"The Inner Film" – Director’s Notes
By Jan Schmidt-Garre
It was my 9-year-old son who made me curious about what’s going on in musicians’ heads when they play. I am myself rather a formalist. I think in terms of harmonic progression: going up or down the circle of fifths – the Hanslick approach... But when my son played the piano he said things like “there comes the forest track, and here we go down the hill“ or “it becomes calm and cozy here, I am in my cardigan"...
I started enquiring professional musicians. Maxim Vengerov imagines the musical piece like a story: “Not everything is on page one, you have to thrill the audience." ... “In this phrase I’m in a boxing ring. There I avoid getting beaten, here I pack a punch myself." Or Igor Levit: He sees people in the music he plays, faces of friends.
I thought of Scriabin’s performing instructions: “Luminously, enchanted, dizzily, velvet". “With profound, veiled ardour", “with increasingly caressing and sickening sweetness". Or this: “mysterious call". Erik Satie is even more extreme: “Don’t turn around, scratch yourself, smile, from the corner, precious!" This is not just dada – there is a profound correspondence to the music. How could I bring this out in a film? Musicians cannot talk and play at the same time...
A state of trance
We film (in cinemascope) a musician – a pianist, a singer, a violonist, a conductor – performing a piece of about 10 minutes. We repeat it several times in order to get a flawless result. We meet a second time. The musician sits in an arm chair, with headphones – eyes closed – and listens to his or her recording. In his imagination he re-performs what he did, in almost a state of trance – if he or she was playing the piece here and now again. And the musician tells us in his mother tongue what he or she sees and feels in this moment. No analysis: an unfiltered stream of consciousness. We get as close as possible to the actual thoughts and sensations of the artist while making music.
We record this two or three times. Then the two layers – the concert and the monologue – are being cut together. We obtain a 10 minute short that opens a window to the Inner Film that is being projected during the performance.