Most of us have had some moments of regret. Artist Laurie Simmons may have had a few, too, but failing to create her dream project is definitely not among them.
That project, a film called “The Music of Regret,” — which includes some songs sung by Meryl Streep — will be screened as part of an interactive Zoom event to benefit the Cornwall Library on Saturday, Jan. 9, at 4:30 p.m. The registration link is https://bit.ly/3huMamB
The screening will be followed by a conversation between Simmons, of Cornwall, and her daughter, writer/director/actor Lena Dunham (Golden Globe winner for the HBO series, “Girls.”)
We asked Simmons what she and Dunham may discuss, aside from the movie?
“Well, Lena helped me with some of the writing and plot lines in my film and she claims that watching me make ‘The Music of Regret’ inspired her to make her own movies,” Simmons said. “I’m going to ask her if that’s true.”
Simmons, whose deeply personal film premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in 2006, said she’d wanted to make a film since art school.
“I realized that even though I’d been shooting still photographs for many years, the characters in my pictures were actually animated and alive in my imagination and it was time to act on that impulse.”
So what inspired the film and how did Streep wind up in its middle act? Simmons shared via email how it all came together.
“I met the art dealer, Jeanne Greenberg-Rohatyn, and she asked me what my dream project was,” Simmons said. “Before I could even think about it I told her I wanted to make a movie.
“I’d always had a secret passion for movie musicals and a pretty thorough knowledge of the American songbook, which horrified most of my artist friends — this was before ‘Glee’ or Disney musicals or ‘Hamilton’ started to make musicals cool again. Alternately, I wanted to say goodbye to an entire period of my work and a movie musical seemed like a way to bring the characters to life for a grand finale.”
“The Music of Regret” explores multiple subjects and was inspired by a book Simmons read. “I’d always been interested in the idea of regret and in the late ’90s I found a book called ‘Regret: The Persistence of the Possible,’ by Janet Landman, which really got me thinking about the obsessions we often have with the road not taken, what we could’ve been or done or who we might have loved.
“I’d made a series of pictures of a male and female ventriloquist dummy and called it ‘The Music of Regret.’ I revisited that concept and wrote a three-act musical based on regret and the different ways it can manifest in our lives,” she said.
The first act “is a puppet soap opera, based on the notion that one wrong move like buying a green tie or baking a vanilla cake can create a domino effect of events that spiral out of control.” Act 2, which stars Streep, is about regret in love, and Act 3 “is about how almost winning the gold medal or almost getting the lead in the play can make us feel so ‘ALMOST.’ ” Act 3 is danced by the Alvin Ailey II dancers.
“So I’ve taken this relatively understudied emotion of regret and tried to speak to all its subtleties and nuances,” she said.
The subject is as relevant today as when the film premiered. Although Simmons was passionate about her project from the start, and she and Streep were friends, she knew there were no guarantees Streep would want to participate.
“Meryl was an old friend. We’d met in New York when we were part of a young crowd of artists that included her husband, the sculptor Don Gummer. I knew Meryl loved to sing but that didn’t necessarily mean she would accept a part in my film.
“I worked with a composer named Michael Rohatyn who wrote achingly beautiful melodies. I wrote the lyrics and would send them along to him. He worked at night. I worked by day. It was one of my favorite collaborations of my life.
“I invited Adam Guettel to sing in the movie. I was just crazy nervous when I met him for the first time. He is after all Richard Rodgers’ grandson — thus musical royalty. When he agreed to sing in the movie I played the finished songs for Meryl and told her she would sing with Adam Guettel. She instantly said YES. It helped that I knew Meryl had seen Adam’s play, ‘Light in the Piazza’ like five times.”
Simmons employs dolls, custom-made ventriloquist dummies, and animated objects to act, dance, and sing about love, interpersonal dynamics, problems with neighbors, and of course, regret, in the film, according to a news release from the Cornwall Library. Audience members will have the opportunity to write in questions for the artists during the event.