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.