Le Roi et L'Oiseau. This 1980 French animation sets Hans Christian Andersen's The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep within a dystopian kingdom, ruled by a narcissistic despot.

It is the story of two fated lovers, who must try to save their relationship from the tyranny of a king enamored of the shepherdess. The surreal intrigue is compounded by the fact that it is the king's portrait who, having emerged from his own canvas and sent the real king to the dungeons, sets off a ruthless chase for the Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep.

With the help of my favorite character, L'Oiseau - a gregarious and anti-authoritarian mockingbird who protects them at every turn - the couple flee through the canal city, a world reminiscent of a sci-fi Venice, where they are chased by a black-clad, sbirri-like secret police.

This animation, which borders between lyricism and social satire, was the joy of my childhood. It is deep, with levels that I am still discovering. Its imagery often evokes Salvador Dali landscapes, where unbearable emptiness stretches across intricate details of spires, bell towers, endless steps and mechanical contraptions, stirring with it, paranoia and anxiety. To think that Salvador Dali has been my favorite artist since my mid teens.

There is much to like about this surrealistic masterpiece of French cinema.  As an aside, my favorite scene takes place in a cell where the Chimney Sweep has been imprisoned by the King's men, and is about to be devoured by a pack of lions.  Seeing this, the mockingbird urges his fellow cell mate, a blind musician, born in an underground subculture and who has never seen the sun, to play a happy tune with his accordion so as to distract the lions. And so the music plays on.

But the mockingbird, a master storyteller, and fluent in several languages (including "Lion"!) has a plan.  As part of the 'entertainment', and still accompanied by the happy ballad of the blind accordion player, the mockingbird begins to recount the poor Chimney Sweep's tragic love story to the hungry felines. Together with sound effects, and heightened pathos, the bird tailors the story to match the lions' interests, until the beasts' indignation towards the King reaches a climax. They force open the cage and free all the prisoners, before marching towards the tyrant.

That's the Bird. Protector and Catalyst...

But the real jewel of Le Roi et L'Oiseau, and the soul of this post, is the astounding soundtrack, by Polish composer, Wojciech Kilar. His wonderful music is in my bones. It is part of me, just as Le Roi et L'Oiseau has seeped deep into my psyche.

Wojciech Kilar returns again, later in my life, as the composer for Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) and later, he brings his dark arts to Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate (2000).

The Ninth Gate, a film based on the novel adaption of The Club Dumas, has been a vivid inspiration for my upcoming novel, The Mascherari. I remember watching the film and feeling irrevocably drawn to it, believing that I had always known it. It's a strange feeling that one. Then again, perhaps it is Kilar's music which holds the key to my memory.

Reflecting on The Mascherari, if I were to look into the face of Venice, in the manner I have drawn it, with The Council of Ten's shadow looming over my protagonist, with its secret police- its sbirri, at every turn, I come face to face with the menace I remember in Le Roi et L'Oiseau.  In my creation, I return to what I have known, and through this, I remember that Wojciech Kilar's haunting notes are never far.

Thank you Mr Kilar, for the music and for the inspiration.

Wojciech Kilar died in 29 December 2013. But his music lives on. 

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