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Laurie Anderson and Brian Eno Talk Film, Music, Performance and the Nadir of Film Soundtracks

Laurie Anderson and Brian Eno Talk Film, Music, Performance and the Nadir of Film Soundtracks

The new LFF strand that opened this year with Christopher Nolan and Tacita Dean in a crusading mood about the future of celluloid ended with Laurie Anderson and Brian Eno musing on the cross-currents in their careers between film, music and performance.

LFF Connects has been a series of talks looking at the way film engages across all of the creative sectors. Guy Maddin, games designer Alistair Hope and documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux were among the other speakers.

The final event was actually billed as a showcase for Anderson, the musician and performance artist whose gorgeous new feature “Heart of a Dog” (HBO Documentary Films, October 21) screened at the festival; but when her old friend and colleague Eno came on board to conduct the conversation, the result became a two-way riff on whatever seemed to take their fancy.

Some of their more eccentric (and very funny) wanderings included Donald Trump’s appalling taste in architecture, Eno once being the only atheist in a Gospel Choir and a tale about Anderson’s grandmother, a Southern Baptist missionary whose assignment in Japan failed because she hadn’t bothered to learn the language, assuming that she could sway her targeted converts with song; she had to settle for teaching them how to make hats.

When they weren’t being whimsical, the pair were happy to be controversial, not least when talking about soundtracks.

“The nadir of film soundtracks is the Hollywood soundtrack,” suggested Eno, who has scored a fair few films himself, including the recent “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” “Every single edit is matched by a sound and every emotion is so heavily underlined that you could only miss it if you were a worm.”

He did commend Nino Rota’s work for Fellini. “He wrote a piece of music that existed on a parallel plane to the film. Sometimes the music and the film were in synch and sometimes they drifted apart.”

Anderson mentioned composer John Zorn, who she claimed would only watch a film a single time when scoring it and, just as crucially, “would have no meetings.”

Eno could better that. “I don’t want to see the film at all. I want the director to describe the film to me. I like to read the script if there is one. That’s the point where I find I have most ideas. Anything that happens after that narrows the field of possibilities.”

Weaving through their conversation was “Heart of a Dog,” Anderson’s first film since the 1986 concert movie “Home of the Brave” and an extraordinarily well-crafted and moving cine-essay – ostensibly about the death of her beloved rat terrier Lolabelle, but moving beyond the cute paean to her pet to touch on love and death, memory, storytelling, the post-9/11 surveillance state, and much else besides.

It was commissioned by the TV channel Arte. “It was supposed to be about my philosophy of life. Not a big film. The kind of film where you’d spend 25 minutes with a mumbling voiceover and a candle. I thought I’m going to try that, because I love that kind of film.

“But then I found I had a lot of related stories making their way in. Like many projects I do, this is about stories, how they are made and what happens when you repeat them and forget them and someone else tells your story for you. How do you evaluate which one is a version of the truth? It’s also full of questions, which was one way to move the narrative along, questions that are never answered.”

She joked that the film was made on her iPhone, but the plethora of different kinds of image, edited together in a liquid and painterly fashion would suggest that partly to be true.

“You can make a movie now with almost nothing and it will look pretty good. It’s the same with a record,” she said, with Eno adding, “And if it doesn’t look good in a conventional way, you take advantage of the way it does look.”

Anderson was particularly excited that the film was going to be part of a series of midnight screenings in Times Square, with the image projected on screens and a special app providing the sound. “It’s a dream come true.”

Something made apparent throughout the afternoon was that the fierce independence of both artists, now in their late sixties, hasn’t diminished.

Anderson’s installation “Habeas Corpus” has just been enacted in New York’s Park Avenue Armory, in which she established a live link between visitors and the former Guantanamo prisoner Mohammed el Gharani – barred from entering the US and so streaming from somewhere in West Africa. Guantanamo, Anderson told her London audience, “is our gulag. My motivation was largely shame.”

And she said that the moment when the New Yorkers mouthed “I’m sorry” to el Gharani’s image, “made my life as an artist.”

More often than not, she and Eno sprinkled their serious observations with humor. When he complained that he was rarely asked to present his music and light installations in the UK, she immediately quipped: “We have the art police too. Get back in your lane!”

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