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Mark Pellington: Video Star

The MTV Master Talks Burroughs and U2 as He Premieres a New Video for Chelsea Wolfe

Mark Pellington's collage-driven, saturated aesthetic seemed to power the soul of MTV during the 1990s, propelling him to later direct Jeff Bridges and Tim Robbins in Arlington Road (1999) and Richard Gere and Laura Linney in The Mothman Prophecies (2002). As he premieres his latest effort with gothic singer songwriter Chelsea Wolfe, the director takes us through what he learned while navigating the heady landscape of gen X-era music television:

I first met William Burroughs on the pilot of Buzz in 1990, a show I created and directed for MTV as they wanted a global news show. I had this idea for a collage show that took all the emotion and nonlinear kind of quality of MTV with Burroughs reading fragments of his writing over projections. I still have the cassette of his first reading. He became our godfather. It was very experiential, there was no real host—at the time MTV was all about presenters—and people didn't know what to make of it, especially MTV. They said, “It’s weird, it’s dark, it’s depressing.” It only lasted 13 episodes.

I was 28 years old jumping between directing music videos and art projects and PBS documentaries on poetry when U2 asked me to Dublin to work on films for the Zoo TV Tour. Two weeks later I was in New York and Bono said he wanted something for “One.” The only inspiration he gave me was David Wojnarowicz’s picture of the buffaloes falling over the cliff. I’m very much into letting the music tell me what to do and this video was about cracking the rhythm. The fact that it was slow and meditative, where one becomes two: I used that journey.

Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” was the first treatment I ever wrote that was personal with a narrative. I remember writing nine pages and my old DOS computer lost it. For two hours I was distraught. I had to sit down and fucking write it again. However, that you have an emotional anchor through Eddie Vedder still gives me chills because the song is like a fucking movie. It’s cinematic with a deep descent at the end: the right song for the right time, in the same way as “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” My first boss at MTV was Judy McGrath and she taught me to trust my instincts. I think that to this day, for better or worse that’s why I’ve had success in videos.

Chelsea Wolfe's Pain is Beauty, featuring "Lone," is out now.

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  • ON REPLAY
    ON REPLAY

    Dye: She’s Bad

    Outlandish Parisians Dent de Cuir Cut Up a Cautionary Tale of Seduction

    “It is about a girl, a bad one, who’s too sexy for human beings,” says wunderkind French producer Juan de Guillebon, AKA Dye, of his latest music video for, “She’s Bad,” a track featuring the vocal stylings of west-coast rap legend Egyptian Lover. The short sees temptress Aude Auffret saunter round a tiki bar setting, her face replaced with library footage cuttings of wildlife and fizzing volcanic springs, Altered States-style. “We were looking at John Stezaker’s layered, peel-away collages, and referenced a book of tattoos and how they sit on the body,” say filmmaking duo Jean-Philippe Chartrand and Benjamin Mege, who have created color-splashed animated works for Modeselektor and compatriot beat-freak Sebastian under their moniker Dent de Cuir. The last video made for Dye—Jérémie Périn’s extremely NSFW sex-and-gore cartoon short for the 2011 release “Fantasy”—has racked up over 48-million hits on YouTube so far. “It was a difficult thing to follow up,” says Guillebon. “I hope this one’s crazy enough for people.”

    Dye’s second album Cocktail Citronis is out now on Tigersushi.

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  • MOST SHARED IN MUSIC
    MOST SHARED IN MUSIC

    Chloë Sevigny's 90s Throwback: Part One

    A Two-Day NOWNESS Takeover by the Coolest Girl in the World Kicks Off with a Fashion Home Movie

    Shooting in the late 90s during one of Chloë Sevigny’s visits from New York City to London, photographer and filmmaker Michael Cleary enlisted super-stylist Alister Mackie, then a fellow student, to collaborate on Surface, an intimate film starring the future Oscar and Golden Globe nominee. Air-guitaring, playing dress-up and flitting in and out of a fragile waking dream, Sevigny was at the time an emerging ingénue, fresh from having starred in Larry Clark’s Kids, the film that cemented her position as one of the icons of her generation. “A lot was going on in her life at the time; she was getting into films and Hollywood,” says the director, who edited the never-before-seen 16mm film—which now features specially commissioned title art by Brooklyn musician and artist Hisham Bharoocha—into raw, black-and-white vignettes in the basement of Central Saint Martins. “We were just using what we had around,” adds Mackie. “It was the last revolutionary period in fashion where things actually changed.” In this first installment of our two-day celebration of the 90s as seen through Sevigny’s eyes, Interview magazine Editor-at-Large Christopher Bollen muses on his friend, the decades most enduring symbol.

    Christopher Bollen on Chloë Sevigny

    The young people who come to symbolize entire eras don’t choose that assignment on their own. We do it for them. The culture decides which youths best epitomize its tempers and spirit. Whatever frightening conclusions we could draw about today from that hypothesis, it does say something pretty excellent about the generation I grew up in: the 90s. While the current fashion resurgence of the 1990s—designer flannels and baby-doll dresses; sloppy rock acts reminiscent of early Pavement; the tsunami-like obsession with rambunctious girl empowerment—might induce us all to believe that the decade was one long grunge ride, there were many other, more valuable forces at work. Memorably, it was also a decade that Chloë Sevigny came to be heralded in many circles as the ultimate American teenager. Everything about her—her hair, her voice, her background, her future, her clothes, her choice of projects, her taste in movies, how she once used a rubber band for a shoelace, how she went out to clubs back when clubs weren’t easy to access and required more than money for entry, that her interest in fashion seemed self-willed rather than strategically implanted, her boyfriend, her love of the Village and the Lower East Side, her blasé indifference to her own star power—wasn’t about market saturation but about a feral personal self-determination. The new teenager back then was a breed apart. And maybe it was the last middle finger to the corporation of predigested culture. That was the weirdness of the 90s; for a minute, beggars could be choosers.

    Chloë Sevigny moved to New York City in 1993 (although she had been taking trips into the city and corralling her pack of friends for years before that), and was famously photographed that year at age 18 by Larry Clark—the image is currently showing at New York’s New Museum in a smart, hagiographic artistic survey of 1993 (NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star running through May 26). It wasn’t just grunge influencing American youth back then. A certain lifestyle that now seems eerily portentous was being aggressively promoted on television (I’m referring to 90210). But the fact that Sevigny came to represent New York—or at least a section of it, back when New York had definable sections—demonstrates that there was still, in the mid 90s, a collective interest in independence, an underground, and the possibility, the glorification really, of personal choice (three virtues that really don’t traffic much in the two-thousand-and-teens). It turns out that Sevigny had terrific mentors, and the 1990s was a magnificent time to be a young woman. Women like Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, the riot grrrl movement, Jane Pratt of Sassy magazine, female-driven art collectives like Bernadette Corporation, artists like Rita Ackermann, and editorial influencers like Ingrid Sischy, were just a few of the strong, impressive women re-shaping the cultural screen. Sevigny seemed like the next and absolute inheritor of that rebellious womanhood, and, after her appearance in Clark’s 1995 nihilist masterpiece Kids, she managed to tightrope over the film, music, fashion, nightlife and art industries, without ever losing herself and her very particular style (a style influenced as much by her hometown of Darien, Connecticut, as by Washington Square Park skateboarders).

    I wouldn’t call Sevigny a muse. That sounds far too passive, too privileged and removed from the street. I think the whole world was jealously in awe of her because she appeared to be leading a life that hardly seemed sustainable in the shifting dynamics of the mid to late 90s: she acted in strange, unconventional films and hung out with strange, unconventional artists, designers and musicians. She brought an almost European bohemianism to New York when, under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the city was quickly sliding in the opposite direction. I remember when I moved to New York in 1996 and when I’d find myself at the same bar or concert or party or club as Sevigny, I felt not some radioactive charge from being in the presence of a celebrity but rather a sense of reassurance that I was in the right place. I trusted her decisions and tastes even before I knew her personally. I think we all did.

    Sevigny did not get stuck in time. That’s another vortex she avoided, perhaps the most important of them. She continued to stick to her decisions and tastes and be transformed by them, dozens of film and television roles later, many of them entirely unimaginable without her grit and talent. If this is a valentine to Chloë, it’s a needless one. She doesn’t drift on compliments. And her 90s “it girl” status wasn’t really a compliment but a bizarre attempt at taxonomy for someone so indefinable. Was 1999’s Boys Don’t Cry the end of the 90s in terms of independent film that tackled difficult topics, or the first film of the new decade, when independents became submerged in the mainstream? It was the film that garnered Sevigny an Academy Award nomination and affirmed her career as a professional actress. The actress has already had a busy 2013: a few television roles (she’s appeared in American Horror Story, Portlandia, Louie and just wrapped an as yet-unannounced pilot), her ongoing women’s fashion line with Opening Ceremony, and now hunting for a new apartment in Manhattan. But I came over to her old place and we sat down and went back in time to the 90s. I like to think we still look as young as we did then.  

    Check back tomorrow for an exclusive Q&A between Bollen and Chloë Sevigny. Production by Alanna Gabin.

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