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August 23, 2014

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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Spotlight

Jake Bugg: Messed Up Kids

The British Troubadour Reflects On a Life Once Lived in His Latest Music Video

The council estate or housing project has become de rigueur in the modern music video—but where it might sometimes be called upon to add an easy edginess to a band’s image, Andrew Douglas’ film for Jake Bugg’s new EP “Messed Up Kids” uses the location as a metaphor for the 20-year-old singer-songwriter’s position in the world. Having sold 1.5m albums since the release of his eponymous debut in 2013, Bugg feels estranged from the surroundings that nurtured his songwriting: “I don’t really live anywhere at the moment as I’m always on the road,” says the Nottingham-born guitarist, whose latest release from Rick Rubin-produced second album Shangri La comes as he tours the US, before heading to South America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. “On the first record, I talked a lot about my hometown because I was still a big part of it. Now after everything that has happened, going back feels crazy: I’m somebody looking in from the outside.”

TALES FROM THE SET


Location
In the shadow of a council block in Bow, east London. “We wanted something gritty but ordinary so it would stand in for the Clifton Estate, where Jake is from, or indeed anywhere in the UK,” says Andrew Douglas. “Jake didn’t want to feature too much in this film, feeling that it would be disingenuous for him to still play a ‘messed up kid’ where he grew up. But he liked the idea of being the author or observer.”

Duration
A week’s scouting, casting and equipment testing; a day to shoot.

Execution
Shot at a high frame rate while tracking across the action very fast. “Justin Brown risked life and limb to hurtle across the streets of Bow, on camera. The wonderful editor Sam Ostrove at Cut and Run then found a cool way to forensically review the footage for details.”

Inspiration
The work of British social-realist photographers such as Chris Killip.

Pre-order “Messed Up Kids” EP on iTunes and vinyl. Shangri La is available now.

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Spotlight

Forest Swords: The Weight of Gold

Benjamin Millepied Fills a Bright Dead Sea Landscape with the Experimental Artist’s Brooding Music

“I first saw Billy Barry perform at Juilliard four years ago,” says the acclaimed French choreographer, filmmaker and photographer Benjamin Millepied. “I thought, ‘Who is this creature?’ Billy’s quality as a dancer is so otherworldly, I immediately knew I wanted to create a portrait of him. The sense of solitude depicted in the film reflects just how different he is as an artist.” The chance to direct today’s music video for British artist Forest Swords’ haunting track “The Weight of Gold” presented an intriguing opportunity for Millepied, who was seduced after being inspired by Israel’s Dead Sea area’s landscape, including the Judean desert and Nebi Musa site that is dedicated to Moses. “We arrived at a beautiful location and I just let the music and the desert move me instead of forcing it,” says Barry, the young flaxen-haired dancer who earned a spot at Tel Aviv’s prestigious Batsheva Ensemble straight out of school. “I listened to the music a lot before the shoot and on the day we just went with what happened naturally.” Below Forest Swords, AKA Matthew Barnes, explores the musical side of this creative collaboration.

I grew up listening to a lot of mainstream pop music, and I was fascinated with the production and structure of it.
Then I gradually got into punk, hip-hop and electronic music. All that filters into the type of sounds, melodies and textures I’m attracted to now, though it’s difficult to be objective about that kind of thing when you’re making it.

The track “The Weight of Gold” came together fairly slowly. I pieced it together over a few weeks, adding and subtracting until it felt right and I mixed it outdoors like the rest of the record.

The locations Benjamin picked for this video really resonate with the track.
I’ve always associated the songs from my album Engravings with a British landscape—woodland and sandstone, because that’s the environment I live and produced the record in. Taking the music out of that context and placing it in Israel definitely shifts the track in a direction I did not expect.

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