Paradise Road sources

As of this writing (April 18, 1997) there seems to be limited Internet information about the origins of Bruce Bereford's new movie, Paradise Road. The real life story of the vocal orchestra can be found in the 1995 book by Helen Colijn, Song of Survival: Women Interned. Information about the book is available from the White Cloud Press web site. There is also a 1997 paperback edition which has been published to coincide with the release of Paradise Road. Here's an attempt at a capsule summary.

Helen Colijn ("koh LAYN", to roughly approximate the Dutch sounds) was a 21-year-old Dutch internee of the camp. She was not a member of the vocal orchestra, though her two younger sisters Antoinette and Alette were. They and their mother (in a separate camp) survived internment, while their father did not. Because of the dire conditions in post-World War II Europe, the surviving family members settled in California after the war.

In 1980, Antoinette came across her booklet of materials from the vocal orchestra and donated it to Stanford University's Special Collections because of personal connections to Stanford. The Peninsula Women's Chorus was asked to record this music in 1982 for Stanford's Archive of Recorded Sound, and a reunion concert honoring 9 of the camp's survivors followed, as well as a 1985 documentary film. PWC's efforts helped bring worldwide attention to the story, thus inspiring the movie.

My impression is that Song of Survival was written in response to the interest generated by the documentary as well as performances and recordings of the music. I perceive a journalistic fastidiousness in the book's research and preparation, though it is written in a casual, chatty manner. The documentary film is also titled Song of Survival and San Jose's PBS station will rebroadcast it May 12. The video is also available for purchase.

In the book, the music seems a relatively small part of the narrative in the context of the larger story of survival. Having listened to some of the musical arrangements, I don't find them to be especially exciting, but I am impressed by how true to the original musical statements they are, in the absence of recordings or musical scores at the camp. The arrangements are published by BMG Music Publishing in Nashville, Tennessee, (615) 780-5420 (780-5430 FAX).

Looking at the film's cast of characters, the names have been changed, and other cinematic license has been exercised. However, two of the real life characters were Miss Margaret Dryburgh a Presbyterian missionary who was largely responsible for the musical arrangements, and Norah Chambers, who conducted the vocal orchestra, and was also one of the camp kitchen mistresses during most of the 3 1/2 year internment. In the film, these are "Margaret Drummond" and "Adrienne Pargiter", played by Pauline Collins and Glenn Close, respectively.

Finally, the best place on the Web to go for information about Paradise Road is the Internet Movie Database.

Quickie Comparisons

Empire of the Sun: The guards in Song of Survival out-troll Spielberg's by at least an order of magnitude. Yet J. G. Ballard came out a lot more twisted by his experience than Miss Colijn (well, Ballard also suffered much postwar trauma -- read "The Kindness of Women" for details).

Other instrumental voices: The Swingle Singers are a lot more virtuosic as an ensemble, but they didn't make their arrangements from memory. And I'm hard pressed to think of anyone who holds a candle to Bobby McFerrin vocal fireworks.

Addendum 1

At the Menlo Park premier on April 18, Helen Colijn was presented with a special order of the Menlo Park City Council to recognize her role in the historical account and in bringing the story to the world. The Peninsula Women's Chorus performed some of the camp music that did not make it into the soundtrack:

I am told that this was the first time in the Park Theatre manager's experience that the whole cinema was sold out.

Addendum 2

From Bob Blanchett:

I've been informed that a major inspiration for the film came from a book called White Coolies: Australian nurses behind enemy lines, by Betty Jeffrey.

Thanks for your interest and your note.

Yes, I noticed this title in the end credits of the film (as well as the absence of Helen Colijn's book). I've attempted to track down White Coolies, but the information I get via Web search engines seems to indicate that it was published in 1954 and has been out of print for years. It's not in Books in Print, or the book about upcoming publications. White Coolies may have never been widely available outside of Australia, but I can't be certain until I have more time to track it down. All leads are appreciated!

I know for certain that Helen Colijn's Song of Survival tells some of the same stories as Paradise Road, because I've been able to get my hands on a copy of that book and read it. And clearly, the vocal orchestra would not have gotten the same attention if it not for the work of the Helen and her sister, Antoinette.

From Mimi Patterson, the Peninsula Women's Chorus:

Yes, I believe Betty's book is out of print now. Several of the members of our chorus bought White Coolies when she had it published in the early 1980s.

Betty was one of the survivors who came to Palo Alto for the reunion concert shown in the documentary, Song of Survival. Neat gal. If you watch [the documentary] you will meet her. She is the survivor who says that the injury she received on the palm of her hand became a scar that resembles the shape of Sumatra.

April 22, 1999: According to Peter Harden, White Coolies is in its 17th printing in Australia. still says it is unavailable in the US, with Sales Rank at 451,742.

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