Serving as director, co-producer and screenwriter for his new Roadside Attractions/Summit Entertainment release, Indignation, wasn’t quite enough for past triple-Oscar nominee James Schamus — so he co-wrote a song for the movie as well.
The lush “Is It Love,” performed by Grammy-nominated jazz singer Jane Monheit, plays during a pivotal scene in the affecting drama, adapted from a Philip Roth novel, that follows the struggles of Marcus (Logan Lerman) as he leaves his working-class New Jersey Jewish neighborhood behind to find his way at Ohio’s small, WASP-y Winesburg College. In the process, he sees friends felled by the Korean War, enters his first sexual relationship with a troubled fellow student (Sarah Gadon), and bucks up against a school administrator who resents his independent thinking. Schamus’ directorial debut, which received strong reviews following its Sundance Film Festival bow, opens July 29.
Schamus, who garnered past Academy Award nods for best picture for Brokeback Mountain, best adapted screenplay for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and best original song for “A Love Before Time” from Crouching Tiger, says his initial reasoning for co-writing “Is It Love” with the film’s composer, Jay Wadley, was a practical one. “To put it mildly, we didn’t have any money to go out and license a radio hit from 1951,” he says. So he and Wadley decided to create their own.
As he and Wadley began work on the sweeping song, which plays on the radio as Lerman and Gadon drive home from their first date, Schamus realized that he had more to say than he’d written in the script and the lyrics gave him the chance to do so. “We were in the middle of editing and I thought, there’s more words here to speak,” says Schamus, who also teaches theory and philosophy at New York’s Columbia University. In perhaps the first song influenced by both Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Cole Porter, he penned lyrics that address the ambiguity of the students’ budding relationship. Wadley’s orchestrated arrangement plays in contrast to his understated score.
Schamus, a longtime fan of Monheit’s who began seeing her at New York’s Cafe Carlyle more than a dozen years ago, approached her management about singing “Is It Love.” She came in the last day of the three-day scoring session in New York. “We played through the song, got to the end of the first take, there’s a pause and then the entire place exploded into joyous laughter,” he says. “There were maybe five or six takes. I love what Jane did. It was as bit of a dream come true for me.”
The former Focus Features CEO looks at “Is It Love” more fondly than his hastily written lyrics for “A Love Before Time,” from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which he co-wrote with Jorge Calandrelli and Tan Dun: “I was writing a Canto-Pop song that was originally just meant for the Cantonese version. It’s a little cheesy.” The song, which ended up in the American and European releases as well, earned Schamus an Oscar nod, but he admits he didn’t even vote for himself. He voted for what was ultimately the winning song on the 2001 broadcast: Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed” from Wonder Boys.
Nettwerk Music Group will release the original motion picture soundtrack for Indignation on July 29, which includes Wadley’s score, as well as “Is It Love.”