Today is America’s Independence Day, and Ellis arrives just in time: a calm yet firm reminder that the great nation still has a long way to go in order to achieve its goals. The short film (directed by France’s JR) and score (with narration by Robert DeNiro) remind viewers and listeners of the nation’s highest aspirations and deepest dreams: the ideals that still beckon like Lady Liberty’s beacon, shining across the sea.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.” Most Americans learn these words as children, and assume ~ with the beauty of innocent minds ~ that they still hold true, that anyone who wishes to make a better life for themselves can find sanctuary in the United States, whether they enter through Ellis Island or across a border. The sad truth is that the nation ~ as are many nations ~ is in the grip of an immigration crisis, with many potential immigrants turned away and others the subject of jokes at best and violence at worst. As the fireworks explode tonight, lighting up the sky; as beer is consumed and anthems are sung, the crisis will be subsumed by celebration.
One can already tell the tone of the film by the evocative trailer: elegant, mournful, yet resolute. Woodkid & Nils Frahm successfully capture this mood in their music, even without the narration. The nine-minute opening piece is entirely instrumental, and save for the finale, nearly all miked piano. As Woodkid writes, “I wanted it to be imperfect, to sound like a ruin, a trace, an echo, the way the pastings on the walls seem to be ghosts, almost imperceptible.” And so it is. One can sense the sadness, the yearning, the heartbreak from within and without, from the families that made it through and the families that failed to be reunited. The final orchestral bloom provides a modicum of hope: despite the current crisis, all is not lost.
And then there is “Winter Morning II”, which features less piano, more Woodkid ambience, and of course, DeNiro. As a New Yorker, he has the right to speak for the region; he even appeared in an “I Love New York” summer tourism commercial two years ago. The script captures the loneliness and fear of the huddled masses, while underlining their vulnerability. DeNiro’s voice is world-weary, acting as an observer from another plane. He speaks of being turned away, of hiding, of finding and losing a friend; of hopes and dreams, of the ideal America that exists in the minds of those yearning to breathe free. “I’m sorry,” he says, “I was so close.” A bell tolls. Strings wrap listeners in a shroud.
The Statue of Liberty still beckons. But what will the immigrants find when they arrive? America’s fall election will help determine the outcome; the future is in the hands of the people. (Richard Allen)
All proceeds from the record go to the Sea Watch initiative, a non-profit charity dedicated to the protection and rescue of civilian refuges.