Moonlight: A Moving Depiction of Inner City Miami

Poster for Moonlight,
Barry Jenkins' film based on “In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue,” Tarell Alvin McCraney's shelved semi-autobiographical 2003 60-page memoir.
" [Liberty City] is a unique place in that the same things that exist in other urban general populations exist for us, and yet there are palm trees and beautiful sunsets and you can smell the ocean five miles away. "

Tarell Alvin McCraney


Moonlight has two more showings at Lyric Blacksburg tonight at 7:00 and 9:15 pm. I saw it last night and had been looking forward to it since filmmaker Catherine Pancake recommended it. I preferred the first two sections of the film to the last and am wondering about his depiction of the adult Chiron, v.s. that of Jenkins.  I couldn't find a copy of his memoir to make a comparison.

How one of my favorite scenes got shot

Gregg Kilday at Hollywood Reporter explains the shooting of my favorite scenes: Juan (Mahershala Ali) — a local drug dealer who has befriended a wary 10-year-old Chiron (Alex Hibbert)--teaches the boy to swim in the Atlantic Ocean.

A massive storm front, with clouds ominously gray, was moving in...The schedule called for a five-hour shoot, but ...[Jenkins] knew he'd only have 90 minutes to capture the sequence before the cast and crew would have to seek shelter...

"Once we realized the weather wasn't going to cooperate, I knew I had two things — a kid who didn't know how to swim and a camera that would be half in, half out of the water.' He took Ali aside and told him not to worry about hitting the dialogue, just teach the boy to swim. Nine takes and one lens swap later, they had the footage and beat a hasty retreat....

"What you're watching...is real life. A grown black man teaching a young black kid how to float and how to swim in the Atlantic Ocean as a storm is coming in. Sometimes pressure and duress work in your favor. If I had tried to get every line we had scripted, I would have tried to control things in a way where we wouldn't have had this moment in the film."

How Jenkins and McCraney began their collaboration.

They never met as boys
in Miami’s inner city neighborhood of Liberty City all they grew up a few blocks from each other and both had mothers afflicted by drug addiction. They met met as adults when McCraney’s script found its way to Jenkins through the Borscht Corporation, a Miami-based film nonprofit.

According to Kilday, Jenkins and McCraney began exchanging what Jenkins calls "loopy emails.
I explained what I saw as the film version, but I'm a straight man and I felt Tarell's voice needed to be preserved.

McCraney by then had received a 2013 MacArthur Grant and was involved in other projects; he gave Jenkins his blessing to write the film. McCraney talks about the adaptation in NY online magazine, The FADER, which is where I got the quote that starts this post.

The Music in Moonlight

Interestingly, Jenkins led the discussion of Twelve Years a Slave at Telluride, and found himself talking with producers Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner, partners with Brad Pitt at Plan B Entertainment. According, again to Kilday, "The two had been fans of Medicine [Medicine for Melancholy, his 2008 film] and wanted to know what Jenkins planned to do next. He promised to send them the Moonlight screenplay when it was finished."

Composer Nicholas Britell came to write the score because he had worked with Kleiner on The Big Short. Kleiner encouraged him to read Jenkins' script.  Britell says,
One of the first takeaways I had was that it felt like poetry — beautiful, intimate, sensitive.
 And so Kleiner arranged a meeting, and Jenkins and Britell immediately clicked.
I had the same feeling of poetry when I saw the early cuts of the film...and that immediately impacted the musical ideas. I started asking myself right away, 'What is the musical analog to the movie's poetry?' Among the first things I sent to Barry was a piece called 'Piano and Violin Poem,' which became 'Little's Theme' in chapter one and evolves into 'Chiron's Theme' in chapter two and then becomes what we call 'Black's Theme' in chapter three. So those immediate feelings I had about the screenplay and the film really paved the way for some of the groundwork of what the movie would become.
Jenkins told Britell about how he loved "chopped and screwed" Southern hip-hop, where the tracks are slowed way down.
When you slow them, the pitch goes down....So you get these tracks that are deepened and enriched in their sonic quality. I said to Barry, 'What if we applied that technique to the orchestral technique? What would happen?
Kilday explains that Britell "began slowing and bending the piano-and-violin theme he'd written. In the schoolyard fight in chapter two, for example, Britell slowed it way down, nearly three octaves down, layering the piece on top of itself and running it through vinyl so it has a vinyl hiss."
It's almost unrecognizable...It's like a rumbling in the subwoofers of the theater. You can hear what almost sounds like bells, but that's actually the piano notes that have morphed into this totally other formation.