Oscar winner Rachel Portman accepted her Career Achievement Award at the Zurich Film Festival on Thursday. She presented another Golden Eye statuette to Robert IJserinkhuijsen, winner of the 10th International Film Music Competition. Portman was that year’s jury president.
“She is an extraordinary composer, a good storyteller. She paints feelings with sounds. With her, longing can sound mysterious and sadness can sound like hope,” says artistic director Christian Jungs, delighted with an inspiring career in an industry that has “long been male-dominated”.
“Her compositions are timeless, personal and yet universal,” he added.
“My main concern is to write music that really, really fits the film. And serves the film. I always want to write music that has integrity, and I will strive to continue to do so,” Portman said.
The composer – who won her Oscar for Douglas McGrath’s Emma – will now turn her attention to the Showtime miniseries King Shaka, which is being executive produced by Antoine Fuqua. Based on a true story, Charles Babalola is portrayed as the founder of the Zulu Empire.
“I’m really looking forward to it, because I’ll be working in a musical language that’s completely new to me: Zulu music. My intention is to celebrate and collaborate,” she says diversity The following day, she also mentioned her work on the late Jonathan Demme’s Beloved, based on the book by Toni Morrison.
“He was crazy about music, lived and breathed it. He said, ‘Can’t you use classical instruments?’ They are all from Africa. We put together this very experimental score, something you could only do with Jonathan, and he was like, ‘This is really wild. Let’s put it in the movie’.”
There’s something “powerful and nostalgic” about great scores for Portman, who also wrote scores like “The Cider House Rules” and “Chocolat.”
“When you write a piece of music and people end up liking it, that’s great. But I answer the filmmakers. I make music that I hope the film really wants and needs. When I serve someone, that is my master,” she says.
“The nice thing is when you have a director who is generous with his time and can talk about his intentions. It can be more difficult if they have a little musical knowledge. Because then they say, ‘Well, I love the cello and I don’t like the oboes.’”
Despite her experience, Portman still emphasizes the importance of intuition when it comes to her work.
“You either have it or you don’t,” she says, mentioning another personal favorite.
“I loved working on ‘Never Let Me Go.’ I think I caught something there, the spirit of loss and youth and love and how much time you can have. In the middle of a story that is very scary and dark. But my music had little to do with that.”
“It’s total instinct. It’s all we have. There are times when you’re presented with a film that doesn’t appeal to you all that much, and it’s good for me to dig deeper. But films like “Never Let Me Go” or “Chocolat” are easy. You give a composer a lot.”
Portman used to describe himself as “gender blind”. But, as Jungs noted, she’s been “paving the way for her peers” for many years.
“When I was younger, I went through a period of ignoring. Now I feel compelled to stand up for women composers and to speak out about that [the change] it took so long and it was so slow. I want to celebrate them,” she says.
“When they were playing [the medley of] my music here in Zurich, it felt so… feminine. But I’ve also written music that really has balls, uses the full orchestra and is really loud. I found myself thinking, “Why don’t they play that?”
“Later someone came up to me and said, ‘We need your female voice.’ I don’t have to fight that, which I probably did for much of my career. We need this music too.”
https://variety.com/2022/film/global/rachel-portman-king-shaka-1235390345/ Rachel Portman on the sound of Antoine Fuqua’s “King Shaka”