Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

The Symphony

Grade : A+ Year : 2011 Director : Michael LaPointe Running Time : 1hr 32min Genre : , ,
Movie review score

“I cut. I burn. I hallucinate. And then I create.”

The main character in the haunting drama, “The Symphony,” repeats this as a mantra. He questions the logic of it, and yet, he continues, probably because it’s the only way he knows to live, and the only way he can feel alive. For the creative individual, this might be a familiar thought process, and a familiar feeling, even if we don’t agree with the routine. We understand the obsession that drives it.

Ray (Robin Zamora) is a musician, working on an album. He has an understanding girlfriend in Sam (Marissa Merrill), but his obsession for his music is driving a wedge in their relationship. You see, Ray is not just any musician; he is a self-mutilating musician. Whenever he cuts himself, he hallucinates, giving him inspiration to complete his album. It isn’t enough to just make music; it’s essential that he leaves a legacy greater than himself. The process of creating this album is killing him, but he continues because, he doesn’t know how to live any other way. As he comes to the conclusion of his great symphony, he finds an ending difficult: death is the only way, but how can he accomplish it, and finish his album at the same time?

It’s true that I have revealed more of the story than I would typically care to for such an extraordinary film, but if you ever watch the film (and I do hope you seek it out when it becomes available), you’ll find that I haven’t really revealed much at all. As directed by Michael LaPointe, the film is as unpredictable narratively as the work of Darren Aronofsky (in particular, “Pi” and “Black Swan”). Well, it’s unpredictable in how it gets to its conclusion, if not the conclusion itself. The emotional extremes of Lars von Trier’s films, such as “Breaking the Waves” and “Antichrist,” also came to mind as I watched Ray follow his obsession to the end. In a way, however, LaPointe has made a film that goes beyond what either of those directors have done by taking his ideas to the very limits; much like his protagonist, LaPointe’s limited resources provide remarkable inspiration, as Ray finds a guide in a spiritual man he meets on the streets (played by Bill Oberst Jr.), who will lead him on his final journey to complete his magnum opus.

If I’ve made “The Symphony” sound dark and dreary, I have done it an injustice. True, the basic story is unsettling; the visuals by LaPointe and his superb effects crew sear themselves into your memory with unnerving intensity; and the music and sound design by Rob Simon, which is among the best I’ve heard this year, has more in common with the films of David Lynch than the uplifting joy of a Disney film. But in Ray’s final words, and in our own thoughts on what we’ve witnessed in the film’s 90 minutes, we learn that Ray’s album is not about embracing death, but in capturing life, and the experiences that make it worth living, although in the end, even Ray seems to wish that he had been able to follow a different path in getting there.

Inspired by the experimental nature of “The Symphony,” I decided to ask the film’s writer/director, Michael LaPointe, about the film, and how he came up with some of the ideas. I hope you enjoy!

1) What was the genesis of the film?

The genesis of the film was a dream I had in which I dreamt of my
girlfriend, and in the dream she was made of paper; and every time I went to touch or kiss her I would get a paper cut and bleed. This dream is in the movie; however, through the editing process the scene was moved from the very beginning to about one third of the way in the film.

2) How did you go about writing the movie?

I love artistic challenges, and every movie I try to make, I like to
put a creative cog in the machine that will challenge me as a person to go to places that I have not gone before. The cog I placed on the Symphony, is that since I am such a huge story structuralist (I have studied a variety of story forms academically and empirically) I decided to write the screenplay for The Symphony using the surrealist storytelling technique known as Exquisite Corpse. In which a story is constructed one sentence at a time with no thought put into what the previous sentences contained. I simply, constructed the story from my previous nights dream. I would continually write the next scene of the movie based on what I dreamt the night before. And I continued this process for a few months until I had enough material for a feature length film. And then, I took a period of several months and wrote the dialogue and connected the dots so to speak. ๐Ÿ™‚

3) What filmmaker’s inspired you along the way to working on “The Symphony”?

Because of the nature of the writing there was not a filmmaker who inspired the film. I was inspired moreso by the poetry and mentality of Walt Whitman. Since Walt Whitman only wrote the one book Leaves of Grass to be his legacy to the world; I incorporated a lot of his philosophical views into the main character Ray. Who also sees himself leaving behind only one all encompassing masterpiece as his legacy to the world. (The poetry Ray recites in the movie are Whitman’s verses on death and legacy) I also used a lot of Whitman’s themes on sexuality and nature within the movie; usually as physical symbols; such as the use of leafs in the film.

4) Music and sound design is an essential part of the film. How early did you get Rob Simon, the film’s composer and sound designer, involved in the film?

Rob came on after there was a rough cut edited. Rob is an extremely creative guy who has previously worked as a music designer for Iron Man, The Wolfman, and some higher end video games so it was great when he wanted to work on The Symphony, especially for the amount of complex sound design needed to pull the film off on an aural level. He added such a brilliant voice to the sound design. I would consider him a true auteur in terms of composing and sound work. He has a unique ability to create these lush abstract sounds and edit them into the film in such a way that it takes your senses to a heightened level, even when the on screen picture could be a very mundane activity.

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