Talking Pictures

Off Key

‘Of Love and Shadows’ rings false

By David Templeton

Petaluma writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This time around, he meets up with Grammy Award-winning musician David Harrington, founder of the internationally revered Kronos Quartet, to see the film adaptation of Isabel Allende’s novel Of Love and Shadows.

It is noisy outside. And bright. As we emerge from a darkened screening room, and from the dark, unnerving world displayed in the film Of Love and Shadows, David Harrington stands blinking before leading us along the sidewalk toward my car.

Neither of us has yet said anything about the film, concerning an aristocratic Chilean journalist (Jennifer Connelly) and a left-wing photographer (Antonio Banderas), and their mutual discovery of secret government atrocities. The book was wonderful.

Pausing at a crosswalk, Harrington suddenly offers, “Well . . . I don’t know. You probably see more movies than I do,” and steps into the street.

If I am translating him correctly, what Mr. Harrington means to say is, “I didn’t really like it. But perhaps I expect something different from movies than other people do.”

In that, I suspect he would be right.

Harrington is the founder of the Kronos Quartet, a musical foursome (including John Sherba, Hank Dutt, and Joan Jenrenaud) that has–since its inception in 1973–pursued its own unique expectations of what music is, and of where it can be taken.

“I’ve always used my ears to tell me when I was in touch with truth,” Harrington says on the way back to his studio. “For instance, in this film we saw, just the way [the lead actress] spoke rang so false to me. If I didn’t have to use my ears to hear what she said, I might have believed it.

“I met a woman once,” he continues, “Eleanor Petzell. She was in the Red Cross in Dresden during World War II. At the first part of the war, her boyfriend went out–he was a German soldier–and she never saw him again. I remember her telling me what that was like to be in that city, which had been the cultural capital of Germany, and probably Europe, and to watch it go up in flames.

“She was in her 70s when I met her. She’d never married, and she always had the feeling that her heart was still with that young man who’d never returned.

“Yet she was one of the warmest persons I’d ever met,” he says, smiling. “I still remember the quality of her voice. There was an incredible gentleness to her voice. It’s not a quality that is given to people. It is something that is found. And when you hear that, it’s like your ear just trusts this person.

“It’s so immediately recognizable as being truthful that you’d think an actor or actress would seek these kinds of people out and study them.” He laughs softly. “As a musician, my ear just goes out to that type of person.”

If Eleanor were a musician, I wonder, would that quality extend beyond her voice and enter her music?

“I trust that it would,” Harrington replies. “You know, these fingers and arms, they are just the things we use to find the sounds that we believe in.”

Our discussion wanders a bit, arriving at the matter of the film’s big love scene, which incongruously follows the discovery of a mass grave. Harrington laughs.

“Not to say that making love should not be done at every opportunity,” he says. “But the timing was definitely off here.

“A couple of weeks ago, we were performing in China,” he adds. “While I was there, I went to try out some gongs, and one of them sounded wrong right away. You could tell it had a crack in it. Well, watching this movie, at that scene right there, I thought, ‘Hmmmm. I think this gong has a crack in it.'”

From the May 30-June 5, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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