‘A Concerto Is a Conversation’
By Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers
Executive produced by Ava DuVernay, the film traces a family’s journey over three generations, from Jim Crow Florida to Hollywood. It is a celebration of the sacrifices the generations before us made for our success.
A Concerto Is a Conversation
A virtuoso jazz pianist and film composer tracks his family’s lineage through his 91-year-old grandfather from Jim Crow Florida to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
All right. It’s a real pleasure to welcome Kris Bowers, our composer, who has written a concerto, “For a Younger Self.” Welcome. [APPLAUSE] Can I ask a question? All right, Granddaddy. Can you tell me, just what is a concerto? So it’s basically this piece that has a soloist and an ensemble, an orchestra. The two are having a conversation. And so sometimes that conversation can be this person speaking, and now this person speaking. Sometimes the conversation — It’s a question. — is at the same time. Yeah. And it really depends on how the composer wants to, or how I want to frame that conversation. Did you ever picture yourself doing what you’re doing now? Huh. [MUSIC PLAYING] [APPLAUSE] I’m very aware of the fact that I’m a Black composer, and lately actually I’ve been wondering whether or not I’m supposed to be in the spaces that I’m in, or supposed to have gotten to the point that I’ve gotten to. Well, I can tell you one thing. Never think that you’re not supposed to be there. Cause you wouldn’t be there if you wasn’t supposed to be there. It goes back to slavery. [MUSIC PLAYING] My grandfather, who I found out has cancer a little while ago, I wanted to spend some more time with him and talk to him about his life, about our family, ask him as much as I can before he passes. [BELL RINGING] Granddaddy. Mm-hm? Need a bit of help with this. Do what? Getting this seamed out for the show. OK. Don’t step on the pedals. Push it right in the corner. OK. Wow. OK. We’re going to make it real handsome here. You’re going to be ready to go. Thank you, sir. Growing up in the South was quite a thing for me. Bascom, Florida, as far back as I can remember, I think the plantation was the Bowers plantation. All 13 of you all grew up in that house? Mm-hm. Wow. How all of us stayed in two rooms, I don’t know. We would start on the porch singing. And there were people, I don’t know how they could hear it that far, would come drive in the front yard and listen to us sing at night. People in that area was, the Blacks were Bowers, and the whites was Beavers. Beavers had the grocery store. But when Dad would walk in the store, this kid about my size, small kid — How old were you about this point? Like how old? I probably was 6 or 7 years old. Oh, wow. And he would go up to my dad and say, what could I get for you, boy? That stuck with me forever. Why are you calling my dad a boy? And Daddy would answer him, sir, yes sir, no sir. But it was something that stayed with me because I knew then when I got of age I was going to leave there. I didn’t want no parts of the farm. I didn’t want no parts of that part of the country. I just wanted to leave. Wherever I could get a ride to, that’s where I was headed to. [MUSIC PLAYING] What was that process like, hitchhiking as a Black man in America in the 1940s? I had to be crazy. Now, the first place I remember being is in Detroit. A man picked me up. He was saying that he could get me a job and a place to stay and all this. I asked him, does it snow there? And he said yes. And that was the end of that, because I didn’t want to be any place that was cold. But I hitchhiked from there to Denver, Colorado. And I was in this Greyhound bus station, cause they had two counters, white and Black. So I could get something to eat. And I heard somebody say, Los Angeles, California. I said, that’s where I want to go. Never heard of Los Angeles before. I had $27 or $28. I didn’t know how I was going to make it, but I knew I was going to make it. So I said well, I’m going to pretend to be an employment agency and call around to get a job. Wow. I got the telephone book, started at the A’s. A Cleaners. And I don’t think I made more than five calls, and the phone rang, and it was the A Cleaners, and they said they needed a presser. I got all the information. I said, OK, I’ll send someone right out. And that was me. [LAUGHING] That’s where I met your grandmother. [MUSIC PLAYING] How old were you when you bought the cleaners? I was 20. Wow. So within two years I had gone from homeless to I was in business. [MUSIC PLAYING] But I never could get a loan. And I owned the place. I said, something wrong with this picture. I told them I come in for the loan, and he said no, I don’t have anything. And I left later, and picked up an application, and I mailed it in. A few days later, I got a call, your loan is approved. I said, it’s the color of my skin. I said in the South they tell you. In Los Angeles they show you. From then on we started buying property, I would get things at the cleaner, everything, but nobody ever saw me. Everything was done by mail. People are constantly throwing up things to stop you in life. But you’ve got to know you cannot stop me. [MUSIC PLAYING] My name is Kristopher Bowers, and I want to play “Shining Star in Atlantic City.” My parents decided before I was born they wanted me to play piano. Literally, I think it’s called like “Piano Sampler No. 5” that they used to put on my mom’s stomach every day. Actually, one of the first pieces of music I ever wrote was on this piano. And I remember, you know, just playing around here all the time. But we were up at a restaurant one, I believe it was a Sunday. At Marie Callendar’s? Marie Callendar’s. They had a piano in there, and I asked the guy could you play it. And they said yes. I carried you over there, and you were playing it, and I was proud of you. [LAUGHING] [MUSIC PLAYING] There aren’t that many opportunities for young kids of color to showcase their talents or to interact with other kids of color playing music and doing those things, and you talking about being my manager, essentially, from the very beginning. If I didn’t have that, I probably wouldn’t have been as confident pursuing music. I remember — where were you in school at that I was up there? What, in New York? At Juilliard? Juilliard? Wherever it was, you enjoyed it. So that’s all I was thinking. If you enjoyed making a living at it. I knew that, boy. And the winner is Kris Bowers. “Green Book.” [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC PLAYING] [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC PLAYING] What do you think your biggest challenge is today? My biggest challenge today, being honest, is my health. It’s just trying to stay healthy. That would be my challenge today. [MUSIC PLAYING] I’ve got a few more years to go, but I’m almost to the top. [LAUGHING] Ten more years, I’ll be at the top. [LAUGHING] So now I just keep trying to do the best I can. Yeah. And enjoy seeing my children and grandchildren being successful. That’s glory in itself. It’s just something that I hope I had a little something to do with it. [MUSIC PLAYING] [APPLAUSE] (SINGING) Then sings my soul, my savior, my God to thee, how great thou art, how great thou art. You did it! You did it! You did it! [LAUGHING] See, it surprised you. [LAUGHING]
By Kate Novack
Produced by Andrew Rossi, the film re-examines Sigmund Freud’s only major psychological case study of a female subject, a patient he referred to as Dora. Using a feminist lens to imagine Dora as a young woman today, it explores how echoes of Freud’s “hysterical girl” have reverberated through history — and up to the present.
Op-Docs is premiering one of SXSW’s picks, which re-examines Freud through the lens of his female subject.
Sigmund Freud is one of the most revered and controversial people of the 20th century. Whether you like him or not simply it’s a matter of intellectual history. We have a lot to think Freud for. He created a revolution in the way people think. Sigmund Freud’s theory. I’m not a scorned woman. I think she was hysterical. Shrill and almost unhinged. Calm down, dear. Listen to the doctor. It’s gonna be tickly. Sorry. Are you OK? Yeah. Ooh. I’m sorry. No. It’s my fault. Is this your first film? Yes. Oh, wow. Oh, now I’m nervous. [MUSIC PLAYING] The patient, whom I will call Dora, was a girl of engaging looks. She was in the first bloom of youth But she was a source of heavy trials for her parents. One day her parents were alarmed to find a letter in which she said she could no longer endure her life. It was determined, in spite of her reluctance, that Dora should come to me for treatment. It started with my suicide note. No, it was before that, when my father decided we should all move to the mountains for clean air and tourists. [MUSIC PLAYING] For my mother, nothing changed. She still spent all day polishing — I don’t know what she polished. But for my father everything changed. [MUSIC PLAYING] Peppina had one of those plump asses that men love. And she was cool. She didn’t care what kind of trash I watched or how much I smoked. I can’t really blame my father for falling in love with her. Her husband was Hans. Hans was always nice to me. He used to bring me flowers and little gifts. He gave me this jewelry box once. I loved it. No one had thought any harm of it. The big event every year was this church parade. For some reason, all us Jews loved watching the priests and choirboys march by. Hans’s office had the best view. He invited me to come watch with him and Peppina. But when I got there he was all alone. He started closing all the shutters. I thought, how will we see the parade? Then he grabbed my wrist and pulled me up against him and started kissing me. I was 13. This was just the situation to call up a distinct feeling of sexual excitement. But instead Dora had a violent feeling of disgust. I had on a brand new pair of sneakers. They were so stiff. I remember looking down and thinking they were stitched to the carpet. But then my feet started to move. [MUSIC PLAYING] I left the bathroom, went down the same stairwell, through the living room and left the house. I remember being on the street and feeling this enormous sense of relief that I had escaped that house. For a very long time, I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone these details. After that, I’d make up excuses not to be alone with him. Stomach aches, homework, anything. Nevertheless Dora continued to see him. Why in God’s name would you ever speak to a man like that the rest of your life? I was afraid of retaliation. At 14, I was not able to make those kind of choices. Well, women are still labeled liars and troublemakers, and you just can’t take a joke. I was scared. This was the governor. One of the things that I have come to understand about harassment — that this response, this kind of response, is not atypical. And I can’t explain. It takes an expert in psychology to explain how that can happen. She kept the little scene in Hans’s office a secret. A few years later, Peppina had invited us to come stay at their lake house. It was one of those perfect summer days. Hans convinced me to go for a boat ride with him and then we walked along the shore together. It was nice. He leaned in to light my cigarette. He had this smell like sunscreen and pine needles. I remember exactly what he said. “I get nothing out of my wife.” I don’t know how I found my way back. I went to my room and shut the door. But when I woke up later, he was standing next to my bed. I asked him what the fuck he wanted. Her behavior was completely hysterical. My father confronted him, and you know what he said? I could not imagine anything that I said or did that could have been mistaken for sexual harassment. And then everyone turned on me. First Peppina. Oh, it was so brave for this woman to come forward. Oh, give me a break. Then my father. I find the references to the alleged sexual harassment the product of fantasy. Her father told me, “Please, bring her to reason.” Dr. Hill, there’s a plot. I know that that sounds crazy, you’re probably thinking, oh, my god, this poor girl has really flipped. But I — I haven’t flipped, Dr. Hill. I swear by all the saints I haven’t. Freud believed me. He actually believed me. He was the first one, the only one. I told him that Hans had given me a jewelry box once. I kept it on my desk for forever. Longer than I should have. Do you know that jewel case is an expression for the female genitals? Hans gave you a jewel case so you feel you need to give him your jewel case. No way. [BOX CRASHING TO FLOOR] It was becoming clear. For all these years she had been in love with Hans. She was more afraid of herself and the temptations she felt. That is the thought which had to be repressed. No. Now let me ask you this, though. You indicated that you repressed a lot. Look, she was down with it. You brought it on yourself. What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? I said it again and again, but he wouldn‘t listen. Dora persisted in denying my interpretation. She was motivated by jealousy and revenge. Did it occur to you that people would suspect your motives? This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit. It’s simply dirty politics. Every famous, powerful, or wealthy person is a target. Are women born with a special gene for telling the truth and men with a special gene for lying? The fact that the hysteria has nothing to do with you means that we should ask, what’s the hysteria coming from? I happened to know Hans. He was quite young and attractive. You have to keep in mind this is a law graduate from one of the four or five best law schools in this land. Ms. Hill was disappointed and frustrated that Mr. Thomas did not show any sexual interest in her. When I reported the problem, my supervisors didn’t take it seriously. One of them told me I was giving sexual appeal to him. Her behavior must have seemed incomprehensible to Hans from the innumerable signs that he had secured her affections. Did I send out signals when I went to his office to watch the parade or when I went out on the lake with him? I don’t think so. No. Until finally, just when my hopes of a successful treatment were highest, she opened the next session with these words: [MUSIC PLAYING] I left Freud. And it felt good to walk out of that dark cave. From those statues always looking down on me. Watching me like a ghost. I finished writing and today I feel short of a drug. And then Freud embalmed me. I was his Dora, preserved like a dead animal and hung on a wall for study and observation. It is the subtlest thing I have written and will put people off even more than usual. But one does not write only for one’s time. Only my name isn’t Dora. It’s Ida. But none of that matters because everyone knows me as Dora, Freud’s hysterical girl. But was I really hysterical? Am I hysterical now? [CLASSICAL MUSIC]
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