Sufjan Stevens On Scoring Natalie Portman’s New Film

Natalie Portman, aka Devendra’s better half, is making her directorial debut with Eve, a 22-minute short film that stars Ben Gazzara and Lauren Bacall and a soundtrack by Sufjan Stevens. According to The Playlist, who had a tipster at the Venice Film Festival, where Eve premiered:

The short is evidently about a about a girl (Olivia Thirlby) who finds herself intruding on her grandmother’s romantic date, according to the Hollywood Reporter, the film was warmly received “crowd pleaser,” though our tipster noted that a boom mike was distinctively visible three times in the short and it was a bit “embarrassing,” considering Portman was there in the audience.

As for Sufjan, “his style was recognizable : piano, very melancholic, it was all instrumental,” wrote our Gallic friend. They added that a piece called “Forgotten Waltz,” was included, but they didn’t know who wrote it. At the press conference for the film, Portman actually talked about Steven’s inclusion and he actress turned director said she didn’t know the indie-rocker, but was a big fan of his and called him to see if he’d be interested in composing the score. She called his score “beautiful music,” and also noted before attempting to direct a feature, she’ll be taking on a few more acting roles…

We were curious to hear more about the soundtrack so we dropped Sufjan a line and a cluster of questions this morning, asking him for the story behind the soundtrack, his process, and if he had plans to do other film scores in the future:

SUFJAN STEVENS: Natalie had seen The BQE performance last year, and asked me to score a short film she was writing and directing, her first attempt, I think, at approaching things from the other side of the camera. I’d never even met her before; she sent the treatment, which she’d written herself. Well, I don’t usually read screenplays. We were trained to scoff at them in graduate school. But something about hers reminded me of the writing workshop. It’s not an “epic” story at all; it’s a charming character sketch of a privileged grandmother, all jewelry and martinis and such, played by Lauren Bacall. I was asked to add only piano, no songs, no arrangements, just quiet, sad, romantic flourishes. Ah! My forte! They sent me scenes, and I performed and recorded all the music in real time, watching the video files on my computer. I don’t especially like music in film, but this one had a few of those awkward, quiet woman-sitting-at- the-mirror-thinking-about-something-important scenes which ask for opera. Lauren Bacall, sans make-up, looking into the heart of the world. It’s like some kind of sad sorcery. But I don’t think I’d do this again, not unless Gus Van Sant called me, or if Kieslowski was raised from the dead, or if Cassavetes was raised from the dead, or if Antonioni was raised from the dead.

STEREOGUM: Did you have any other soundtracks in mind when you did it? Like some sort of soundtrack ideal?

SUFJAN STEVENS: The ideal soundtrack is Hitchcock’s The Birds, which has no music at all. The composer Bernard Hermann, famous for those screeching violins in Psycho, decided to score the film with manufactured bird sounds only. It’s the creepiest soundtrack ever.

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“It’s like some kind of sad sorcery.” That’s maybe the best/most precise descriptor for Stevens’s own work I’ve ever read. Otherwise, it’s unclear where Eve goes next, but we’ll keep you posted.

[Photo by Denny Renshaw]