Berlin based film composer Cassis B Staudt is renowned for her collabs with famous men in the music and film industry. After relocating to study music at Juiliard in New York, Cassis began to work with some of the most influentual and critically acclaimed indie creatives thrown up by the city at the time. So when we began thinking about putting together Cassis B Staudt Week in Outsideleft, where could we begin but with finding out way more about the famous, infamous, sometimes not quite ‘sung enough’ - I think unsung is a word I am looking for - hugely talented women all, that Cassis has met and worked with throughout her career.
OUTSIDELEFT: You’ve worked with so many famous men, but let's begin by talking about someone else… Not those remarkable men, we're going to get to them... Of course... Can you talk about the remarkable women you've worked with?
CASSIS B STAUDT: What a great question! My life really started when I moved to New York. I was excited that I could meet a few of the women I had admired from afar. Eszter Balint for example. While still living in Hamburg, Germany, I walked around wrapping myself in the attitude she put forth in Stranger Than Paradise. I had found a coat in my grandmother’s closet that reminded me of Eszter in the film – long and black. I wore it like armor. After a few years living in New York, I became friends with Eszter and admired her songs and compositions. We have had moments of deep exchange. I love her integrity.
My first question when I met Jim Jarmusch was what Sara Driver was working on. As Jim Jarmusch’s partner, she was not in the limelight and it was very exciting getting to know her over the six years I worked for him. I was producing a section of Coffee and Cigarettes and did not work directly on her film When Pigs Fly that was shot at the same time. We were hanging out however, and I was always admiring her strength and choice of film topics. She taught me a New Yorker outlook! Through her film You Are Not I, I discovered the writing and the music of Paul Bowles. Her open mindedness inspired me greatly. I’ve met a few strong strong women in entertainment. Kathleen Brennan from the Tom Waits team is incredible as is the cellist Claire Lacey who works closely with Herbie Flowers.
Cat Power and I met a few times when she was still Chan Marshall and I was Birgit Staudt. We played on the same bill with my band b-blush at CBGB’s Gallery. At one of the shows, she was so shy that she started singing a song, stopped a few lines into it and then ran into the green room. It shows the big emotions that she is able to share.
One of the highlights of my life was meeting the great actress Gena Rowlands. We worked together on the Jarmusch film Night on Earth. I had been in awe of her acting ever since I was blown over by the Cassavetes film A Woman under the Influence. To be working with her on a film, and her writing personal notes to me, was mind blowing.
The filmmaker Beth B has had a big impact on me. I had seen her at the Berlinale in 1987 at a Q + A for her film Salvation and was awestruck by her wittiness and power. She had directed her boyfriend in the film! That was to me like wow! She came across as tough and sweet and firm and bold – everything I aspired to be. Through Beth, I met quite a few amazing artists - for example, Lydia Lunch and guitarist Lenny Kaye – who subsequently introduced me to Patti Smith, an idol of mine!
And, of course, there is Meredith Monk. It was a privilege to be able to study with her and so easy to do while living in New York. My band mate, David Cossin, was one of the producers of her most recent album. Theo Bleckmann, who used to be in Meredith Monk’s ensemble was my voice teacher for several years.
Karen Koch had a big impact on me. She helped me transition out of film production and to really embrace location scouting as an art. Leaving spending time indoors on the computer for roaming around the city and landscapes by foot, by motorcycle, rollerblades, bike - scouting was, for a while, the perfect companion to my music. And it was certainly artistically inspiring!
Scouting spaces and meeting innumerable "regular" people evoked atmospheres and sparked songs and lyrics. For Dead Man, Karen and I spent ten days traveling through Montana, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California and Oregon. I was the eye and she was responsible for the film’s budget. Together, we decided in which states Dead Man should be filmed. Then, I combed those states and found locations for the movie. This film scout has been one of the highlights of my life.
Jim Jarmusch had seen my black and white photography and, from perusing those, determined that I could find the Western landscapes he sought. Thousands of photographs later, shot and developed on the road in one-hour photo shops, we came up with a plan. Only by traveling through the actual landscapes with Karen and the daylong conversations I had with her could I come up with the ideas that visually impacted the film’s aesthetic. One of the ideas was to see Arizona cactuses at the outset of William Blake’s journey and then, once I saw them, I immediately knew that in the end there needed to be burned-out forest – black tree trunks against the sky!
And then, there is a whole group of women I am proud to be part of - all through the Oscar-nominated film Ferry Tales, a film that I wrote music for. The director, Katja Esson brought all of us together! I had written music for her first doc Vertical Traveler – a history of the elevator (incidentally, showing Tuesday August 25th at the Cuban Nexus Film Festival, here). When I had discovered that there was an amazing female pow wow in the powder room of the women’s bathroom on the Staten Island Ferry – the 8 am ferry – where women of different races and classes put on their make up and transition from suburbia Staten Island to the Big Apple where they went to work – I couldn’t wait to tell her about it. With her great sense and investigative curiosity and sticking with a project even though it seemed to be falling apart after 9/11, Katja made this film into a moving Oscar - nominated short doc.
OUTSIDELEFT: That sounds incredible!
CASSIS B STAUDT: One of Ferry Tales producers, Sabine Schenk, has been a wise collaborator since then. A tough and resilient woman, she escaped East Germany right before the wall came down at a time when she did not know if she would ever see her family again. She has been a trusted producer of many filmmakers, including but not limited to Margarethe von Trotta, Stephen Daldry, Volker Schlöndorff, Wolfgang Becker and Anja Murmann. She is one of the hardest working people I know. The other powerful German women on the Ferry Tales team are the producer Corinna Sager, the DP Martina Radwan and the highly acclaimed editor Sabine Hoffmann. They’re all German and we all attended the Oscars together!
Let me not forget Birgit Möller AKA Billie. She is not only a visionary DP and invites me to compose music to her stunning images (About a Girl, Ants Go Different Ways – both directed by Catharina Deus) but is also the fascinating director of Valerie, which won the Best Feature Film Award at the Hamptons Film Festival. We have collaborated numerous times, such as on a documentary about a vintage fashion icon traveling around Cuba. Recently, she took very poetic album cover photos of my band Beauty And the Bs.
Lately, the award-winning German director Petra K. Wagner invited me to be part of her team. We have been working on a 360° film together, choreographed by Polina Grossmann-Bendersky, which explores the true story of Hélène, who sent the most heartfelt letters of joy and love to her mother in Paris before she was killed right after her 20th birthday in Auschwitz. I have been creating an ambient accordion surround score evoking a claustrophobic highly emotional atmosphere that resembles constant breathing in and in and in without a single breath out.
Who would I like to meet still: Carla Bley, who I have followed since listening to her records as a teenager in my tiny German Swabian town!
Cassis B Staudt photo ©Sandra Buschow, website at sanstories.com