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An Evening With Patti Smith, Darren Aronofsky and ‘Noah’

An Evening With Patti Smith, Darren Aronofsky and 'Noah'

When Darren Aronofsky and legendary singer, artist and punk rock influencer Patti Smith unite, you get…a lullaby? 

Aronofsky recruited Smith to write and perform the song “Mercy Is” for his biblical epic “Noah.” The two came together once again last night at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria at a screening of the film followed by a conversation between the two artists and a special performance from Smith. The collaboration came about in typical Hollywood fashion — a 3 AM stroll on the streets of Venice. Aronofsky said, “We were getting lost and having fun getting lost and she asked
me about what I was working on and I told her how I was struggling with this big
problem that I saw coming up with the project, which was this lullaby
that had to be sung by both Russell (Crowe) and Emma (Watson). There was this idea of writing a lullaby for the movie and I hoped that maybe
Patti would connect. Then she lit up and said how much lullabies had been a big
inspiration for her and how she studied lullabies. She was asking me if she
could work on it and I tried to act as cool as possible.”     

While Aronofsky gave Smith free reign with the song’s lyrical conception, he explained how the thematic focus of the story had to be incorporated into this critical song. “There’s this big theme in the movie, which is the idea of
justice and mercy. There’s very little written in the
bible about the story of Noah, but there’s one big clue about Noah’s character, which was that he was righteous in his time. If you talk to bible scholars
about what righteous means, it doesn’t mean good. It means a balance of justice
and mercy. As a parent you can understand that. If you’re too just with a child or if you’re too strict with a child, you’ll crush them and if you’re too merciful
with a child, you can spoil them. So finding that balance is what makes someone
righteous. It was clear at the beginning of the story God wanted justice. He
was angered and so upset that he was willing to destroy his creation. By the
end he learns mercy with the rainbow and he decides to spare and promise that
will never happen again by his hand. So, we wanted to demonstrate that justice
and mercy balance.” 

READ MORE: Darren Aronofsky on How The Bible Inspires Him and The Future of Indie Film

Smith connected to the idea of a lullaby in particular. “Lullabies
are so beautiful because they’re usually innately sad or they have a
melancholia within them because you’re singing to a baby that’s so innocent and
you’re singing knowing that the baby will have to grow up and face all the
terrible things in the world. So, you have to sing and comfort the child, help
the child sleep but some of your own longing in pain are infused in a lullaby.”

Both Aronofsky and Smith spoke on their personal connection to the biblical stories, notably taking a different stance. Aronofsky discussed the debate over the historical accuracy and asserted, “When you look at the first 10 chapters of Genesis, it clearly is just myth. It becomes a historical-ish document after the story of Babel.
But, everything before that is poetry. So, for me, what I’ve gotten out of this
whole journey is the clarity of saying there’s more power in these early
genesis stories and accepting that they’re poetry and get away from this whole
struggle and fight.”

Smith, who will be performing at the Vatican this Christmas, mentioned her upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness and said she saw “these stories as
interpretations of something that did happen. To me I could believe easily that
there was a great flood. But it’s not even
important to me whether it happened or not. I
thought about how man got another chance and then he fucked it up right away.
We constantly do that.”  

Smith was asked about why she’s performing at the Vatican especially given her seminal lyric from her 1975 song “Gloria” in which she says, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.” Staying true to her punk rock roots, Smith responded “It’s not against Jesus. It simply was saying I’m 20, I’m declaring my existence, I make my own mistakes, I don’t need
or want anyone dying for me. It was the hubris of a 20 year old girl and I
stand behind her, but I’ve evolved to many places since then. Also, I’m
rebellious. I’ll do what the fuck I want,
especially at my age. Excuse me, I hope there’s no small children here.” 

The evening concluded with a performance by Smith and her singing partner Lenny Kaye of the film’s lullaby “Mercy Is” and a surprise performance of “Pissing in the River,” a song about “the blessing and the burden of being an artist,” which she dedicated to Aronofsky.  

READ MORE: Review: Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ Starring Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Jennifer Connelly & More

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