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A Graceful Search For 'Higher Ground'

Vera Farmiga makes her directorial debut with Higher Ground, which centers on a woman who joins and then flees a fundamentalist religious order. Film critic David Edelstein says the movie is "complicated and unresolved in the best possible way."

06:01

Other segments from the episode on September 2, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 2, 2011: Interview with Marilyn and Alan Bergman; Review of the new film "Higher ground."

Transcript

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The Couple Behind Some Of Hollywood's Classic Tunes

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of tvworthwatching.com, sitting

in for Terry Gross.

Barbra Streisand has just released a new album, a double-CD set of songs

with lyrics by today's guests, Alan and Marilyn Bergman. One disc

collects Bergman songs Streisand has released in the past, including

"The Way We Were," "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?," "You

Don't Bring Me Flowers," and songs from "Yentl." The other disc is of

new recordings of their compositions, including this one, "Nice and

Easy."

(Soundbite of song, "Nice and Easy")

Ms. BARBRA STREISAND (Singer): (Singing) Let's take it nice and easy.

It's gonna be so easy for us to fall in love. Hey baby, what's your

hurry? Relax, don't you worry. We're gonna fall in love. We're on the

road to romance, that's safe to say, but let's make all the stops along

the way. The problem now, of course, is to simply hold your horses. To

rush would be a crime 'cuz nice and easy does it every time.

BIANCULLI: The Bergmans are married and have collaborated on songs for

over 50 years. Terry spoke with them in 2007. The songs of Alan and

Marilyn Bergman have won Oscars, Golden Globes and Grammys and have been

covered not only by Barbra Streisand but by Tony Bennett and Frank

Sinatra. Sinatra recorded his version of "Nice and Easy" in 1960 and

liked it enough to feature it as the title track of his album.

(Soundbite of song, "Nice and Easy")

Mr. FRANK SINATRA (Singer): (Singing) The problem now, of course, is to

simply hold your horses. To rush would be a crime 'cuz nice and easy

does it, nice and easy does it, nice and easy does it every time. Like

the man says, one more time: Nice and easy does it, nice and easy does

it, nice and easy does it every time.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Marilyn and Alan Bergman, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. ALAN BERGMAN (Songwriter): Thank you so much.

GROSS: How did you come up with the phrase nice and easy, which became

the title of the song and Sinatra's album?

Mr. BERGMAN: Well, when you write for somebody like Frank Sinatra, who

has a definite personality, you try to write - it's easy to write a

custom-made suit for him. You know, he's very theatrical. He has a

definite character, and we felt because they wanted something that was

easy, swinging, that nice and easy, the phrase, nice and easy does it

every time, would be good for him.

Ms. MARILYN BERGMAN (Songwriter): It also had a kind of subtext of to be

a little sexy, which certainly also was part of Sinatra.

GROSS: Is this one of those many songs about sex that isn't literally

about sex but is absolutely about sex, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BERGMAN: Yes, it is. Yes, it is.

GROSS: So when Sinatra says on his version of the record, toward the

end, like the man said, which isn't in the lyric, did it bother you? Did

you think, hey...

Ms. BERGMAN: Not at all. Not at all.

Mr. BERGMAN: And in fact he had - we were lucky enough to be there at

Capital Records when he did record this, and he had several different

endings.

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. BERGMAN: He would ad-lib something each time he got to the tag line,

and this is the one that they decided to use.

GROSS: Did he ever ask - did Sinatra ever ask you to write for him after

having such success with the song?

Mr. BERGMAN: Yes, yes, he did, several times. There was one time when we

received a call from him. He said I want you to write me a 10-minute

number. And we said, about what? He said, well, you know, boy meets

girl, boy gets girl, boy lose(ph) girl. And we said to him, well, that's

really been written, he said, you'll figure it out.

He used to call us the kids, and he said you kids, you'll figure it out.

And he said, he said get the frog, which means get Michel Legrand to be

the composer. And Michel's father was very sick at the time, and Michel

couldn't do it. So we called him and said, is John Williams okay?

It was Johnny Williams. He was not the, you know, well-known conductor-

composer then. And we said, John, would you like to do this? And he

said, yeah, let's do it.

Ms. BERGMAN: So we wrote a 10-minute piece, which incidentally he wanted

for his nightclub act. So we wrote a piece that talked about the fact

that the protagonist of the piece, in this case the singer, fell in love

with the same woman over and over and over. I don't mean literally the

same woman, but, you know, the same woman.

And each love affair ended badly, and I think I remember the phrase the

same hello, the same goodbye. And when we finished it, we called him and

told him that we had finished it, and he asked us if we would come down

to Palm Springs, where he had a home, and play it for him.

So the three of us drove down to Palm Springs, and we got to his - I

started to say house but sort of more like a compound, actually. And he

opened the door himself when we finally made our way to the house. And

Alan sang the song for him. Alan, what was that experience? You tell it.

Mr. BERGMAN: Well, he was sitting on an ottoman in front of me, and I

sang for 10 minutes, you know, that's a long time.

Ms. BERGMAN: You were not sitting on an ottoman at the Paramount Theater

in Brooklyn.

Mr. BERGMAN: No.

Ms. BERGMAN: (Unintelligible) kid.

Mr. BERGMAN: That's right. When I was finished, he was crying, and he

said to Marilyn: How do you know so much about me? As if his life was

such...

Ms. BERGMAN: Such a closed book.

Mr. BERGMAN: Such a closed book, you know. But it must have hit some

nerve. And he said, I have to learn this. This is terrific. I love it.

And - but he never learned it.

Ms. BERGMAN: Every time we would see him, he would say, I'm going to do

that.

Mr. BERGMAN: Kids, I'm going to do that, you know.

Ms. BERGMAN: But he never did. But it was a very nice experience, I must

say.

Mr. BERGMAN: Yeah.

GROSS: Well, Alan Bergman, you've released this new album, "Lyrically,"

of songs that you wrote with your wife Marilyn. Why did you want to make

an album of you singing your songs? Is this - I think it's the first

time you've done that.

Mr. BERGMAN: Yes, this is the first time. Well, it's not exactly that I

wanted - you know, we did a concert that is a series in New York in the

92nd Street Y called "Lyrics and Lyricists," and we did that, there was

a 25th anniversary, and they asked us to do it again for them, and we

did.

And a man came up to me after the concert and - from Germany, and he

said: I have a record company in Germany, and I think you're a great

singer. I want to make an album with you. And I said I'm not so sure.

And he kept after me for two or three years, and finally I said, okay,

I'll do it. And he flew Marilyn and I to Berlin, and he organized a big

orchestra and a young arranger who did a wonderful job, Jorg Keller(ph),

his name is. And I sang live with this orchestra, which was a wonderful

experience. I had a wonderful time. I love to sing, so...

Ms. BERGMAN: Alan has always sung, actually. When we write, we sing as

we write because lyrics, unlike poetry, are meant to be sung. So he's

always sung, and most of the time it's Alan who would demonstrate the

song for the artist or the producer, director, whoever it was, you know,

on the receiving end of the song.

GROSS: Can you diagnose problems in the lyric by singing it?

Mr. BERGMAN: Oh yes, oh yes. You know, sometimes the choice of a word,

you try that word, and it may be the perfect word, but it doesn't sing

on those notes.

GROSS: Can you give me an example of a lyric you changed because singing

it, you knew it didn't work?

Ms. BERGMAN: I can't give you a lyrics of ours. It's an interesting

question. But Oscar Hammerstein, probably one of the greatest lyric

writers, always felt that a song that he and Richard Rodgers wrote for

"Oklahoma," a wonderful song called "What's the Use of Wondering," never

found its way into the repertoire of singers as much as some of the

other songs in that show did because the last line is: And all the rest

is talk.

And ending a song on the word talk, which you can hear, cuts off on that

hard K sound, didn't allow a singer to really, what...

Mr. BERGMAN: Sing it beautifully at the end. You know, there's no...

(Singing) And all the rest is talk.

(Speaking) I mean, it's so difficult. And that's why it's not part of

the repertoire.

BIANCULLI: Alan and Marilyn Berman, talking to Terry Gross in 2007. More

after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2007 conversation with Alan and

Marilyn Bergman. Barbra Streisand has just released a two-CD set of her

versions of their songs called "What Matters Most: Barbra Streisand

sings the lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman." Terry spoke with them

after the release of Alan Bergman's album of their songs, called

"Lyrically."

Let's listen to Alan Bergman sing from his album "Lyrically." This is

"What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life?," which was written for the

1969 film "The Happy Ending." The composer was Michel Legrand. Why don't

you tell us the story behind the song before we hear it.

Ms. BERGMAN: Richard Brooks(ph), who was a wonderful writer and

director, directed and wrote this film, called "The Happy Ending," which

I think was well ahead of its time and occasionally will appear on very,

very late-night television but really didn't find an audience.

Anyway, he came to us one day and said: I want you to write me a song

that is to appear twice in the film. Early in the film I want it to be -

I want it to function as perhaps a proposal of marriage between these

two young lovers.

But I want to hear the song again at the end of the film, at which time

the wife, they were since married, 16 years later the wife has become

alcoholic and has left her husband and is in a bar and goes to a jukebox

and selects a song and then sits down with a lineup of martinis in front

of her. And he shot this beautiful montage of Jean Simmons, who played

the wife, during which time she drifts into kind of a reverie while

listening to the same song.

And he said: I don't want you to change a note or a word, but I want the

song to mean something very different when you hear it the second time.

So that was a very interesting, challenging assignment.

And Michel Legrand, who wrote perhaps, I don't know, six or eight tunes,

as is his wont, for this spot, and they were all beautiful, but none

really struck the three of us as being right. And we said to him -

because while he was writing music, we were sitting trying to solve the

dramatic question of what the song should be about.

We said to him: What happens if the first line of the song is - what are

you doing for the rest of your life? And he said: Oh, I like that. And

he put his hands on the keys, and as long as it takes to play that song,

that's what he played from beginning to end.

And he said: You mean something like that? And we said: No, we mean

exactly like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BERGMAN: And Alan said to him, Alan said to him: Play it again. And

he said: Oh, I don't remember quite what I played. Luckily, we had the

tape machine going, so we had the music. And then we...

GROSS: So the first line of the song inspired the melody.

Ms. BERGMAN: Exactly.

Mr. BERGMAN: Yes.

Ms. BERGMAN: Exactly.

Mr. BERGMAN: That happens sometimes. With Michel, we can't write lyrics

first. We prefer not to write lyrics first. We prefer to have the

melody. We feel that when we have the melody that there are words on the

tips of those notes, and we have to find them.

GROSS: Well, let's hear Alan Bergman singing "What Are You Doing The

Rest Of Your Life?" from his new album "Lyrically," featuring songs with

lyrics that he and Marilyn Bergman co-wrote.

(Soundbite of song, "What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?")

Mr. BERGMAN: (Singing) What are you doing the rest of your life, north

and south and east and west of your life? I have only one request of

your life, that you spend it all with me. All the seasons and the times

of your days, all the nickels and the dimes of your days, let the

reasons and the rhymes of your days all begin and end with me.

I want to see your face in every kind of light, in fields of dawn and

forests of the night, and when you stand before the candles on a cake,

oh, let me be the one to hear the silent wish you make.

Those tomorrows waiting deep in your eyes...

GROSS: That's Alan Bergman, from his album "Lyrically," which features

him singing songs that he co-wrote with Marilyn Bergman. They're married

and long-time lyricist collaborators.

Now, that song was recently used on a commercial for diamonds. So did

you have to give your permission for that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BERGMAN: This is odd. You know, when you – when you write for hire,

as we did - "What Are You Doing The Rest of Your Life?," we were hired

by the studio to write it - they own the copyright, and they can, they

can ask you. They don't have to ask you for permission.

Most of the time, when they're not changing a word of the lyric, they

really don't bother. When there's a change in the lyric, then they do.

Then they notify you and ask you if...

Ms. BERGMAN: This was using the Dusty Springfield record of this song.

So nothing was changed, and it was a record that had been - you know, is

out, and so I guess they felt there was no need to ask us.

GROSS: So when you say that the studio owns the copyright, you still get

composer credits, right, composer royalties?

Mr. BERGMAN: Oh yes, we get credit, and we get royalties.

Ms. BERGMAN: Credits and royalties, but they in fact - they meaning the

publishing company arm of the studio - owns the rights to the song.

GROSS: Now, you've written a lot of songs, or a fair number of songs,

for movies. Some of your best-known songs are songs you wrote for

movies. You haven't written that much for theater. How did you gravitate

to writing songs for movies?

Ms. BERGMAN: I think maybe movies made a deeper impression growing up.

And we always knew that we wanted to write in a dramatic context. We

were more interested in that than we were in just writing songs in

limbo.

Writing for - in a narrative or dramatic context when we were honing

craft, you can't write for a picture unless somebody hires you, you

know? So it's like an actor not being able to act unless he gets a job,

or she gets a job. So we would do exercises.

We would find either short stories or scenes from plays or articles in

the newspaper and pretend that they were assignments. And we wrote many,

many, many songs that never saw the light of day, but were exercises

that we gave ourselves. So I like to think that when the first job came,

we were ready.

BIANCULLI: Marilyn and Alan Bergman, speaking to Terry Gross in 2007.

We'll continue their conversation in the second half of the show. Here's

Abbey Lincoln singing one of their songs, "Summer Wishes, Winter

Dreams." I'm David Bianculli and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of song, "Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams")

Ms. ABBEY LINCOLN (Singer): (Singing) Summer wishes, winter dreams,

drifting down forgotten streams, sunken faces, smiles and whispers, come

from far away to visit me this day, yesterday has come (unintelligible)

sitting here across...

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross,

back with back with lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman. They visited

FRESH AIR in 2007 when Alan Bergman's album "Lyrically" had come out. A

new Barbra Streisand collection of their songs has just been released.

It's called "What Matters Most: Barbra Streisand Sings the Lyrics of

Alan and Marilyn Bergman."

GROSS: You were both writing lyrics for the composer Lew Spence...

Mr. BERGMAN: Yes.

GROSS: ...who wrote the melody for "Nice & Easy"...

Mr. BERGMAN: Yes. Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...which was one of your first hits. And Marilyn, the way you

described it, one of you was his morning lyricist and the other was his

afternoon lyricist.

Ms. BERGMAN: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: How did he end up having two different lyricists?

Ms. BERGMAN: Because I like to sleep late.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BERGMAN: It was early in our careers and, you know, we were feeling,

trying to find out who we are and what we're saying that he was writing

and...

Ms. BERGMAN: And he was talented.

Mr. BERGMAN: Yeah.

Ms. BERGMAN: I tell you too...

GROSS: But did you know each – he introduced you. Did you know each

other yet when you were both writing lyrics separately for him?

Ms. BERGMAN: No.

Mr. BERGMAN: No.

Ms. BERGMAN: No.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BERGMAN: No.

Ms. BERGMAN: No. I was introduced to him by Bob Russell, a wonderful

lyric writer who was a mentor of mine, who, when I started to write,

introduced me to this composer. And Alan must have met him around the

music business in LA.

Mr. BERGMAN: Yeah.

Ms. BERGMAN: But there were not teams of writers so much then. You know,

we were all just writing songs and we worked with him for quite a while.

Mr. BERGMAN: Yeah.

Ms. BERGMAN: And that was the most successful of the songs that we wrote

together.

Mr. BERGMAN: That's for sure.

GROSS: Okay. So you are writing, you were both independently writing

lyrics for Lew Spence. You met through him.

Ms. BERGMAN: With Lew Spence.

Mr. BERGMAN: With, yes.

GROSS: Oh, with Lew Spence.

Ms. BERGMAN: With Lew Spence.

Mr. BERGMAN: Yes.

GROSS: Okay. You met through him and then you decided that you should be

writing lyrics with each other.

Mr. BERGMAN: Yeah.

GROSS: So...

Mr. BERGMAN: And we wrote a song that day.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. BERGMAN: That we just, the first day we were introduced to each

other we wrote a song. It was a terrible song but we love the process.

We enjoy the process. And we, from that day on we've been writing

together.

GROSS: Can you share a few bars of the awful song?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BERGMAN: Oh my God, it was great...

Mr. BERGMAN: I only know the title.

GROSS: Which was?

Mr. BERGMAN: "I Never Knew What Hit Me."

Ms. BERGMAN: Ouch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BERGMAN: Something like that. Ouch is right.

GROSS: Alan Bergman, one of the songs you sing on your new album

"Lyrically," is a song that you say was an engagement gift to Marilyn

Bergman.

Mr. BERGMAN: Yes.

GROSS: And the song is "That Face," which was first recorded by Fred

Astaire.

Mr. BERGMAN: Yeah.

GROSS: So before we hear you sing it, what's the story behind this song?

Mr. BERGMAN: Well, Lew Spence, who wrote the music, he was going out

with a girl, and Marilyn and I were going out together. And I wanted to

ask her to marry me and have some kind of engagement, but I didn't have

any money. So we wrote this song and we, to get it - we got an

appointment with Fred Astaire. Fred Astaire was Marilyn's favorite

singer. She loved the way he sang. And...

Ms. BERGMAN: Still do.

GROSS: Me too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BERGMAN: Oh yes. Well, you know, just to digress for a second. You

know the literature of the popular music in this country would be much

poorer without a Fred Astaire, because all those great writers, Berlin,

the Gershwins, Cole Porter, and so they all wrote for him, and Johnny

Mercer.

And so we wrangled an appointment with Fred Astaire and sang him the

song. He said, before I listen, he said, I - he owned the record

company, he said, I only record what I sing in movies, but I'll listen.

And he was very sweet. And so we played and sang him the song, and he

said, I'm going to record this next week. And he did. And I handed

Marilyn this record and I said...

Ms. BERGMAN: And I married him.

Mr. BERGMAN: And she married me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BERGMAN: Yeah.

GROSS: Let's hear you sing it from the new Alan Bergman CD "Lyrically."

(Soundbite of song, "That Face")

Mr. BERGMAN: (Singing) That face, that face, that wonderful face. It

shines. It glows all over the place. And how I love to watch it change

expressions. Each look becomes the prize of my possessions.

I love that face, that face, it just isn't fair. You must forgive the

way that I stare. But never will these eyes behold a sight that could

replace that face, that face, that face, that face. I see that face,

that face...

GROSS: Alan Bergman from his album "Lyrically," in which he sings lyrics

that were co-written by with his wife Marilyn Bergman, with the

exception of the song we just heard. That's the only one in which he

wrote the lyric himself.

Mr. BERGMAN: Right.

GROSS: So Alan Bergman, Johnny Mercer was your mentor.

Mr. BERGMAN: Yes.

GROSS: How were you lucky enough to get to know him?

Mr. BERGMAN: Well, I met him when I was in graduate school at UCLA, and

he heard some things I had written and he took a liking to me. And we

spent, you know, over a period of two or three years and he would call

me and say I know all you're doing is working - and this is before the

Marilyn. And we would go down with his family to Newport, where he had a

place, where he had a house and we would spend the weekend. He would sit

at the piano and listen to me play and sing. He liked the way I sang and

he was just terrific. I mean I wouldn't be talking to you without him.

He was just marvelous to me. Yeah.

GROSS: So what was some of the best advice that Johnny Mercer ever gave

you about songwriting?

Mr. BERGMAN: Well, you know, he just outlined the craft about singing

and you're writing for an instrument and you have to respect that and

about a lot about imagery. More it would be more you could do better

than that. He wouldn't be specific really...

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BERGMAN: ...which was great because that helped. The more specific

he would - I think teaches you the less you feel free to express

yourself. And some of the early songs of mine you can hear Johnny Mercer

in them - trying to emulate him until I found and we found our own

voice.

Ms. BERGMAN: Also I think which is what we each learned from mentors

that we had was that songs, probably like anything else that one writes

is not, are not written, they're rewritten.

Mr. BERGMAN: Yes.

Ms. BERGMAN: And you can't really get too passionate about any one word

or one phrase and you just have to be free enough and ruthless enough

with your work to really keep writing until somebody wrests it away from

you.

BIANCULLI: Lyricists Marilyn and Alan Bergman speaking to Terry gross

2007. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's 2007 interview with Alan and

Marilyn Bergman. Barbra Streisand has just released a two CD set of her

versions of their songs called "What Matters Most: Barbra Streisand

Sings the Lyrics of Alan and Marilyn Bergman."

GROSS: Marilyn, when you decided that you really wanted to become a

lyricist, did you think, well, this is going to be really hard to do?

Because there are so - first of all, it's hard to be a lyricist under

the best of circumstances, but second of all there were so few women who

were lyricists at the time that you started writing. Did you think this

is going to be impossible?

Ms. BERGMAN: As a woman you mean?

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. BERGMAN: Well, I didn't think it was going to be impossible. I knew

that I would be, you know, the odd woman out. I would go to ASCAP

meetings, membership meetings, and it would be me and a lot of the

widows of songwriters who were there representing their husband's

estates, you know. So in New York there was Betty Comden and Dorothy

Fields and there were, you know, a couple of famous women writers.

GROSS: Carolyn Leigh.

Mr. BERGMAN: Yeah, Carolyn.

Ms. BERGMAN: Carolyn Leigh for sure. But she was about the same time. By

the time I met Carolyn I was already a professional writer and she was

certainly.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. BERGMAN: She was wonderful.

Mr. BERGMAN: Oh absolutely. Terrific writer.

Ms. BERGMAN: Yup.

Mr. BERGMAN: Mm. Yeah.

GROSS: Marilyn, did you have a mentor in the way that Alan had a mentor

in Johnny Mercer?

Ms. BERGMAN: Yes I did. When I was in high school in New York, I went to

the High School of Music and Art - I was a music major – and I was lucky

enough to become friendly with a girl named Marilyn Jackson, very good

singer who unfortunately is no longer with us. But she introduced me to

her aunt and uncle and her uncle was a very successful songwriter -

lyric writer - named Bob Russell. He wrote a lot of the Duke Ellington

songs, "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," "Do Nothing Til You Hear From

Me."

He wrote lyrics to "Brazil" and "Ballerina." A lot of songs. Very, very

gifted. And I used to play the piano for him in the afternoon after

school. This was the olden days before tape recorders and stuff like

that. So a lyric writer who didn't play the piano used to have somebody

sit and play tunes for them. And I became very interested in what he was

doing, though I never dreamed that someday that's what I would do. This

was just an afternoon exercise for me.

And then - well, if you want the story I'll give it to you quickly. I

fell down a flight of steps...

GROSS: Oh.

Ms. BERGMAN: ...and I broke my shoulder and I dislocated the other.

GROSS: Oy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BERGMAN: And so I could no longer live in New York and I had to come

out to California where my parents had moved while I was in high school,

college - I don't remember. And the only person I knew here was Bob

Russell, who with his family had moved here in the years since my high

school days. I was in college when this happened. And I came out here in

practically a body cast and looked him up and we were visiting. And I

said what am I going to do out here for all these months? I don't know

anybody and I can't do anything. And he said well, why don't you write

songs? And I said I can't play the piano. I can't even turn the pages in

a book. He said so write lyrics. You can dictate them into the now

invented cassette player or reel-to-reel, whatever it was. So I said oh.

And I wrote a lyric and he introduced me to a young composer named Lew

Spence. Now we've come a little circle here, right? And that's how I

became Lew Spence's morning lyric writer.

Mr. BERGMAN: No afternoon.

Ms. BERGMAN: Afternoon lyric writer. Forgive me. And Bob...

Mr. BERGMAN: p.m.

Ms. BERGMAN: ...functioned very much the same way that Johnny did with

Alan. Bob used to critique what I'd written and he was a taskmaster, I'm

delighted to say. And so I was - I don't think - there's no question

that - I was studying political psychology at NYU. Why would I write

songs if I hadn't fallen down a flight of steps?

GROSS: Well, I love stories about catastrophes that have happy endings,

so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BERGMAN: That's right.

GROSS: I'm glad to hear how it worked out. Now, you know, we've been

talking about songs you've written, songs you've written for movies. Now

one of your famous songs that hasn't been recorded either by Tony

Bennett or Frank Sinatra or Barbra Streisand is the theme from "Maude."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BERGMAN: Yes.

Ms. BERGMAN: Oh, yes.

GROSS: And I just have to ask you about that. You know, the lyrics are

Lady Godiva was a freedom writer. She didn't care if the whole world

looked. Joan of Arc with the Lord to guide her, she was a sister who

really cooked.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Do you look back at that and think oh, was that dated?

Ms. BERGMAN: No, I don't know, it fit Bea Arthur's...

Mr. BERGMAN: Character.

Ms. BERGMAN: ...character.

Mr. BERGMAN: Yeah.

Ms. BERGMAN: Norman Lear asked us to write a piece for her. Norman Lear

and Bud Yorkin, who were Tandem Productions then, asked us to write a

theme song for the show. And...

Mr. BERGMAN: With a wonderful composer, Dave Grusin.

Ms. BERGMAN: Yeah. And so this is what we wrote and it was because she

was this ardent feminist creature.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BERGMAN: So that was fun.

Mr. BERGMAN: And that's fun because, you know, you have 45 seconds to

write something that will capture the audience and tell them a little

bit about what they're going to see.

Ms. BERGMAN: And don't touch that dial.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Right.

Mr. BERGMAN: So that's how we approach it, you know. Like "Good Times,"

same thing, you know.

GROSS: What's the lyric you would wish you had written? Like...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...the lyric that to you is the lyric that all songs should be

measured against.

Ms. BERGMAN: Oh, god.

Mr. BERGMAN: Oh boy, we have a lot of those.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BERGMAN: "Skylark" is one.

Mr. BERGMAN: Yeah. "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face."

Ms. BERGMAN: That's another one.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BERGMAN: Another one.

Ms. BERGMAN: "All the Things You Were" is another one.

Mr. BERGMAN: Yeah. "They Can't Take That Away From Me."

Ms. BERGMAN: Yes.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. BERGMAN: "Too Late Now."

GROSS: Oh yeah.

Mr. BERGMAN: I mean there's...

Ms. BERGMAN: "Send in the Clowns."

Mr. BERGMAN: Yeah.

Ms. BERGMAN: Almost anything that's Steve...

Mr. BERGMAN: Anything that Sondheim writes. Yes. He's...

Ms. BERGMAN: He's the measure right now.

Mr. BERGMAN: Yeah.

GROSS: Well, a pleasure to talk with you both. Let's close with another

song. I thought we'd close with "Where Do You Start," which was not

written for a movie.

Mr. BERGMAN: No.

Ms. BERGMAN: It's a good way to close. It closes the relationship.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BERGMAN: Yeah. The - well, and "Where Do You Start" - we have, you

know, in our process, we have a lot of wonderful composer friends. Yeah,

Dave Grusin is one, you know, besides Michel. And Johnny Mandel is a

wonderful composer. Sometimes Dave or Johnny will come over to the house

and say, what you think of this melody? And they play it and if we - and

usually love it, we say leave it here, you know. And we take it off the

shelf and listen to them play and hopefully get an idea. There were two

songs like that in the album, one is "Where Do You Start" and the other

is "Love Like Ours," which just - they're wonderful melodies which we

feel we have to write.

Ms. BERGMAN: And they'll be in a drawer on a cassette or in the shelf

and from time to time when we're not working on something in particular

will take it out and play it and see if the muse is in the room. And

"Where Do You Start" is a melody of Johnny Mandel's we really liked and

it took us a long time before we found an idea for it that we liked. And

people have told us...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BERGMAN: ...that they were married to "What Are You Doing the Rest

of Your Life," broke up to "Where Do You Start," and were divorced to

"The Way We Were."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BERGMAN: So - so much...

GROSS: That's really funny.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So how does it make you feel knowing that like you're the

soundtrack in some way to the ups and downs...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...of so many romantic relationships?

Ms. BERGMAN: Very humbling. It's very humbling.

GROSS: It's kind of amazing, you know, that you've stay together as a

couple and as partners for so long. It sometimes - for so many people

it's so hard to work with a spouse, and to work as closely as you have

to as lyricists and to have kept a marriage up for so many years. It's

pretty incredible.

Mr. BERGMAN: Yeah, we've been writing together for 51 years.

GROSS: Well, congratulations on not had having to sing "The Way We Were"

in your own lives.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BERGMAN: Hardly.

Ms. BERGMAN: I can't imagine it any other way.

GROSS: Thank you both so much.

Ms. BERGMAN: Pleasure.

Mr. BERGMAN: Thank you, Terry.

Ms. BERGMAN: Big pleasure, Terry.

BIANCULLI: Lyricists Alan and Marilyn Bergman speaking to Terry Gross in

2007.

A new Barbra Streisand collection of their songs has just been released.

It's called "What Matters Most: Barbra Streisand Sings the Lyrics of

Alan and Marilyn Bergman."

We'll end this segment with Alan Bergman singing their song "Where Do

You Start."

(Soundbite of song, "Where Do You Start")

Mr. BERGMAN: (Singing) Where do you start? How do you separate the

present from the past? How do you deal with all the things you thought

would last, that didn't last? With bits of memories scattered here and

there, I look around and don't know where to start.

Which books are yours? Which tapes and dreams belong to you and which

are mine? Our lives are tangled like the branches of a vine that

intertwine. So many habits that we'll have to break and yesterdays we'll

have to take apart. One day there'll be a song or something in the air

again...

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A Graceful Search For 'Higher Ground'

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

A Graceful Search For 'Higher Ground'

The actress Vera Farmiga is now director too. She makes her directorial

debut with the new film "Higher Ground," in which she also stars - as a

woman first enchanted by, then disillusioned by evangelical

Christianity.

As an actress, she won acclaim as a drug addicted mom in the 2004 drama

"Down to the Bone." She went on to appear in such films as "The

Departed" and "Up in the Air," for which she received an Oscar

nomination.

Film critic David Edelstein reviews her first effort behind the camera .

DAVID EDELSTEIN: "Higher Ground" centers on a woman who joins and, after

a decade, flees a fundamentalist religious order, but the tone isn't

irreverent. The film is flushed with wonder, hope, and finally

heartbreak. In the memoir on which it's based, "This Dark World," writer

Carolyn S. Briggs never stops longing for a connection to God. And

Farmiga, who also plays the protagonist, Corinne, frames the film as a

kind of love story, starting the movie with Corinne opening her eyes

underwater, at the moment of her baptism, seeing men smiling down like

heaven's welcoming committee. Corinne doesn't want to come up for air.

That's when Farmiga cuts to Corinne decades earlier, also holding her

breath underwater, but as a child in a bathtub, where she escapes the

fighting of her flirty mom, played by Donna Murphy, and angry alcoholic

dad, played by John Hawkes. Farmiga doesn't appear again for more than

half an hour, but the two girls playing Corinne in flashback are

uncanny. The first, McKenzie Turner, combines a sly intelligence, an

impishness, with a seemingly irreconcilable craving to surrender to a

higher authority, raising her hand when a choir teacher asks who's

willing to pledge his or her life to Christ. As a teenager, Corinne is

played by Farmiga's real-life sister, Taissa, who has similarly sky-blue

eyes and a presence that's airy but alert.

A budding writer, Corinne falls hard for the high school celebrity, a

dreamboat rock musician named Ethan, played by Boyd Holbrook. She gets

pregnant, they marry, and become fundamentalists after an accident that

almost takes the life of their baby. They join an evangelical church of

scruffy folk-music types - it's the '70s - who believe the Lord also,

quote, "writes his gospel in the rocks and trees." Coming back to the

baptism scene that opened the film, Corinne sings atop a hill, long hair

swaying, and the rapturous vibe is like the musical "Godspell," with

better music. Who wouldn't think, I want what she's having?

Farmiga and cinematographer Michael McDonough know how to frame the

actors loosely yet catch all the emotions that count, both the harmony

and the creeping dissonance. Though Corinne is taken aback by the male

hierarchy and the women who help enforce it, Farmiga doesn't turn them

into caricatures. They caricature themselves by being so doctrinaire.

When her best friend speaks in tongues, an increasingly alienated

Corinne is envious. She stands before the mirror replaying Robert

DeNiro's you talkin' to me as please talk to me.

(Soundbite of movie, "Higher Ground")

Ms. VERA FARMIGA (Actor, Director): (as Corinne) (Unintelligible). Come

on. Come on. How I love your father, God. Oh, Holy Spirit. Thank you,

Lord. Come on.

(Soundbite of speaking in tongues)

Ms. FARMIGA: (as Corinne) Come on, Lord. Come on, Holy Spirit. Just wash

down on me, Lord. Just...

(Singing) ...come in thy strength and thy power.

(Speaking) Get thee behind me.

(Singing) Come in mine own gentle way. (Unintelligible)...

EDELSTEIN: That scene is the high point of "Higher Ground." You see both

Farmiga's satiric brilliance and her deeply sympathetic imagination.

Corinne tries to explore her feelings before the congregation, which

bridles at her preaching - women aren't supposed to preach — and her

questioning spirit. But she doesn't slam the door on the way out, like

the self-righteous Nora of Ibsen's "A Doll's House." She wishes she

could stick around. And Farmiga and co-screenwriter Briggs depict her

life outside the faith as full of its own perils.

On the debit side, Farmiga hasn't found the right style for Corinne's

surreal visions, which seem silly. And there's a casting glitch. Joshua

Leonard plays the older Ethan, and while he's a good actor, he doesn't

suggest an ex-teen heartthrob. His whininess makes it too easy for

Corinne to fall out of love.

"Higher Ground" would play like an angry anti-conversion melodrama if

there weren't a trace of petulance in Corinne's anger at the Holy Spirit

for not speaking to her. It's called faith, after all, because

reinforcement can be a long time coming. So the film is complicated,

unresolved, in the best kind of way. Farmiga's directing debut is

amazingly graceful.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.

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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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