The Newport Beach Film Festival runs annually in April (April 28-May 5 this year), but it presents the “festival experience” year-round through the Orange County Film Society. Among the special events for members who lay out $99 annually are regular sneak-preview screenings of films before they hit theaters–such as The Music Never Stopped, which opens today at Regency South Coast Village in Santa Ana.
Sneak previews often include Q&As with filmmakers after the end credits. Yours truly had the
honor of moderating one Tuesday night with Gary Marks, who wrote The Music Never Stopped script with his writing partner, Gwyn Lurie.
The drama is based on the true story of a man
who ran away from home just before high-school graduation in the late 1960s and, in 1985, is found on the streets
suffering from a brain tumor. His parents reunite with him in the
hospital before he undergoes surgery that will save his life but
likely rob him of his memories.
Later confined to a hospital and barely responsive, Gabriel (Lou Taylor Pucci) seems to respond positively to music, something he and his father, Henry (veteran character actor J.K. Simmons, excellent as always), shared an affinity for before their falling out. Against the doubts of Gabriel's doctor (30 Rock's Scott Adsit), Henry and his wife, Helen (Cara Seymour), enlist a music therapist (Julia Ormond) to help bring their son back.
But much to Henry's chagrin, it is not his American standards Gabriel responds to, but rather the music his son most connected to as a young man. (If you lost your K-Tel Sounds of the
Sixties album, you'll love the soundtrack). While hearing vintage Dylan, the Beatles and especially the Dead, Gabriel transforms into the Gabriel his parents once knew–from about 1964 to
1970. He remembers nothing beyond that and cannot form new memories. He really is stuck in
The emotional helter skelter kind of reminds you of Awakenings; it should because most of the source material for both movies comes from Dr. Oliver Sacks. (A great interview with him about the real patient, his fondness for this movie and how he fells about other screen adaptations of his work was done by the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy.)
Marks, who grew up in the Valley (and gave repeated shout-outs to his parents in the South Coast Village audience), says the film took 13 years to get to the screen, not due to any difficulties transferring the medical complexities Sacks wrote about, but because of the time it took to get the rights to all the classic rock & roll heard in The Music Never Stopped.
In fact, Marks says, the production was about a week from sinking when all the doors seemed to open and permissions to use various music came flooding in, especially from the Grateful Dead, who so loved the movie they allowed the filmmakers to pluck any tunes and archival film footage they wanted. Marks added that Paul Simon has gone out of his way to promote the film, despite having no association with the production other than a song on the soundtrack.
Authenticity was important to the filmmakers. Ormond had her hair done in the same curly style as and dressed like the real-life music therapist.
I asked Marks if anything in the movie was similar or different than how he and Lurie pictured it while writing the script. He talked of walking on the set for the first time, when a family Christmas scene was being filmed, seeing the Christmas tree in the living room and breaking down and crying. It was exactly how he had imagined it.
As for differences from Sacks' source material, Marks says they dug “way deeper” into the father-and-son relationship that anchors the movie. Sacks wrote more about his own relationship with the patient, whose real name was Greg and has since died.
Greg, unlike Gabriel of the movie, was also blind. Marks explained that he and Lurie decided they did not want to saddle their story with that detail, that it would be too overwhelming to have him, say, bumping into furniture while also trying to recover his memory.