Legendary composer Philip Glass on his intimate soundtrack for the film Jane and the price of a changing world.
Drawing from over 100 hours of footage that has been tucked away in the National Geographic archives for over 50 years, director Brett Morgen’s film Jane tells the story of Jane Goodall, a woman whose chimpanzee research challenged the male-dominated scientific consensus of her time and revolutionised our understanding of the natural world.
The film is set to a rich orchestral score from composer Philip Glass, which adds to an unprecedented portrait of Goodall – a trailblazer who defied the odds to become one of the world’s most admired conservationists. The 80-year-old composer explains how his music had to complement the never-before-seen footage of the British naturalist.
The score for this film is very emotional and dramatic. How easy was it to accompany the natural score of the sounds of the jungle which already existed?
The inspiration really comes from the film. People often say, ‘How much do you look at a movie?’ And I usually say, ‘As little as possible.’ You want to bring a fresh point of view to a film so that the score can say unexpected things. However, in this case it’s the opposite. The music comes right out of the film. I had to present a musical canvas that at least could coexist with something that was astonishing.
You’re known for minimalist compositions and this doesn’t fit that mould…
Even Einstein On The Beach wasn’t a minimalist composition. The real minimalist pieces were written in 1968 and 1969, and that was the end of them. I still play those pieces in concerts – I played a piece a few nights ago that I wrote in 1969. It sounded pretty good and I played it because people want to hear it. But that repertoire of musical ideas would not have worked for this movie.
Has your style changed over your long career?
I’m writing now after 50 years of writing, so I have resources that I didn’t have when I was younger. And if people really like the early music, well I like it too! On the other hand, when I have a big image like this, it’s not that I’m competing with Mother Nature, it’s more difficult than that. I have to add something Mother Nature neglected to provide, in such a way that it doesn’t seem like an intrusion. Can you please turn off the music? That’s not the response you want. It has to seem to come out of the image.
Jane has had a long and fascinating life, and so have you, celebrating your 80th birthday earlier this year…
I said to her, ‘I’m glad to meet someone older than me in this business.’ And she laughed. She said, ‘How old are you?’ I said, ‘I’m 36’ and she replied, ‘I’m 34.’
How has the world changed in that time?
It’s interesting, especially in the United States. After the election one of my kids, who is 13 years old, called me up and said, ‘Dad, what’s going on?’ I said, ‘Democracy is expensive and we haven’t been spending anything on it so things are going to change now.’ I said, ‘Let me talk to your brother’ – he’s 15 – and my son said, ‘He’s out on a march.’ There was an urgency and a commitment to living collectively, if I can put it that way. Young people here are full of talent and energy, and I don’t believe that something as stupid as a Congress and a failed presidency is going to stop this country.
Did you fall in love with Jane a little bit as you were writing this?
How could you not? She devoted herself totally to this life. It’s that kind of commitment and devotion that goes beyond a marriage, it goes to something deeper. Is there such a thing? Well, I guess there is, and that’s what you see. And when you do see that, it’s inspiring.
Jane is released by Dogwoof and opens in UK cinemas on 24 November 2017.