Edana Minghella writes:
Preparing to host a rare screening of The Talented Mr Ripley at King’s Place, I’m listening to John Martyn singing You Don’t Know What Love Is from the Ripley soundtrack. That unique voice, a raw acapella over the first A. My brother, Anthony Minghella, adored John Martyn. It was such an honour that John had agreed to record the song for Anthony’s film. In comes the trumpet: Guy Barker, a soaring, poignant wave of sound. And, as always, I’m in tears.
Back to January 1999. I’m with Anthony in his living room, watching the first full rough-cut of Ripley. It’s Anthony’s latest movie. Tom Ripley (Matt Damon) and Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law) are at the San Remo Jazz Festival. There’s no music on this assembly yet but the atmosphere is thrilling. I want to be in magical San Remo, where our parents stopped on their honeymoon. I want to sing, to dance. I want red lips, one of those off-the-shoulder frocks and a cigarette holder. I want to learn the sax. The film ends after five and a half hours. I am stunned and excited and amazed. I turn to Anthony and say, “I don’t know how you are going to cut this film. Every scene is essential. Every scene is perfect.” He smiles. I laugh out loud with joy.
Later that year, I'm staying with Anthony in Berkeley, California, while he edits the film with acclaimed editor, Walter Murch, and they add in the music. A laborious, painstaking process; it is taking months. There are piles of CDs in the house, hundreds of them. The house has an amazing sound system and we play jazz all day and all night. With some Everything But the Girl thrown in for good measure.
Jazz is a character in Ripley. Yes, there is plenty of classical music: there’s a tense scene at the Opera (Eugene Onegin), Bach’s St Matthew Passion (for Anthony, there was always Bach), a spellbinding Stabat Mater in a Venice church. But it is jazz that links the two leads, that transcends the class difference between them and cements their relationship, jazz that echoes round St Mark’s Square (Pete King playing gorgeous sax), jazz that epitomises Dickie’s father’s disdain of his own son:
“Of course, Dickie's idea of music is jazz. He has a saxophone. To my ear jazz is just noise, just an insolent noise.”
Beautiful American rich boy Dickie Greenleaf is a man whose sensuality drives him and for whom jazz is an expression of that sensuality. But he has no depth, no real emotion for anything or anyone. He loves his sax like he loves his new fridge: he wants to fuck it. If jazz is a craze du jour for Dickie, Tom Ripley is a true, passionate, intense improviser, who takes his musical education seriously. At the start of the film, we see him listening intently to the jazz greats, research for the task ahead. He’s blindfolded, trying to identify a tune: is it Basie or Ellington (it’s Dizzy). He listens to Chet Baker singing My Funny Valentine, and doesn’t know if it’s a man or a woman. Then he hears Charlie Parker and he gets it. He gets it.
It was Anthony who introduced jazz into the movie; in Highsmith’s original novel Greenleaf was an amateur painter. But Anthony saw that jazz was more interesting, more cinematic, a way of anchoring the period and a device to articulate the similarities between Tom and Dickie. Truth be told, he loved jazz. Rewatching the first episode of Inspector Morse recently (written by Anthony), I was surprised to hear jazz beats running through it (as well as the now famous Pheloung theme music). There it is in The English Patient too: Arlen, Berlin, Goodman. And he knew and understood jazz musicians. Guy Barker tells a beautiful story of playing his trumpet solo for You Don’t Know What Love Is in the recording studio. Ant talked to him, actually held him, and Guy’s already wonderful playing transformed to the haunting solo we know and love, the solo I can’t listen to without weeping.
Anthony and Walter got the film down to 139 minutes. And somehow, every scene is still perfect.
©Edana Minghella March 2012
Edana Minghella will be hosting a screening of The Talented Mr Ripley at King’s Place, as part of the GMF Easter Jazz Workshop & Music Festival on Sunday 8th April, 4pm.
The screening will be followed by a Q&A with musicians who worked on the soundtrack: Guy Barker, Pete King and Arnie Somogyi.
BOOKINGS. With thanks to Miramax.