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April 18, 2014

How We Used to Live

Paul Kelly and Saint Etienne Go Back to the Future in a Paean to 20th-Century Living

“It’s been talked of as an ‘anti-nostalgic nostalgia film,’” says Travis Elborough, who co-wrote How We Used to Live with Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley. “We tried to make a portrait of the past but one that you can swim around in, as if you’re living it.” Excerpted in today’s retro-futuristic snapshot of the dawn of the computer age, the poetic trawl through a not-so-distant London is directed by Paul Kelly, who has already collaborated with the pioneering British electronic-pop band on Finisterre (2003), What Have You Done Today Mervyn Day? (2005) and This is Tomorrow (2007). Weaving together analog color footage of the city from 1950 to 1980 sourced from the archive of the British Film Institute, it reawakens the vibrancy of a lost time with the aid of effervescent new music by Saint Etienne's Sarah Cracknell and Pete Wiggs, as well as a narration by Deadwood’s Ian McShane. “The future is never quite what you’d expect it to be, just as the past isn’t either,” says Elborough, whose reputation as a pop-historian has burgeoned in recent years with his books London Bridge in America and Beside the Seaside. “A lot of the footage is looking towards this bright tomorrow,” adds Kelly. “We’ve used it to look back, so we’ve kind of reversed the purpose.”

How We Used to Live will be screened at Southend-on-Sea Film Festival on May 5, and with a first ever live performance of the score by Saint Etienne at the Sheffield Documentary Festival on June 12.

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Sunrise, Sunset: Washed Out

A Dawn Chorus from the Psychedelic Dreamer Heralds a New Series with Yours Truly

“It was interesting to see the changes in color that happen over the course of two or three hours,” says Ernest Greene, aka Washed Out, describing the spectacle of the Californian coast before dawn that kicks off Sunrise, Sunset, a new NOWNESS series created by music filmmaking collective Yours Truly. “I can’t remember the last time I slowed down enough to soak all of that in.” The film segues from the beauty of beachside town Carmel into a hushed early morning performance of “Paracosm,” the eponymous track from the Sup Pop signing’s second album. Written in and around Greene’s countryside home outside Athens, Georgia, the album’s electronic flourishes and dreamlike aesthetic chime with the picturesque landscape captured here. “The week before the band arrived, we went out on adventures along a stretch from Carmel to Monterey and down to Big Sur,” says director Babak Khoshnoud, who in 2009 co-founded Yours Truly alongside William Abramson and Nate Chan. “It reminded us of the sounds and visuals that the record contains; it’s a soundtrack to summer, regardless of the season.”

Look out for NOWNESS' bespoke dusk and dawn collaborations with Yours Truly during the coming months.

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Spotlight

Devendra Banhart: Mondo Taurobolium

Animator Galen Pehrson Takes the Folk Star on a Psychotropic Trip Into the Dark Heart of Hollywood

Avant-folk singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart builds upon his stellar collection of video collaborations with a subversive and moody new piece from rising animator and director Galen Pehrson. Conceived in the tradition of Mondo—the 1960s sub-genre associated with exploitation, death and taboo—Mondo Taurobolium uses the eponymous track “Taurobolium” from Banhart’s latest album Mala as a backdrop. The experimental narrative takes dark and existential turns into the murky underbelly of Hollywood fame and finds the duck-like character Mondo at its center, reeling in a state of disillusionment following a wave of torrential success. Mondo’s counterpart is Gale, voiced by cult favorite Rose McGowan as the beaked female lead who accompanies him through back alleys and night crawls of Los Angeles. “I think it’s easier to trust an animal without scrutinizing its actions,” says Pehrson, who has collaborated with Banhart on the cover of his album Cripple Crow and the video to “I Feel Just Like a Child,” and has recently shot a series of enviable commissions from MOCA, Death Grips, James Franco and Talib Kweli. “I think it’s something we learn while watching cartoons when we’re young. There’s often a moral undertone to them—here, it’s same idea just with more mature and complex topics.” 

Hand-drawn 2D animation is something of a dying art. What inspires you to stay the course?
Galen Pehrson:
I enjoy drawing and making little worlds. The passion comes from the feeling of seeing a character come to life, or clouds blowing over a landscape. It’s not a passion reserved for animation but for sharing, creating and collaborating.

Is the process quite drawn out and isolating?
GP:
I spend months alone. This piece took four months. I counted something like 2,140 hours. The one day I took off, I ran my car over a boulder. 

What animation directors have inspired you lately? 
GP:
I recently discovered Sally Cruikshank—a cab driver turned me on to her work and my mind was blown. I feel like we might be kindred spirits.

What themes do you find yourself exploring over and over again?
GP:
I think the biggest theme is nighttime. I work through the night, and there’s a different feeling in the air: a kind of stillness and clarity that I’m grasping at and trying to relay.

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