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March 21, 2003 - Image 75

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-03-21

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`HEAVEN'

from page 71

out in the Warner Bros. mail room in the
1930s and worked his way up to head of
set construction and union organizer.
A Communist Party member, he
quit his job during the McCarthy-era
blacklists and founded a communica-
tions and electronics business. By the
1960s, he was living on an affluent
Studio City street, it turns out, just
two doors down from Bernstein's
home at the time.
"My whole life, we'd see films togeth-
er," Haynes said of his grandfather. "I
shared my obsessions with him all the
time. He helped me to go to college [at
Brown University] and ultimately, he
became a primary financier of my films."
The politically progressive Semler was
pleased when Haynes' provocative first
feature, Poison, not only won the top
prize at Sundance but became the
center of a National Endowment for
the Arts funding controversy.
"He identified with the history of
Jewish struggle," Haynes said. "All
my films are about resilient out-
siders, whether in terms of race or
sexual orientation, and I think I
inherited that from my grandfather."
Bernstein, in turn, told Haynes
about his grandfather, a "leather jacket
socialist," and described his own ban-
ishment to low-budget science fiction
and "cheesecake" films for a time dur-
ing the McCarthy era.
That ended, he said, when Cecil
B. DeMille summoned him to his
office, asked if he was a Communist
(Bernstein said no) and hired him on

The Ten Commandments.
The old Hollywood stories inevitably
startled Haynes. "I was reminded of
whom I was working with and I was,
like, speechless," he said by phone
from his Portland, Ore., home.
Haynes never imagined he would
engage a composer like Bernstein
when, burned out on New York's indie
filmmaking scene, he closed his
Brooklyn apartment and drove to
Portland to write Heaven — now up
for four Oscars — two years ago.
He had long intended to pen a
domestic melodrama inspired by Sirk,
whose own life read like one of his
tearjerkers.
"His second wife was Jewish, and he
had a difficult time getting her out of
Nazi Germany," Haynes said.
"Meanwhile, his first wife, a Nazi sym-
pathizer, made their son a star of the
Nazi youth cinema. Because she
wouldn't let him see the child, he had
to watch propaganda films to keep
abreast of his little boy, on the screen

wearing Nazi regalia. When the child
died, the Nazi cinema was his last con-
nection to his son."
From the moment Haynes began
writing his own Sirkian melodrama,
he had the score in mind. During his
first telephone conversation with
Bernstein, the composer referred "to
all the detailed descriptions in my
script — 'a dark mist of music gath-
ers,' 'music bathes the shadowy quiet,'
and we laughed," Haynes said.
If the descriptions sounded over-the-
top, the director and composer were
adamant the music should not.
"It took us the better part of three
minutes to realize we were in total
agreement as to what was to be done,"
Bernstein recalled. Nevertheless, scor-
ing a melodrama for contemporary
audiences "was like walking a
tightrope," he said.

"Elmer and I became
friends very fast, which
I think has a lot to do
with being Jewish, left-
leaning and interested
in the arts."

— Todd Haynes

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"A failure would have easily resulted
in parody," Haynes said.
He knew Bernstein had succeeded
when the composer sat at the piano
and played him the finished score as
the movie ran on a video monitor.
The lush, lyrical music speaks out in
ways the repressed characters can't: Piano
sequences underscore Cathy's fragility,
while otherworldly strains accompany
Frank's trek to an underground gay bar.
When Cathy walks in the woods with
her African-American gardener, Bernstein
introduces a rich melody that later repeats
as she pines for the man. "It's the only
moment in the film where the music
goes, shall I say, sunny," he said.
Almost a year after the composer
agreed to watch Heaven with its tem-
porary soundtrack, his score is eliciting
the best reviews of his career.
"One critic called my music 'the
sound of paradise,"' he said. So was his
harmonious collaboration with Haynes,
whom he continues to see socially.
"One of the biggest bonuses of
doing this film was finding Todd as a
friend," he said.

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