Music is Magic , From the Mind to the Stage to the Screen
By Sergio Navarretta
Ever since I can remember , music has played a significant role in my life . I have used music to escape , be inspired , lose myself , and be transported to another place or time . In many ways , it was my first language . Growing up , the radio was always on in my house , and I remember how much joy it brought to my family . As I got older , I collected 45 records and I recall the sheer joy I felt hearing the sound of the needle hitting the album just before a song played . As a kid I didn ’ t quite understand how it worked , but somehow sound came out of this box and it made me feel good . I had everything in my collection from 1950s Italian pop hits that my parents brought with them from Italy to The Beatles and Elvis Presley . I guess I have always been a bit of an old soul because , for some reason , I resonated with Elvis and his early music . I felt as if I could understand the man through this music , and I related to him as an outcast , a bit of an oddball , and as an artist . I was extremely introverted as a kid , and often did not fit in . Music was my escape and my refuge .
Besides studying music theory and vocals at the Royal Conservatory , performing in several bands , and starting an indie music label , my love affair with the business of music ended in the mid-1990s . I ’ d met a guy in my neighbourhood who had made a movie on super 16mm film and premiered it at a cinema in Toronto . Witnessing his journey was my first experience of the film world , and I quickly developed a fascination for it . Movies brought together all my passions and interests ; I could still be connected to music , while exploring my love of storytelling . One day I would serendipitously meet Hollywood director James Cameron and that encounter changed my life . He told me if I wanted to make a movie , I should simply pick up a camera and shoot something . So , I did – and a career was born .
As a director , I rely on music for pacing and tone , and I love to explore ways music can evoke certain feelings in an audience . With every project , I prefer to work early with my musical collaborators so that a musical theme is established before a single frame is shot . On my first feature film , Looking for Angelina , I worked with composer Angelo Oddi . Despite our challenges in time and budget , we shot for the stars . We collaborated with a well-known local and internationally acclaimed quartet , Quartetto Gelato , who brought the film to life when they performed and recorded to the picture . At the world premiere , prominent industry figures were present , including Jan Harlan ( Stanley Kubrick ’ s long-time producer and brother-inlaw ). Even though I was the architect of the film and helped shape it , the images combined with words , the actors ’ performances , and , above all , the music created a powerful impact on the audience . There was not a dry eye in the house . My obsession to experiment with the alchemy of these elements crystalized at that moment .
My latest film , The Cuban , stars living-legend Lou Gossett Jr ., Shohreh Aghdashloo , Ana Golja , Giacomo Gianniotti , and Lauren Holly . It ’ s about a young Afghan nurse who befriends an aging ( once famous ) Cuban musician with Alzheimer ’ s named Luis . When she plays music for him , Luis begins to awaken from his catatonic state . In preparation for this movie , I conducted as much research as I could ( with the help of Baycrest Hospital ’ s top researchers ) and even had the opportunity to witness such a miraculous transformation firsthand . I watched videos where patients literally began to recall forgotten memories . I also visited a patient in person who was completely catatonic – until the music played and he came to life before my eyes .
This experience gave me the confidence to guide what became an incredible , subtle , and nuanced performance by the legendary Lou Gossett Jr . I teamed up with the legendary Cuban-Canadian composer and pianist Hilario Durán . Working with Hilario was a joy , and one of the most special experiences of my life . I remember sitting in the recording studio weeks before the start of principal photography even began , listening to his remarkable soundtrack come to life for the first time . Inspired by the script and our many conversations , Hilario created brilliant songs that we were lucky to actually use on set . I made our sound man play Hilario ’ s vibrant Cuban tunes between takes for the actors and crew , setting the mood each day for happiness , camaraderie , fun , and a distinct Cuban feel that permeated every scene . Hilario ’ s soundtrack set the tone for The Cuban on set as much as it did on screen .
Many of us would agree music played an important role in our lives since the start of this pandemic . It has the power to uplift our spirit and transform our mood . Imagine a world without music ? It is literally unthinkable . Music is one of those essential components of life – it is like the air we breathe . I continue to use music in work environments , while I ’ m doing my creative work alone on-set with my crews . Music tunes us into a frequency , brings us on an emotional journey , and since my earliest days , I ’ ve realized it also has power to bring us together in a way that no drug on Earth can .
Sergio Navarretta is an award-winning , Italian- Canadian film director based in Toronto . His latest movie , The Cuban , was in the race for the 2021 Academy Award nominations . It won “ Best Music Supervision for film budgeted under $ 5 million ” at the 11 th
annual Guild of Music Supervisors Awards . Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ sergiodirector . www . snapfilmsinc . com .
30 CANADIAN MUSICIAN