Elizabeth Lucas: Please Don’t Call it “9-11: The Rock Musical”


A few days after director Elizabeth Lucas interviewed with the New York Times about her upcoming film Clear Blue Tuesday, she says she is disappointed. The Times piece described her film as a “9-11: the rock musical.”

“Which it’s not,” she says at the Westin Hotel’s lobby on 43rd Street. She is still lamenting over the details in the post. “And there’s that part where he said it was like Glee…I mean what the hell? It’s not like Glee at all!”

Clear Blue Tuesday is the product of reflection, says the 12-year New Yorker. After a taxi cab slammed into her and her bicycle in 2006, she spent three months recovering from a broken foot and a broken nose, and reflected on the 9-11 attacks.

“Well it’s about disaster as a catalyst for change,” she says.

The film opens today at the Quad Cinemas in the Village. The Voice‘s own review was not kind, but Lucas was happy to talk to us about her film.

What was the logic behind the title?

You know, I happened upon the title from a song lyric from a song written by a friend of mine. It was just a phrase in the song, and it struck me and just stayed with me so strongly. The thing of it is, Clear Blue Tuesday, for those of us who were here, is immensely evocative and… an interesting mystery for people who weren’t. And so, it’s kind of a way of saying that this movie is a bit of a litmus test and you know all my characters in this movie my characters range from this character Caroline, who you read about in the Times, who both the actress and the character were deeply injured that day, to the character of Sam, played by Cassandra Kubinski, who wasn’t even in the city at the time and the whole idea was that we were showing the whole range of experiences…this isn’t a movie about the survivors or the firefighters or the widows or politics or any of this sort of big media items this is a movie about the rest of us. And that’s all it was meant to be so for me that range from Jan to Cassandra’s characters, was incredibly important.

Are we ready for a movie like this?

If you see the movie you will see that it’s not a 9-11 musical. And that’s the unfortunate thing, that’s the first paragraph of the New York Times, paints it as September 11th the rock musical. I don’t want to see that either. Are we ready for that? No. I’m one of the founders of the New York Musical Theater Festival, I’ve read hundreds of scripts, and dozens of them have been Holocaust musicals and they’re all terrible. And then I look at a musical like Cabaret, which is set during that time and was one of the great, classic musicals of all time and what is different is that it’s dealing very personally with very specific people who are in unpleasant circumstances. You know, as opposed to dealing with the Holocaust‚ and singing about how we are all going to die now. You know? It’s just not the same ballpark. So to say that I made a 9-11 musical, makes me think of people singing as the towers fall, and that’s a horrible idea, that’s not what I did. (laughs) So you know my producers and I have gone back and forth through the years of, you know, how much should we mention 9-11, and my early versions didn’t mention it at all. I really kind of pushed away from that. And there was a little bit of a push back they wanted to say, no, no, really it’s 9-11 as a catalyst and that’s important. It’s 9-11 as a catalyst for change in people’s lives. That’s the 9-11 reference. And that’s the first two minutes of the film.

But I’m wondering, where does your bicycle accident fit in?

Well it’s about disaster as a catalyst for change. And for me getting hit by that cab and having three months of sitting around and recovering was forced reflection time. and I really got to ask myself “what am i doing in New York? Why did I come here? Am I still pursuing what I’m meant to be pursuing? And am I happy with where I am? And the answer to a lot of that was ‘no.’ And I had a lot of time to think, well what are my resources, what do I want to be doing? I knew I wanted to do a musical. I knew I had tremendous people resources, and I’ve been in New York long enough to have a real community here. And I knew what was interesting for me to talk about. And you know that time, I was personally still digesting my own 9-11 experience, which was very, very traumatic for me too. And so it felt like something I wanted to talk about and therefore there’s got to be other people who want to talk about that too.

Why 11 characters? That was something we mentioned in our review, was there any symbolism behind that?

To be completely honest I cast 12 people (laughs). And then we lost one and it was like well I guess we are doing this with 11 people, but people were like, “Oh, symbolism!” So it was kind of completely not deliberate. I mean originally when I conceived the project I was going to cast 6 people. But this whole project has been about me wanting to say yes to all covers and because of that there really is a tremendous community behind this movie.
I don’t know if you’ve read some of the scathing crap that’s out there, also in the comments section, but I’ll have you know I have not written a single comment. They were all people who actually saw the movie and care about the movie and there just was a huge community around it. I couldn’t stop at six, (laughs)…

Where were you on 9-11?

I lived in Washington Heights at the time, I was through my third day of a six-day shoot, of my very first short film (Isabella Rico). So I was just in the middle of production and I woke up to a phone call from my production manager, after we had an all-nighter and I had my AD living with me at the time and we didn’t have cable. So we went outside and this man was walking by and he was white, and crazed and we asked him what was going on and he had just come from down there and had seen people jumping and was absolutely crazed, but he took us with him to his apartment to sit and watch the news for a while. And my guest was just anxious to get off the island so we walked to the George Washington Bridge, which was closed…And then I went home and put on my work boots and put on my work gloves and tried to get downtown. I spent most of the next week trying to volunteer but couldn’t — there were too many of us. it was just crazy how many volunteers there were.

Is the film cathartic for you, then?

We all came to it and I really pushed, I pushed the tender spots and I said, you know, if that’s tender, that’s what we are going to talk about and to try to find that honesty of a character and a moment. And yes the film is very personal to all of us. There is once sequence in 2006 that is absolutely my tribute to the New Yorkers who picked me up after the bike accident, so yes, there is a lot that is very personal in the film.