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8 November 1973
JETHRO TULL'S IAN ANDERSON PLANS A MOVIE; HE'LL PLAY GOD
London — Ian Anderson does not like the press. And many members of the press don't think much of him, either. On both sides, it's easy to see why.
Anderson's Passion Play came in for massive criticism, yet hit the top of the charts in the US. The elaborate stage presentation filled arenas and received generally favorable reception on Tull's US tour.
The press, however, doesn't much care for the fact that Anderson won't talk much for publication. Even at a London reception to celebrate Passion Play's success, he wouldn't gab.
Anderson's reluctance is apparently due to the lack of control he has over what is written. However, in the rare instances when he agrees to an interview, he talks at enormous length — in an effort to leave no doubt as to what his points are — a practice that, of course, necessitates editing.
The announcement of Jethro Tull's "indefinite retirement" was handled in a way that made it look to some observers that Anderson was attempting to hit back. The "blame it on the critics" angle was played up. In fact, however, the band had been planning on coming off the road anyway, to make a film. And while it is true the band has no definite plans for a return to concerts when the film is finished, Anderson already is talking informally about a tour of the US a year from now.
In the meantime, there is what one member of the band calls the "big hole called The Film," a project that, like Passion Play, is entirely under Anderson's control.
He describes it as
"arty, but slick and Hollywood, I hope, in the tradition of 'Sound of Music' and 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers'. It's a story with a moral, a fantasy, that might be funny, tragic, entertaining and have deep meaning — hopefully it will operate on lots of levels at the same time and be a piece of entertainment."
Anderson says he hasn't seen Jesus Christ Superstar nor listened to Tommy all the way through. But he did see some Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire movies a couple of years ago and,
"I revel in that sort of stuff ... there was such warmth and some of the music was all right."
In the film, tentatively titled 'War Child', Anderson will play God. Someone else will play the devil, and the rest of Tull will play two or three parts each. They will be
"in the film as much as I am," said Anderson, "and they'll be playing the sort of people I think they are.
"Some people may go to the film and not realise that they have seen God personified; they might just think he's a funny man called G. Oddy, a bit of a raver with a Hitler moustache. They might think the devil was any old average successful middle-class businessman out to protect his interests. They might see them like that, or as symbols."
Anderson wants the film to be
"commercially successful and entertaining in the broadest sense,"
but also to be a vehicle to
"satisfy my personal exploration and thoughts on things that aren't generally discussed."
As in Passion Play, many of those thoughts will be religious. He is interested in
"the absolutes of good and evil, and what we are in relation to them. Should we go all-out for some absolute that we've invented and don't even understand? Are good and evil an invention of ours to pretend that we are not animals, to pretend that we're not governed by instincts of survival? Are they absolutes in the real sense that we are not able to achieve? Or do we fit into some kind of very mortal, excuse-filled path where we can drift down the middle of it all and come out without too many penalty points against us? I don't really know what good and bad are — I've often wondered when I've watched flies crawling into spiders' webs, cats fighting, dogs in heat looking for a bitch to fuck."
Anderson is concerned with
"the things we hate to think about — God, and what will happen when we die."
Now that may not sound exactly in the tradition of 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers', but there's more. Straight from Thick As A Brick come other Anderson concerns — childhood and authority.
"At the end of the film a baby is born, and he is received already immunized, protected against disease, and he's had his first six months conditioning. He's a thing to be consumed by society, a product."
A third of the film score will be 'incidental mood music, the way there usually is in drama', a third will be instrumental, accompanied by dancing in three scenes, and then there will be songs, mostly by God. The music will be
"very wholehearted, some very heavy, some futuristic and ethereal like Pink Floyd."
It will be played by a combination of Tull and an orchestra, including sections where
"the orchestra plays as if they are the group improvising, with maybe all the violins playing like one guitar."
The film music will be released on a soundtrack album, and also will be included on the next Tull album.
The film will be a fairly big-budget production. The financing is a delicate subject, although Anderson says he will do his part for free if necessary "(I don't need money, and neither does the group)." Rich backers are said to be waiting word on who is going to direct.
Anderson admits finding a director might be a problem.
"I want to find somebody who is creatively of the first order, sympathetically of the first order, but egotistically of the second order. I'm quite happy for it to be 'our' film, but if there is going to be an autocratic system with one person up there, then it really has to be me — because I don't have the ability to take orders. But I like to be advised, and I like to be involved with everything the director is involved in. Every half-hour or so we'll have to retire to chat about things to make sure we both know what we're doing. I get very unhappy if I don't know what's happening. I'm not going to do any acting in the film, I hope it will be unassumed, natural behaviour — but I'll need someone to say 'that was a great bit of you being you but it looks fucking awful in the film so we shouldn't use it'. I've got to have the right director to say things like that to me, because it's very easy for me to get offended."
Anderson plans to get the actors to write their own dialogue,
"because that's what I've got to do, and I don't want them to be like machines."
With such plans he knows he could be setting himself up for a fall and he is very apprehensive about it. But then his present project, "that great monster that rears its head every evening," the Passion Play stage show and film, has been a success. More than one million people have now seen it — despite what the press said, and despite the fact that two members of Tull largely agree with the nasty reviews.
The film, and Passion Play, are part of a continuing process, says Anderson.
He points at his head.
"I want to see this spread out. I want to see these brain cells laid out and say, 'That's me, for the time being. Does it make sense?' Then I take it back in again and throw it out on another record. Every record I'm making is the same record. And this film and any more I make will be the same, in that it's me. I scramble it in here, whip it out and back again."
One set of these scramblings, that he whipped out, then whipped back in before it reached the public, was a stage show and accompanying double album written after Thick As A Brick and before the present Passion Play, and part of it was actually recorded before the project was abandoned. It had a theatrical concept, using dancers onstage as well as film, but when Ian heard that Emerson, Lake and Palmer were thinking of doing a theatrical show, he cancelled his — he didn't want to be accused of jumping on the bandwagon. ELP's show, needless to say, came to nothing.
The original Passion Play would have been in four movements, would have included a section of animal songs with back-projected drawings by bass player Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, and involved the band in dressing up in animal clothes after the film sequence. Another favourite Anderson theme to have been incorporated was bisexuality — everyone being a bit of both. He would have leapt down into the audience to question them on their views about that, and also ask them who is the performer, him or the audience who have dressed up to be there. He will come back to the sex theme in the film, where God, says Ian, to create male and female, has to be both.
It upsets Anderson if young audiences don't understand it all, but he doesn't see what he can do about it.
"If my writing was simple then there is a danger that the performance would be automatic, night after night, because my pictures would be fixed. As the lyrics are suggestive, not definitive, I can modify my movie screen images every night, and the differences in picture quality and content lends a different expression to what I'm singing. If I was singing simple Cat Stevens lyrics I wouldn't enjoy it."
Anderson is still the bright boy who quit Blackpool Grammar School not because he was a rebel, but because he didn't fancy any of the careers in the careers book and was ambitious to do what he wanted. At 26 he's done part of it. The film is a make-or-break bid for still wider acceptance for this defensive and strangely puritanical dynamo who says of himself,
"I don't smoke pot or snort coke, and I've hardly ever got drunk. I sometimes feel like a virgin."