Sometimes a single catalytic moment changes the way the entire world looks afterwards. Hopes and desires become more fiercely held. Dreams and ambitions are, in a flash, altered. Moments of connection bind us more tightly. Confusion and chaos intensify as wonderment and grace emerge with new power from the shadows. And love becomes more essential to survival than ever.
Living, dying, praying, crying,
Breakout new film director Elizabeth Lucas captures in driving melodies and transporting images the visceral feeling of this experience in her innovative and high-energy indie-rock musical-drama, CLEAR BLUE TUESDAY. The film follows the unfolding fates of eleven New Yorkers through six Septembers following September 11th, as each one comes to grips with their lives in alternately resilient, defiant, surprising, unraveling and unifying ways. But the film’s adventurous nature goes beyond its storyline to the very way in which it was conceived and created – with Lucas diving in with a multi-talented cast of rising rock artists, improv comics, Broadway stars, indie film actors and pop songwriters, who all co-wrote the songs and dialogue and gave birth to the film’s unique characters.
The result is a fresh, consummately 21st Century take on the movie musical. In the age of GLEE, MOULIN ROUGE, HEDWIG and CHICAGO, as musical drama enjoys an unprecedented resurgence of popularity, the film pushes the edge even further, using a stream of driving, passionate pop and rock tunes to get to all the kaleidoscopic human feelings surrounding life in New York post-9/11 – from fury and fear to humor and hope – that remain beyond spoken words.
refusing, denying, coping, trying,
For Elizabeth Lucas, who makes an unusual, three-way directorial debut this year with a trio of diverse New York City genre films – CLEAR BLUE TUESDAY, the horror feature RED HOOK and the sci-fi story FADE TO WHITE – creative breakthrough was sparked by her own brush with personal disaster. In 2007, already a highly accomplished stage director and a founding producer of the New York Musical Theatre Festival, her life was brought to a sudden halt when she was seriously injured after a taxi slammed into her bicycle.
With multiple broken bones and facing a long, arduous recovery, Lucas repaired to her couch, where she began to think about what sudden disaster does to us – how it can knock down everything we believe in or shake all our connections up or change our direction completely, and yet, how it often leaves us stronger and more enchanted by the world. These thoughts also brought back lots of reeling memories for Lucas, memories of the days just after 9/11, when she, like so many of her fellow New Yorkers, grappled with a tidal wave of emotions and questions in the wake of a national catastrophe unlike any other, but also came together like never before. How, Lucas wondered, does disaster trivialize so much of what we pursue and illuminate the things we ignore that really matter?
grieving, yearning, seething, burning,
It was then that Lucas first conceived of the idea for CLEAR BLUE TUESDAY, which she says "is not about the events of 9/11 but about the changes people go through in the face of catastrophic events." She goes on: "It’s not about what happened that day, but about what came after, about a period of time that spurred many people, not just New Yorkers, to look at themselves and ask if they like where they are and where they’re going."
She knew right from the start that she wanted the story to be an unconventional movie musical – following in the dynamically cinematic footsteps of such features as CHICAGO, MOULIN ROUGE, HAIR and ONCE, but also incorporating some of the rock n’ roll spirit, sly humor and incessant creativity that mark life among working and wanna-be artists all over Manhattan.
"I’ve always loved musical story-telling," Lucas confesses, "and I’ve been thrilled to watch the movie musical emerge as pioneer territory in the last few years. Adventurous filmmakers like Baz Luhrman, Julie Taymore and John Cameron Mitchell have been rewriting all the rules, yet I still feel there is tremendous potential to push the vocabulary of musicals on the screen even further."
She continues: "I grew up just as music videos were coming into being as a story-telling medium through the work of Madonna, George Michael and Michael Jackson, followed by Bjork and now Lady Gaga. I set out to make a musical that would incorporate that same sort of lateral, thematic imagery while pushing the story forward – psychological landscapes exploring the inner lives of the characters. Music is able to transport you away from yourself and into the heart of another person’s world in a way no other kind of story-telling can."
Lucas adds: "I wanted to make a film that would be the intimate, urban cousin of MOULIN ROUGE, mixed with the introspection of CABARET, surreal abstraction of HAIR, and interwoven storylines of NASHVILLE."
Right now, American pop culture seems to be rediscovering the power of bursts of song in all kinds of media. The New York Times recently wrote: "Something weird and profound has happened…the musical theater idiom has regained its currency and is enjoying what may be its greatest popularity among young people since the pre-rock era."
leaving, learning, accepting, returning…
But Lucas didn’t just want to write a rock musical; she wanted to weave it out of whole cloth through a collaborative, improvisational process that would also break all the rules of screenwriting. She explains: "I have had the great good fortune of studying with theatrical innovators such as Robert Lepage, Mary Zimmerman, Frank Galati, and Rhoda Levine. From Rhoda I learned opera improvisation. From Mary and Frank, I learned innovative application of simple theatrical elements. From Robert Lepage I learned how to harness the power of an ensemble and target it towards a concrete theme."
She felt that if a group of highly talented singer-songwriters used personal experience and improv as a springboard to develop characters and narrative, the result would be a collection of songs and characters with an unexpected level of intimacy and honesty.
Still, she knew she was venturing into forbidden creative territory. "I was a first-time director who was looking to start a project with no script at all!" she laughs. "It was definitely a challenging concept."
breathing, breathing…learn to breathe again.
Yet, the fledgling concept in all its creativity and possibility intrigued executive producer Al Parinello, who is best known for his achievements in rock radio and cable television, where he was involved in the creation of such networks as Nickelodeon and The Movie Channel. Parinello had a chance to get to know Lucas’ work in Atlantic City, where she directed for his Broadway on the Boardwalk Series at the Trump Plaza.
"When Elizabeth first approached me with this unique idea, I was skeptical, because all I was hearing in my head was 911-The Musical and that lopsided one-dimensional idea just didn’t resonate with me," remembers Parinello. "It took many meetings and telephone calls before I allowed myself to mold enough creative muscle to understand and buy into her vision. I was always impressed with the way Elizabeth worked with our actors on the set of our Trump shows. She insisted on giving a history lesson on world affairs correlating to the time-window of the scenes she was directing. It was an amazing process to watch and I knew she would do the same with Clear Blue Tuesday."
Lucas says, "Al was a wonderful mentor who made me rewrite my business plan for about a year before he signed on and got the project off the ground. He’s been with me from the beginning and his feedback and guidance was immensely valuable."
Indeed, within a month of Parinello signing on for their collaboration, Lucas began what would become an intensive year-long casting and rehearsal process that, at long last, resulted in the movie’s script.
Catalyst in the Director's Words
On January 6, 2006 I left my apartment around 1pm to go meet a friend for lunch. It was a gorgeous clear blue sunny day so I went by bike along the west side park path, which follows the water all the way from Washington Heights to my destination. When I got off the bike path for the brief cross-town part of the journey, I stopped at an intersection, adjusted the strap on my pant cuff, looked up, saw a truck pulling to a stop in the crossing lane, saw a walk light in my direction, and entered the intersection. As I glided past the truck, a cab was accelerating towards the intersection trying to make the light. Time stopped. I saw him clearly and saw my inertia would not let me stop in time. I remember yellow flying by beneath me. I remember pavement. When I sat up, the most amazing thing happened. A crowd of New Yorkers appeared out of nowhere. They stopped the traffic, called an ambulance, put a coat on my shoulders, gave me tissues to stop the blood, locked up my bike, pulled a chair out of a restaurant, helped me out of the street...But this isn't a story about a bike accident.
As I sat around recovering from my broken foot and broken nose for several months thereafter, I had a lot of time to think about where I was and what I wanted, to acknowledge that I wasn't where I wanted to be and to think about how to change that. I had just reached the point where I had lived in New York longer than I had lived anywhere my entire life, and for the first time I had what I would call a real community of people to call on, and to engage and to collaborate with on something special. From that new understanding and that time period, this project was born. But, this is not a story about me.
As I was sitting around I also had time to think back to another dark winter in my life, the winter of 2002, immediately following an event that knocked all of us off of our feet, that caused all of us to sit back and self-examine. Many changes came into our minds and lives. The outpouring of help and hope from across our country was overwhelming. I don't know who those people were who pulled me up off the pavement after my accident. I would not recognize them on the street. They are the same New Yorkers who crowded the volunteer checkpoints after 9/11 with too many people to help. They embody the most basic instincts of humanity that have enabled civilizations to exist and thrive. They represent all of our best selves.
Our inertia kept us barreling forward til an unexpected event caught us by surprise and changed our trajectory forever. In that moment in the life of our country we were collectively forced to take a deep breath, look at ourselves, and ask "are we who we want to be". Great events, good or bad, are great catalysts for great change in peoples lives. That's what this story is about. It's about all of us.
~ Elizabeth Lucas