Frederick Abrams

The Underground Cathedral


Q. I get the impression from “The Tunnel’s End” of your film that it is autobiographical.

A. Yes, about one aspect of my life. This is the most personal piece, I think, in the film. It’s also a combination of elements from different stages of my life. It has very much to do with my experiences of coming to Europe and particularly to Paris, which was a very unhappy and disillusioning one. The music is the first piece I composed for this project. I composed it on a piano in Paris at a time in my life when I knew nothing about playing a piano at all. I just found chords, I learned to play them and repeated and repeated and repeated them until I had a melody and added more chords to it. I then finished it on a piano in New York. Both were pianos in homes of friends. It’s a rather sentimental, melancholic piece which I also think expresses hope at the same time.

It is very different from any of the other music in the film. For one, none of the other pieces were first composed on a piano and all of them were composed over seven years later. It is far more structured than any of the other pieces, and it was a reflection of the sadness at this time of my life. The music is most definitely more about love than anything else and it was also very much inspired by the popular French music of people such as Jacques Brel and Charles Aznavour, as well as Debussy. It abstractly tells a disastrous love story connected to the shattering of grand artistic dreams at that point of my life. It was when I first came to Paris and was very naive about many things. I will never forget the very first moment when I arrived in Paris, got off of the plane and looked at the old architecture. I was stunned by it, awestruck. I had never experienced anything like it as an American. You can’t. But, when I think of what I know now as compared to then, it’s like night and day how I look at things. The touristic elements of “The Tunnel’s End” expresses those first sentiments, in a way, but having made the film years later, I injected into those images others which convey greater depths of experience.

At the end of this piece you see looking down from Pont des Artes (Bridge of Arts) a tourist boat going under the bridge and an Asian woman looking up while waving to the people looking down at her from the bridge, myself included. In this segment of the film I’m objectifying my own experience in the sense of the differences of how one observes life as a tourist, as a traveler, as a visitor, as an expatriate living abroad or as a native. Those are different levels of depth of experience. There’s some irony in this piece, there’s humor, there’s melancholy. There’s also subtle references to romantic illusions, such as that it would be quickly possible to follow up on a site-specific vision. It was my original intention that this glass artwork would both visually and symbolically fit inside of the Pompidou Center. I imagined, as a concept, an architectural relationship between the hi tech museum and this ancient craft. Of course, from Christo’s covering of the Berlin Reichstag to placing The Statue of Liberty in New York’s harbor, artists with grand ambitions have had to learn the virtues of holding onto long range visions.

There’s one scene where you look down on the tracks as the train comes and there’s a poster that’s upside down and torn which says, “du musees des…” (of the museums of…)

You don’t know what this is about but it obviously has something to do with museums. Then suddenly the train travels right over the torn poster and then you see the glasswork as I made it appear to look with the magic of computer graphics, situated inside of the Pompidou Center very similarly to how I imagined it actually being there.

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