The very existence of "Dominique Strauss-Kahn: The Movie" reveals a darker side to Hollywood

Will his alleged victim, Nafissatou Diallo, get to tell her side of the story?

Filming is set to begin for a movie about Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the French politician who stepped down as head of the IMF after he was accused of attempted rape by a New York hotel worker in May 2011. Details about the film, which has yet to be given a title, are being kept under wraps. Directed by Abel Ferrara, who made Bad Lieutenant, it will star Gerard Depardieu as DSK and Isabelle Adjani as his multimillionaire journalist wife, Anne Sinclair. In addition to the New York incident, it has been speculated that the film may include subsequent allegations of sexual assault by French journalist Tristane Banon, and charges of "aggravated pimping in an organised gang" in Lille in which sex workers were allegedly procured for orgies. The inquiry is also examining whether one sex worker was gang-raped. Strauss-Kahn denies all the charges.

Certainly, the scandal (or scandals) has captured the imagination of many writers, dramatists, and journalists. It has been only 15 months since immigrant worker Nafissatou Diallo accused DSK of sexual assault and attempted rape, but the incident has already been the subject of multiple plays, and books, as well as this new film.

Theatrical productions in Paris and at the Edinburgh fringe looked at the incident, particularly focusing on the relationship between Strauss-Kahn and Sinclair – who stood by her man throughout the scandal, leaving him only recently. A non-fictional investigation into the couple was one of the biggest bestsellers in France this summer. A thriller inspired by the case, Night Watch by Linda Farstein, was a bestseller in the US. Meanwhile, a recently published novel by French author Stéphane Zagdanski, Burning Chaos, looks at the New York story through patients in a Manhattan psychiatric centre.

Of course, the tale of power, sex, and scandal is classic material for theatre or fiction. But is it problematic that the story is being turned into a money-spinning drama (by many different people) before the case is even closed? While criminal charges were dropped because the judge said there were “substantial credibility issues” with Diallo (a sadly common story for victims of sexual assault), she is bringing a civil suit for sexual assault and gender violence which has yet to reach court. Strauss-Kahn is counter-suing for defamation and malicious prosecution.

Zagdanski told AFP why he chose the story as the subject of his novel:  

"The DSK affair is the incarnation of contemporary folly. It fascinates enormously because he was at the summit of the world and he found himself in the gutter overnight, thanks to a six minute fellatio.”

His words demonstrate exactly why there is something unpleasant about turning the case into a fictionalised drama before it is really over. “A six minute fellatio” is a callous choice of words that overlooks the fact that DSK was not proved to be innocent of attacking Diallo: rather, the case was dropped because she was seen as a weak witness. Those are two completely different things. Victims of sexual assault are frequently judged inconsistent – in this case, lies on her asylum application for the US were a major contributing factor.

And let’s not forget that this was allegedly a violent sexual assault. Although DSK claims the encounter was consensual, a leaked medical report showed that she had serious injuries including a torn shoulder ligament. Indeed, the fact that details of exactly what state her bruised and naked body was in were all over the press before the court hearing had even taken place indicates quite how little privacy Diallo was granted. It was against this backdrop – and allegations that she was a liar and a prostitute – that she chose to tell her story to the press, a decision for which she was lambasted.

Zagdanski may be correct that people are fascinated by the story because: "It shows the two faces of our world. People are fascinated by money, the rich, the stars, Hollywood... but they see that on the other side of this world of glamour there is also banal human misery which is not so unlike ordinary folks' misery.”

Yet it is disturbing that these words completely overlook the other side of the story: the ordinary person and alleged victim who is also suffering the personal and professional fallout of this scandal. Diallo’s story may be less glamorous – and as an immigrant hotel cleaner, she is about as far away from being powerful as you can get – but as the book, film, and theatre productions continue, we must only hope that they do not entirely overlook her side of the picture.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn speaks to reporters after sexual assault charges were dropped against him. Photograph: Getty Images

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Celluloid Dreams: are film scores the next area of serious musical scholarship?

John Wilson has little time for people who don't see the genius at work in so-called "light music".

When John Wilson walks out on to the stage at the Royal Albert Hall in London, there is a roar from the audience that would be more fitting in a football stadium. Before he even steps on to the conductor’s podium, people whistle and cheer, thumping and clapping. The members of his orchestra grin as he turns to acknowledge the applause. Many soloists reaching the end of a triumphant concerto performance receive less ecstatic praise. Even if you had never heard of Wilson before, the rock-star reception would tip you off that you were about to hear something special.

There is a moment of silence as Wilson holds the whole hall, audience and orchestra alike, in stasis, his baton raised expectantly. Then it slices down and the orchestra bursts into a tightly controlled mass of sound, complete with swirling strings and blowsy brass. You are instantly transported: this is the music to which Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced, the music of George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, which reverberated around the cauldron of creativity that was Hollywood of the early 20th century, when composers were as sought after as film directors.

Wilson’s shows are tremendously popular. Since he presented the MGM musicals programme at the Proms in 2009, which was watched by 3.5 million people on TV and is still selling on DVD, his concerts have been among the first to sell out in every Proms season. There are international tours and popular CDs, too. But a great deal of behind-the-scenes work goes into bringing this music – much of which had been lost to history – back to life. There are familiar tunes among the complex arrangements that he and his orchestra play, to be sure, but the music sounds fresher and sharper than it ever does on old records or in movies. Whether you’re a film fan or not, you will find something about the irrepressible energy of these tunes that lifts the spirits.

Sitting in an armchair in the conductor’s room beneath the Henry Wood Hall in south London, Wilson looks anything but energetic. “Excuse my yawning, but I’ve been up since three o’clock this morning,” he says. This is a short break in a hectic rehearsal schedule, as he puts his orchestra through its paces in the lead-up to its appearance at the 2016 Proms. Watching him at work before we sat down to talk, I saw a conductor who was far from sluggish. Bobbing on the balls of his feet, he pushed his players to consider every detail of their sound, often stopping the musicians to adjust the tone of a single note or phrase. At times, his whole body was tense with the effort of communicating the tone he required.

The programme that Wilson and his orchestra are obsessing over at the moment is a celebration of George and Ira Gershwin, the American songwriting partnership that produced such immortal songs as “I Got Rhythm”, “’S Wonderful” and “Funny Face”, as well as the 1934 opera Porgy and Bess. Though it might all sound effortless when everyone finally appears in white tie, huge amounts of preparation go into a John Wilson concert and they start long before the orchestra begins to rehearse.

“Coming up with the idea is the first step,” he says. “Then you put a programme together, which takes a great deal of time and thought and revision. You can go through 40 drafts until you get it right. I was still fiddling with the running order two weeks ago. It’s like a three-dimensional game of chess – one thing changes and the whole lot comes down.”

Wilson, 44, who also conducts the more conventional classical repertoire, says that his interest in so-called light music came early on. “When you’re a kid, you don’t know that you shouldn’t like the Beatles, or you shouldn’t like Fred Astaire, or whatever,” he says. “You just like anything that’s good. So I grew up loving Beethoven and Brahms and Ravel and Frank Sinatra and the Beatles.” At home in Gateshead – he still has the Geordie accent – the only music in the house was “what was on the radio and telly”, and the young boy acquired his taste from what he encountered playing with local brass bands and amateur orchestras.

He had the opposite of the hothoused, pressured childhood that we often associate with professional musicians. “Mine were just nice, lovely, normal parents! As long as I wore clean underwear and finished my tea, then they were happy,” he recalls. “I was never forced into doing music. My parents used to have to sometimes say, ‘Look, you’ve played the piano enough today; go out and get some fresh air’ – things like that.” Indeed, he received barely any formal musical education until he went to the Royal College of Music at the age of 18, after doing his A-levels at Newcastle College.

The title of the concert he conducted at this year’s Proms was “George and Ira Gershwin Rediscovered”, which hints at the full scale of Wilson’s work. Not only does he select his music from the surviving repertoire of 20th-century Hollywood: in many cases, he unearths scores that weren’t considered worth keeping at the time and resurrects the music into a playable state. At times, there is no written trace at all and he must reconstruct a score by ear from a ­recording or the soundtrack of a film.

For most other musicians, even experts, it would be an impossible task. Wilson smiles ruefully when I ask how he goes about it. “There are 18 pieces in this concert. Only six of them exist in full scores. So you track down whatever materials survive, whether they be piano or conductors’ scores or recordings, and then my colleagues and I – there are four of us – sit down with the scores.” There is no hard and fast rule for how to do this kind of reconstruction, he says, as it depends entirely on what there is left to work with. “It’s like putting together a jigsaw, or a kind of archaeology. You find whatever bits you can get your hands on. But the recording is always the final word: that’s the ur-text. That is what you aim to replicate, because that represents the composer’s and lyricist’s final thoughts.” There is a purpose to all this effort that goes beyond putting on a great show, though that is a big part of why Wilson does it. “I just want everyone to leave with the thrill of having experienced the sound of a live orchestra,” he says earnestly. “I tell the orchestra, ‘Never lose sight of the fact that people have bought tickets, left the house, got on the bus/Tube, come to the concert. Give them their money’s worth. Play every last quaver with your lifeblood.’”

Besides holding to a commitment to entertain, Wilson believes there is an academic justification for the music. “These composers were working with expert ­arrangers, players and singers . . . It’s a wonderful period of music. I think it’s the next major area of serious musical scholarship.”

These compositions sit in a strange, in-between place. Classical purists deride them as “light” and thus not worthy of attention, while jazz diehards find the catchy syncopations tame and conventional. But he has little time for anyone who doesn’t recognise the genius at work here. “They’re art songs, is what they are. The songs of Gershwin and Porter and [Jerome] Kern are as important to their period as the songs of Schubert . . . People who are sniffy about this material don’t really know it, as far as I’m concerned, because I’ve never met a musician of any worth who’s sniffy about this.

Selecting the right performers is another way in which Wilson ensures that his rediscovered scores will get the best possible presentation. He formed the John Wilson Orchestra in 1994, while he was still studying at the Royal College of Music, with the intention of imitating the old Hollywood studio orchestras that originally performed this repertoire. Many of the players he works with are stars of other European orchestras – in a sense, it is a supergroup. The ensemble looks a bit like a symphony orchestra with a big band nestled in the middle – saxophones next to French horns and a drum kit in the centre. The right string sound, in particular, is essential.

At the rehearsal for the Gershwin programme, I heard Wilson describing to the first violins exactly what he wanted: “Give me the hottest sound you’ve made since your first concerto at college.” Rather than the blended tone that much of the classical repertoire calls for, this music demands throbbing, emotive, swooping strings. Or, as Wilson put it: “Use so much vibrato that people’s family photos will shuffle across the top of their TVs and fall off.”

His conducting work spans much more than his Hollywood musical reconstruction projects. Wilson is a principal conductor with the Royal Northern Sinfonia and has performed or recorded with most of the major ensembles in Britain. And his great passion is for English music: the romanticism of Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Delius needs advocates, too, he says. He insists that these two strands of his career are of equivalent importance. “I make no separation between my activities conducting classical music and [film scores]. They’re just all different rooms in the same house.” 

The John Wilson Orchestra’s “Gershwin in Hollywood” (Warner Classics) is out now

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser