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Premieres & Events

"My Part is the Pied Piper"

Donovan at Monday's revival screening of The Pied Piper (Photos: Christopher Campbell)

By Christopher Campbell

There are still a few days left to see the new print of Jacques Demy's The Pied Piper at Anthology Film Archives, but the chance to hear the film's star, Donovan, discuss his interpretation as well as other musings may have passed. If there is indeed a DVD finally in the works, it should definitely feature the pop music legend on a commentary track.

It isn't that Donovan has a lot of anecdotes to share about the making of the film, but as evidenced in a special Q&A following a Monday evening screening, he does have enough ideas to discuss. "I'm proud to have made this film," he told the crowd. "I was just a humble player strutting my hour on the stage, but I was chosen for my part, and my part is The Pied Piper."

He apparently meant this literally and figuratively, in the way that 35 years ago a production of the Grimms' fairy tale The Pied Piper of Hamelin could only have worked with him, the modern troubadour, cast as the lead. After all, his role in pop culture was as a leader of young people; his role as political folkie was as a potential ridder of contamination. But he seemed to acknowledge that his part in the film continues to mirror his personal role today. "We poets and we shamans have always been leading the tribe into the future and into the inner world," he said. "I began in '65 to be your poet; I continue to be so."

Donovan claimed to have had little interaction with Demy, but he was observant of a few things. "I'll give you a little bit of personal memory of this film," he said. "Jacques' wife (Agnes Varda) is also a producer and filmmaker, and she continually walked behind him saying, 'Wrong, wrong, wrong.' And I loved that where she was saying, 'Too political; it's a kids' story. Too political.' But how could Jacques have done it any other way? That subtext of the Middle Ages, the Church, the dogma, the Barons, the mercantile class, the rise of the unions and all that stuff, man."

Most of the subtext of the film was apparent to Donovan as he watched it for the first time in many years. "I heard the various symbols resounding through the film," he said. "If the rats are ignorance, greed and hypocrisy; if the church is dogma; and if the alchemist is lost knowledge; and if the children are the future; and if the Burgermeister is false democracy; and if the Baron is brute force; these symbols of society surely Jacques Demy understood. He was brought up a socialist like my father was, and who taught me that social issues have to be placed in their historical context. If the little boy with the crippled leg represents the child of the past who was so conditioned and so broken by his upbringing that he couldn't quite make it into the future; and if all the little children that the Pied Piper leads up the mountain into the glowing future are the future of all our lives; then the Pied Piper is …"

He kind of trailed off at that moment, looking for the audience to fill in the answer.

"I heard another read on The Pied Piper of Hamelin," he said later, "that in the 13th century there were crusades and children were inducted into armies that followed the soldiers down to Jerusalem. And so maybe it's a mixed up, upside-down tale. But I saw the symbols this time when I saw it."

There were surprisingly few questions from the crowd, though it was for the best since Donovan couldn't hear the audience members very well. He apologized for there being no soundtrack album, saying he was too stoned back then. And he spent a very long time talking about what he's working on these days.

"Actually, David Lynch and I –- an odd mixture you might say –- we're not making movies, but we're making a stand," he said. "I'm working with David Lynch to put transcendental meditation into schools. Check this: stressfreeschools.org. And David Lynch and I will reintroduce the most powerful mantra, which has come from our tradition. It will be yours. Check it. It is ours. Ten million young students from the age of 6 to 14 this very week are being prescribed the stress-free drugs. TM has been proven. Check it. It has been proven over the last 35 years that of all the forms of meditation, this one is loved; it is factualized; it is actualized. You can actually measure the amount of transcending. Imagine we are actually gods and goddesses. We have been denied access to the inner world. You can transcend the normal, obvious consciousness that we use to get up in the morning, have Cheerios -- oh by the way, my latest song is selling Cheerios. Last year my song sold Volvos, the year before I sold Delta Airlines. Why? Because music is the way we enjoy our lives -- I say to you, check out TM; it's the one."

Huh? I pretty much lost him when he continued on to reference The Da Vinci Code and its ersatz "source," The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, his previous lives in the ancient days of Celtic Bardic poetry and the history of the oppression of meditation. But I would love to give my full attention, in short installments, to the much-welcome DVD commentary track.

Posted at February 6, 2007 7:23 AM

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