The Ground Beneath Her Feet

Alan Rickman and Mike Figgis

Salman Rushdie’s 1999 novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet has been turned by composer Victoria Borisova-Ollas into a multimedia semi-opera, which premiered at the Manchester International Festival on June 29th. The multi-layered, fabulist blending of the Orpheus and Euridyce myth with the tale two Bombay rock stars involves the Hallé orchestra, electric guitars, readings by Alan Rickman, and – the reason for its notice here – a silent film directed by Mike Figgis, who has also directed the stage production.

Figgis’ half-hour film echoes the action, as indicated in this extract from a Guardian article:

Figgis is putting together a combination of still images and brief snatches of action – a “tableau vivant” is how he describes it to me in between takes at the small studio in Battersea, London, where he is filming over four days, working with a small budget and revelling in it. “I enjoy the fact that you’re very clear about what your limitations are and they’re not negotiable,” he says. “You can’t suddenly stop traffic or get extras. I woke up this morning and thought, ‘I wonder if they’re going to get enough denim farmwear together [for a scene set in the American midwest]. I remembered I had two denim work jackets and some cowboy neckerchiefs, so I brought them in.”

Figgis is anxious not to produce images that overpower the music (“I have to behave – and I am, I really am,” he says), and he does not intend to tell the story literally. Instead, he will provide filmic allusions that echo both story and score. “The book uses magic realism,” he says. “Fables dovetail and parallel each other. Film should try and function in the same way. But it needs to be very simple. It can’t be doing the sort of fireworks that would take the audience out of the music. It’s an interesting reversal. I’m a composer, too, so I do film scores. The function of the film score is to support the image. This is the opposite: the imagery is to support the music.”

An intriguing reversal indeed, to have a silent film acompanying a score (actually it happens a lot, but is promoted the other way round). However, I’ve found frustratingly little to describe the actual content of the film, nor any news as yet of any other performances. There are reviews to read in The Guardian and The Times, though they make little reference to the film.

2 responses

  1. I saw this on Friday. The film was not totally silent there was sound during a brief sex scene. I was sitting in the front row and so did not fully take the film in as I was rather overpowered by the fabulous orchestra and singers and my favourite actor, Alan Rickman, narrating.
    Sometimes it appeared as if the film were made of stills for there was often liitle movement. I belive the event was a “one-off” although on the composer’s website it mentions a performance happening in Sweden but whether this is with the same performers, I do not know.
    It was a wonderful event that I am still thinking about.

  2. Lucky you! Thanks for the information. It sounds like it was a full-on sensory event. Mike Figgis does talk about combining still images with motion, so it doesn’t quite sound like a ‘silent film’ as commonly understood. Presumably it wouldn’t work separately and won’t ever get shown as such. I wonder how (or if) it will end up on his IMDB filmography.

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