My best friend Lex says I’m the most pretentious person she knows. Let that be a warning if you’re not yet aware of just how pretentious an artist writing about their work can appear.
I once read a defence of Béla Tarr’s work that went something along the lines of ‘either all art is pretentious or none of it is’. I think the trouble comes from the fact that what the artist says about their work might not match how we’ve experienced it. However, if we’re to treat art work as texts and are struggling to ‘read’ the piece then the artist’s view of their work can at least offer us away in.
So here’s me, offering you a way in to the music video ‘Last Days’ which I directed (produced, shot and edited) for Preston Doom Metallers ‘Stitchthread’.
There’s a repeating trick throughout the video, so if you’ve not yet watched it, here it is. Otherwise, *SPOILERS (& PRETENTIOUSNESS) AHEAD*
Prior to an art exhibition I did in January 2011, Ian (Stitchthread’s mandibly hirsute drum beast) had created the branding for my production company. During the process we got into discussions on Béla Tarr and this led to Ian asking me whether I’d ever considered shooting a music video.
It’s not something I’d spent too much time considering given that a large amount of them are the video equivalent of fast food and an horrendous waste of talent. Added to this is that I repeatedly see videos for Metal songs with the same lazy horror film tropes- Band performing in a cellar/ woods/ wasteland intercut with some form of chase/ torture/ murder sequence, a lot of lens flare and shaky-cam during the solos. Often a vanity project and masturbatory aid for bands who know just how cool they are.
Ian assured me that this wasn’t the sort of thing they were after, and while I can’t vouch that the video has been safe from Jim the bassist’s onanism, I asked which songs they were considering having a video for. They forwarded an 8 minute song and the 18 minute ‘Last Days’. I was veering towards Last Days, not only because most people don’t make 18 minute music videos, but also because I felt closer to the apocalyptic themes of Last Days given the reading I was doing at the time just after the 2nd Black Metal Theory Symposium.
I’d wanted to start doing long camera takes since discovering Béla Tarr and the look I’ve gone for is lifted straight from ‘Sátántangó’ (the most intense 7 hours you’ll ever spend in front of a screen). SPOLIER- Because of the non-linear story in Sátántangó, there’s a certain scene where for a moment I thought I watching a ghost and this was the most prominent scene in my mind in addition to the overall look of Tarr’s films.
With having the band disappear from the screen, my intention was to have the viewer think about the space the camera is moving through and realising how the band must be moving about out of shot, opening the 2D screen into a 3D perception. This echoes Fontana’s Spatial Concept pieces (currently at Liverpool*spit* Tate)-
and also a sequence from Solyaris by Tarkovsky (who Tarr can be seen as a disciple of).
The video for Velouria by The Pixies was another big influence in terms of intent. At the time of it’s making, bands couldn’t get on Top Of The Pops without having a music video. In order to appear the Pixies shot a 23 second clip of themselves running down a quarry and then slowed the footage to the length of the song. This sort of playing with time strikes me as something quite Deleuzian (see Cinema 2) but was also the playful kind of subversion of form I was aiming for- The Last Days video isn’t a typical representation of a metal band, they keep disappearing from view but are always present, not only in the music, but in the space of the screen world.
As for the repeated disappearing, I’ve been fascinated with illusions and magic tricks since I was very young. The bloke who used to clean our windows showed me that trick where it looks like you’re pulling your thumb off once and I used to ask him to show me it over and over every week. I was totally baffled and it took years for me to work out but led me into learning magic tricks (I only know one decent card trick though). That kind of childhood experience of appearances and absences is covered by Paul Virilio in ‘The Aesthetics of Disappearance’, a book which has become important to my understanding of media.
We shot in early March and green shoots were beginning to show on the trees, a week later they would have been in blossom, so it was really the last possible weekend for a few months to get the video to look bleak. Although it certainly doesn’t come across, it was a glorious spring day and while we started early to minimise the amount of public about, by the last take I was nearly tripping over strangers to keep them out of the shot. Ian and I had rehearsed a few times the week before and on the day I rehearsed once with the band, who’d brought their running shoes.
There are no camera tricks or cuts in the video. The black and white, high contrast image is due to the camera used- a Fisher Price PXL 2000. This was a child’s toy in the 1980s and used to record to audio cassette tape (7 minutes of video on a C90 tape). Mine is circuit bent to allow recording to a digital device.
The use of this camera is another subversion in a world of glossy HD, not attempting to perfectly reflect reality but creating its own image world.
Gerry Fialka, champion of the PXL 2000 and organiser and LA’s annual PXL THIS film festival said this of the camera minimalism- “Giving the viewer less information might mean more involvement by the viewer…” This is something I go along with, not trying to spoon feed the meaning of the image (that’s what ‘making of’ blogs are for) but asking to viewer to bring themselves to the piece and opening up tmie and space in the piece to allow this. I was delighted when a viewer said they’d had an apophenic experience of it, seeing faces in the trees, their mind trying to create meaning from chaos.
Enough from me, what do you think?
Last Days by Stitchthread screened at Sync 4, Preston, March 2011 and will screen at PXL THIS 21, California, December 12th 2011