COMBINING A TALENT FOR MOVIES AND MUSIC
By AMY BIANCOLLI
Section: ARTS, Page: I1
Date: Sunday, August 16, 1998
Used by permission of the Times Union
Never question David Langlitz's commitment to music. Or, for that matter, to film. Four years ago, Langlitz was accepted by the graduate program at the New York University film school. He attended full-time. Problem was, he also happened to be working full time as principal trombonist in the Metropolitan Opera orchestra.
"Basically, for a three-year period, I didn't sleep much," says Langlitz, a Capital Region transplant who grew up in Delmar. "I would get up in the morning at 6:30am, take the subway down to NYU for an early morning class, take the subway uptown for a late-morning rehearsal at the Met, take the subway back downtown for an afternoon class at NYU, take the subway uptown to the Met for a performance at 7:30 or 8 in the evening, then walk home at midnight. It was a pretty hectic three years."
It was, however, worth it. The emergent writer-director, who still holds his job with the Met, has been gleaning attention and film-festival awards with his debut effort, a 28 minute tale of love, loss and forgiveness titled "Angel Passing."
Starring Hume Cronyn and featuring (in a microscopic part as a nurse) a pre-"Ally McBeal'' Calista Flockhart, the film's subject is fittingly musical: It concerns an aged ex-concert pianist (Cronyn) who, confused by Alzheimer's and overcome by memories of his late wife (Teresa Wright), leaves his nursing home and shuffles through the streets of Manhattan to his old apartment.
There, he encounters a young Asian artist (Elaine Tse), whom he mistakes for his wife and who becomes, in the final moments, his confessor. The action is suffused with music, from J.S. Bach (performed in fantasy sequences) to Langlitz's own scored passages. It's an emotional and deeply redemptive film, a small but moving drama that jerks honest tears.
"I wanted to explore the subject of love and compassion in this particular movie, and and also forgiveness,'' said Langlitz, speaking in a recent phone interview from his home on Manhattan's West Side. "I mean, nobody's a saint, and everybody at the end of their life has some kind of reckoning. The title of the film is 'Angel Passing.' In one sense the young Chinese woman is an angel to the man, and in some ways he's an angel to her."
He's cheered by audience response to the film, which has garnered raves around the globe. Since premiering earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, Langlitz's short has snagged awards at competitive festivals in Houston and Atlanta and earned acclaim at noncompetitive festivals in St. Petersburg and Paris. It's also been accepted into the Mill Valley festival in San Francisco.
Everywhere it's screened as it will be, Langlitz hopes, in Albany the reaction is the same. "At the end of the movie, people are always weeping," Langlitz said. "People love to be moved. People want emotion. And I hope this sort of Hollywood preoccupation with special effects to the exclusion of a really strong plot is a phase that will pass."
At the core of "Angel Passing" is a dream Langlitz once had about an old man in a nursing home. Using that for inspiration (and recalling visits with his own grandfather), he wrote the story over a year and a half with Hume Cronyn in mind. Cronyn and his wife, Jessica Tandy (who died shortly thereafter), had been living on the East Side. Langlitz sent him the screenplay.
"The next day I was in a Chinese restaurant with a friend, a producer, and (Cronyn) walked in with Jessica Tandy. And my friend said, 'Why don't you go over and introduce yourself?' But I was just too shy. I'm basically kind of a shy person.'' With Langlitz watching from afar, Cronyn and Tandy sat, ate their meal, talked animatedly and got up and left. The next day, Langlitz's phone rang. It was Cronyn.
"He said, Mr. Langlitz, this is Mr. Cronyn. Jessy and I were in a Chinese restaurant yesterday with your script, and I liked it,' said the filmmaker, laughing at his own luck. "So we met and discussed it and he agreed to come and work for nothing for two weeks on the set. He said he'd gotten five nursing home scripts that month, and that he liked mine the most."
For the role of the pianist's wife, Langlitz cast Wright ("Shadow of a Doubt,'' "Mrs. Miniver''), who, in yet another stroke of luck, lived just two blocks from the filmmaker's apartment. Auditions were held for the roles of the artist and nurse. Flockhart "had a terrific audition, so we signed her on but at the time, no one knew she was going to become Ally McBeal,'' Langlitz said.
Hoping to recover
The budget for the film was roughly $60,000, which Langlitz obtained from bank loans, relatives, a private investor and his own opera salary. He hopes to recover most of it in revenues.
He's working on another script, a feature this time, and he plans to maintain his double life in film and music. Neither the Met nor movie-making will be abandoned anytime soon. "The Met has actually been an incredible school,'' said Langlitz, whose parents are both musicians (his mother had a career as a pianist, his father as a trombonist and conductor).
"I used to go into the opera house and watch rehearsals when the orchestra was not involved. I'd watch the lighting design, the production design, how the geometrical design of the production would enhance the plot and subtext of a particular story. So I tried to take some of these things and apply them to film.''
Both music and cinema, he said, "have the capability to bypass the intellect and go directly to the subconscious.'' Directors he admires include Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman, whose darkly ruminative works inspired Langlitz to become a filmmaker. His favorite composers are harder to nail down; there are simply too many of them. "Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi, Wagner, Debussy the list is endless,'' he said.
Does music make him cry? "Oh, yeah. I can cry in concerts. Beethoven's Ninth, the Ode to Joy, that moves me deeply every time.'' And what about film? Does the director of a three-hanky short cry at the movies? "I think I'm a hard sell at the movies. But I think if it's a strongly humanist theme, I'm always deeply moved.''
With "Angel Passing," Langlitz has made just the sort of film he likes to watch: emotional, reflective, marked by closure. It's also manifestly spiritual. "I would not say I'm particularly religious. I would say that I'm spiritual," he said. "A number of people have asked me . . . 'Do I believe in angels?' In some ways, I wanted to make this film as a reaction against films about angels.
"If there's a divine source and I believe very strongly that there is then these must manifest themselves through men and women in their actions. And I think every day we're given opportunities to be angels to each other."
RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS
Interview and text by Yo Watanabe
Japanese Monthly Magazine OGGI,
published by Shogakukan
When I look at David, the image of "fire flaring up on winter night" comes to my mind. It may be because of the contrast between his reticent manner of speech and the way he keeps his cool, and the passion that flickers in him when he talks about music or film. He is a busy musician, performing for hours almost everyday as principal trombonist for the Metropolitan Opera, while being an up and coming film director as well. His first film "Angel Passing" has won great acclaim at many film festivals across the U.S., Canada and Europe, including the famed Sundance Film Festival.
Asked when he first thought of becoming a musician, he didn't take too long to answer: "At age ten." David was born in upstate New York and grew up as the eldest of four siblings [he has two younger brothers and one sister]. His father, also a conductor and trombonist, may have had a plan to make a musician of him as well. When David turned five, his father brought down a trombone from the attic and allowed him to touch it and even to play it. Next day, however, the instrument was put away in the attic again. On his sixth birthday, and on his seventh, eighth, ninth, the ritual was repeated. But on his tenth birthday, his father not only got the instrument out of the attic and let him play, but he let the young David have it. The trombone was never put back in the attic again – now it was given for him to keep.
"It was like I was given the Holy Grail or something, you know" he recounted. "From that day on, I practiced everyday." I guessed my father's plan worked." He continued to play in school. After high school he entered Juilliard, one of the most prestigious art schools in the country. It looks like everything has been so smooth, so impeccable – I told him. He smiled and shook his head: "No, not necessarily, not always. I mean...when I was in high school, my parents got divorced. It was a big shock to me. When it happened, I started to practice even harder. And harder. Music was the only way for me to get through the pain and confusion I was feeling then.
I only know the "present tense" David, who looks so cool and elegant. Poise and discreet, yet knowing what he is worth. "Well", he reflected, "I was very shy when I was younger. I could communicate through music, but not so much with words. I had to consciously train myself in order to become able to speak in front of people".
At one point in his career, he took a year leave of absence from the Metropolitan Opera to accept a U.S. government award to give solo recital and master classes in China, Korea and Japan. In Korea he was coaching the brass section of the Seoul orchestra. One night, as he was coming home from a concert, he noticed that his doorman was watching the movie "Star Wars" on television in a little booth. "I had a moment of realization then: the music of Mozart or Wagner are wonderful, but he ["the doorman"] may never have an opportunity to listen to live opera. But through film, you can reach someone like him, and share something." When he came back to the U.S. he applied for film school, and he was accepted. After that he spent several years of extreme busy-ness, being a Metropolitan Opera Orchestra musician and a graduate film student at New York University at the same time.
I asked him about what he makes of the meaning of life, or his role: "I think that I am here to take whatever God has given me, and use it to give to others." Asked about his favorite words, he told me that they are "faith" and "dare". "Faith" as in" to have faith in something larger than yourself, as an inspiration to get through the day. And "dare" as in: to dare to do things you dream to do, despite criticism.
His first film "Angel Passing" was his thesis for grad school. Accompanied throughout by music from Bach, and also composed by David himself, the piece tells the story of an old pianist [played by Mr. Hume Cronyn] who, because of Alzheimer's disease, wanders through the world of memory and the present. "In the beginning, a lot of people asked me: "Why are you making a film about an old man? It's not going to succeed." David admitted: "I even thought for a moment of changing it to something else entirely. But there was this voice inside me that told me to do it. I kept feeling that I had to make it."
His instinct was right: the film received rave reviews across the continent and overseas. But it so hard sometimes to have faith in your own instinct, that certain essence within you, isn't it?... I asked him.
"Yes", he responded. The key is to be able to listen. If I could listen to that inner voice and hear that essence, and allow it to direct me so that I can give to others...for me, that may be 'happiness'".