The Guitar is a tour de force for English actress Saffron Burrows. She plays Melody Wilder, an unhappy woman who is invisible to most around her and is given a month to live with advanced cancer of the larynx. She abandons her life as she knew it, rents a loft and prepares for her demise by running up her credit cards and learning to play the guitar she had been dreaming about her whole life. Turns out that in changing everything about herself and her life she tricked her cancer into a full remission. Melody now how to deal with the consequences of her spending as well as the new life she has created for herself, full of creativity and on her own terms.
The film is a true character study. Burrows is alone for most of the film. She begins the film literally and figuratively with no voice as a person and as a woman and at the conclusion she is reborn and finds her true authentic voice.
The film opens today in NY and depending on box office the film could open in other cities. Both director Amy Redford and lead actress Saffron Burrows will be at the Sunshine Theatre for a Q&A following the 7:15pm shows tonight and tomorrow night.
Actress Amy Redford (yes, Robert's daughter) makes her directorial debut with The Guitar which premiered at the 2008 Sundance film festival. She answered questions for Women & Hollywood the morning after the Obama election.
W&H: In the beginning people just talk at Melody and the words seem to bounce off her. When she's alone and sick she finds her voice. It struck me that she found her voice with barely any words.
W&H: How did you get the script?
Amy Redford: I went through a period in my life in my 20s when I had chronic laryngitis for three years and I realize now that I was not my authentic self. I was shut off so I totally related to the condition of the character. There is a quality of the physical manifestation that I thought was fascinating. It was also important to me for the character that it's the scariest when she is left to be on her own without even the devices she brings in to the room. She goes through this journey of buying the things but ultimately it's an appetite that will never be sated because what it's really about is not what you buy, it's really about the quiet. So that moment when she found her voice is like a rebirth, powerful and joyous.
W&H: Do you still want to act?
AR: I was introduced to Amos Poe (the screenwriter) by a friend who thought I would be right for the lead role. I heard the story that inspired the script and I was haunted by the premise. I kept firing myself from the part and hiring other actors in my head. I had been looking for a project to direct for while, I knew this was the one when the images started coming to me naturally.
W&H: Lots of women director also write their own stories. Are you a writer?
AR: My passion lies in directing but I don't want to totally quit acting because its important to stay flexible. It's easy to be dismissive about actors because sometimes they are high maintenance. But being able to use all my faculties is really satisfying so directing feel like an evolution for me.
W&H: What's the message of this film?
AR: I really love the collaborative process and working with writers. I think there is a bigger window for stories about women that there have been. The next project I am working on is called Face Value about the actress Hedy Lamar. It's an inspiring story about a multi faceted woman. The black page is daunting to me.
W&H: Do you think that women have a hard time finding their voice?
AR: It's funny, I should be so good at answering this question. What you take away from it is such a personal experience. It's really about questioning whether you are using the currency of your life to the fullest capacity. That's different for everybody and what they would do in the face of mortality is different for everybody. This movie isn't meant to be a prescription, it's meant to be a conversation. It can be literal when you are facing an illness, or metaphorical when you hit a road block or a turning point in your life. I hope people take their own conclusions. I don't want to tell someone what to feel.
W&H: This film was a real departure for Saffron Burrows. Were you nervous about having to make her look not as beautiful as she really is?
AR: I think it's easier for women to submerge their voice. I think that women innately have wonderful things to say but to accomodate others it's easier for us to put our own voice aside. Even the loudest women are loud for a reason because they can't be heard. I just had a daughter two months ago and I hope that whatever I do has positive influence on her chances of not having to fight so hard. This election has shown us a lot of different ways to be a woman. Like her or not, Sarah Palin made it to the table and there is something to be said for that. There is something to be said that the conversation was not that she was a woman but what kind of woman she was. On the other hand we have Hillary Clinton who is beloved by so many. It's an interesting time and the conversation is steering more towards substance.
W&H: Was it a small budget?
AR: I think it speaks to her sophistication emotionally. I learned a lot because I felt she was too beautiful and was worried that people were going to be alienated by her beauty. But then I realized I was perpetuating the same thing and I had to give myself a spanking. It was the realization that it's really about the light that you have inside and what you project. You can be a beautiful person but if you are shut down inside you are not going to attract people, and you can be unconventional looking and be projecting a kind of life force that people can't get enough of. She so completely understood what I meant that I knew she was right for the part. She was at the perfect moment in her life and her career. She had a lack of vanity that allowed her to be truthful which I appreciated. We shot the film chronologically so my job was to start her off in the right place, to begin the film in the right pitch and then go for the ride and see what happens.
W&H: This movie is really coming in under the radar screen with very little publicity. Is that frustrating?
AR: The shoot was 21 days and the budget was really small. I can't even talk about it, but as it goes in the independent film business, one second you have the money and the next the union guys are knocking on your door and you come to work and people are like hello where's my paycheck which is horrifying. But at the same time people are generous.
AR: It can be frustrating but one of the things that makes it worth it is the letters I have received from people knowing I have made a difference. People struggling with cancer, people who had their own emotional rebirth. People are hungry for these kind of things. I can't control the other stuff. I just need to stay focused on what my job is. I learned a lot about film finance on this movie and I implore people, especially women filmmakers, to really go to school on budgets and money because that's the protection around the creative. You empower yourself. It's like the big lesson for women everywhere - money is your freedom.