On Feb. 22, 2012, award-winning conflict journalist Marie Colvin was killed on assignment in Homs, Syria. The new biopic “A Private War” (starring Rosamund Pike as Colvin) depicts a courageous, indomitable woman battling her own demons as she performs crucial work of which few human beings are capable. She loses an eye yet still sees things so terrible that she’s driven to self-medicate. In the movie, after she suffers the fatal blow during that siege, the camera’s eye stays on her as it ascends skyward.
When the filmmakers approached Oscar winner Annie Lennox about composing something for the end credits, the iconic musician hadn’t written a song in about eight years.
“I’ve been far more involved in my activism and campaigning than I have with my life as a musician and artist,” the 63-year-old Scot says in a suite at the Viceroy L’Ermitage in Beverly Hills. She notes bemusedly how different the surroundings are to those of her simpler daily life. It’s a funny observation from a woman who has sold more than 80 million records, though Lennox speaks with such conviction that she’s hard to doubt.
In 2008, the musician co-founded a nongovernmental organization (with Oxfam) called the Circle. It pools the resources and experience of women to support women’s rights organizations around the world. It has raised about $3.2 million to date.
Lennox says, “I met Marie because she came to a Circle meeting several years ago, just maybe two years before she was killed. She loved the initiative, she loved the concept of women connecting with each other to become more inspired on a global level. After she died, her friends who were sort of given the task of taking care of her legacy decided to form a circle in her name, in her honor.
“The Marie Colvin Circle supports young, female journalists who are working in the Middle East and different conflict zones and tries to mentor, to support, to give advice.”
Lennox met Colvin only a few times but felt they shared a passion for justice. She remembers Colvin as a “pragmatic person, very, very courageous and very outspoken. She was such an extraordinary woman. She was very striking because of that [eye]patch she wore. She was tall. When you met someone like her, you knew you met somebody truly exceptional. She walked her talk.”
When she heard of the reporter’s death, Lennox felt it profoundly.
“That she had been killed in that way and they hadn’t found her body, I was very affected by that. It was not a good feeling at all. I saw her vulnerability. I saw a lot in that. Somehow, I went there in my mind: Such a feisty person, and then not finding her body. That troubled me.”
When sitting down at her piano to write the song, Lennox returned to that moment.
“I thought of the stillness of death and that she should have been culled, as it were. I was thinking about death and how — I’m not a religious person, but — the energy that flows through us and enables us to act in the world, to take part and engage, is no longer active.
“War is man-made. She didn’t have to die. Nor did [all these] people,” she says, noting that, years after Colvin’s death, the Syrian conflict rages on. “You ask yourself, ‘Why? Why? Why did this have to happen?’ So the first word that came to my mind was ‘Why?’ ‘Why do these cold stars burn bright?’”
Lennox infuses the aptly named, Golden Globe-nominated “Requiem for A Private War” with solemnity but also quiet determination. There is a refrain of “Bring it on, bring it on,” followed by what sounds like the whispered promise of a spirit: “Nothing will stop me.”
“That’s Marie,” says the musician. “She was there to tell the story, to send the message, and her essence was all about that. ‘You’re not going to stop me, I’m going to get the story, and it’s going to come out.’ She wanted to say, ‘Don’t look away, this is happening.’”
She refers to the film’s rising shot after Colvin has died:
“It’s as if her spirit is ascending; she’s no longer in her body. She’s asking, ‘Why do these cold stars burn bright?’ But it’s a metaphor. They’re also the little phosphorus stars of warfare.”
Lennox, who can rattle off detailed statistics illustrating the need to support and empower women globally, forcefully articulates the importance of Colvin’s work.
“A stone is unturned, and all these dark creatures come out from under, and these are the truths. And people in power, most often, have the power to take attention away from the actual issues.
“What is beautiful now is the director, Matthew [Heineman, an Oscar nominee for his documentary ‘Cartel Land’], has put these excerpts of her articles, headlines on the screen” during the end credits.
“So you hear the song and you see the context. That was really quite effective and affecting.”