SEPTEMBER SONGS: The Music of Kurt Weill. Director Larry Weinstein drew upon music producer Hal Wilner’s brilliant album Lost in the Stars when he devised this rare and special film project featuring Nick Cave, Lou Reed, PJ Harvey, and Theresa Stratas among many others.
Theatre and Opera Designer Michael Levine was originally brought in to design the project and together with Larry developed the concept of staging the film within a large turn-of-the-century warehouse. Due to Michael’s extensive international commitments, I was hired to work with him as Associate Production Designer, which resulted in a wonderful collaboration and friendship.
The elegant industrial warehouse location served the project perfectly with its soaring heights, massive arched windows, and dramatic industrial age steel support posts and trusses. One of the single largest design efforts we had was to convert the extremely large interior space painted with bright parking garage white and royal blue banding, into a semblance of a textured WWII munitions factory. We had the space fully painted from floor to ceiling by a commercial paint company who took on the extra challenge of turning a basic, albeit large-scale paint job into the realm of scenic painting, saving us a tremendous amount of time and money. This also made it possible for our skilled film scenic artists to focus one the more detailed texturing.
The directorial and design approach to the film was multi-pronged: 1) to stage each of the 14 performances within environments specific to their individual musical numbers. 2) to thematically and physically link the individual performance to the larger encompassing warehouse. 3) to reference the time-frame and cultural milieu for which Weill composed the music. Some of the performances were enhanced with lavish Broadway-esque Busby Berkeley scenery that contrasted with the intrinsic industrial elements whereas others embraced a Brechtian, war-weariness that both emphasized and exaggerated the industrial grittiness.
The project was large in scope and vision but not in means, which prompted a highly visceral and active level of participation, whereby everyone in the Art Department, Michael and myself included, embraced a hands-on roll. With sets adjusting every 1 or 2 days, we became adept at driving fork lifts loaded with metal salvage and manoeuvring scissor lifts to rig up vapour barrier curtains, and pumping up Hudson sprayers to create pools of water across the massive concrete floor. September Songs was an experience charged with the excitement of working on a unique production with the awesome collection of international music artists.
Michael Levine and myself won a Gemini Award for Best Production Design for September Songs: The Music of Kurt Weill