Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja Instigates a Dark Fusion of Music, Art and Discourse in His Newest Project
Frozen roses collide with a dancing rooster in today’s kaleidoscopic premiere of “Battle Box 001” by Robert Del Naja, known to Massive Attack fans as the band's co-founder, 3D. Featuring haunting vocals from Elbow frontman Guy Garvey, the track ventures into the militant dub territory of the Bristol band’s 90s reign. “We used about 50 different types of roses,” says co-director Dusan Reljin, who created the video's shattering visuals with his wife Hilde. “After dipping each one into liquid nitrogen we blew them up with dynamite and makeup powder. Some of them exploded really nicely and some of them were a complete disaster.” Using a phantom camera to slow the footage down, the result is an otherworldly fantasia reminiscent of animated Rorschach ink blot tests. The untraditional collaboration grew organically out of shared interests between Del Naja and the Norway native Reljin duo. “[Robert] was starting to work on Battle Box, and at the same time we were experimenting with these images, trying to morph things," says Dusan. “We started talking to him about the project and he responded well. We wanted a slightly gritty, home-made feeling to it. That’s the way 3D works with his music, too.”
The Vinyl Factory releases “Battle Box 001” today.
Reflections On Sixty Years Of Filmmaking Accompany Unseen Archival Footage of the Filmmaker at Work
A youthful Jonas Mekas appears behind the camera in rare footage shot in 1960 by Charles I. Levine, documenting the filmmaker's intensity and enthusiasm on the set of his first feature, Guns of the Trees. The resultant work, a Beat Generation chronicle showcasing the voice of Allen Ginsberg and a soundtrack of Appalachian bluegrass, marked a turning point in the director’s career, after which he began to gravitate towards the film diary approach he is known for today. The critic Roger Ebert wrote that Guns of the Trees recorded its era in “earnestness and joy,” and joy continues to be a focus in Mekas' work. For instance, the theme features prominently in his latest film Outtakes from the Life of a Happy Man, which premiered this month as part of a major retrospective at the Serpentine Gallery in London. Mere weeks away from his 90th birthday, Mekas sat down with Serpentine Director Julia Peyton-Jones and Co-Director Hans Ulrich Obrist, to discuss memory, nature, and the importance of happiness.
JPJ: Outtakes is a happy film. It says so much about you that on the occasion of your 90th birthday, which is on the 24th of December, you are proclaiming something that is extraordinary for all of us: a sense of joy really is something to aspire to.
JM: Sometimes I feel like I’m a propagandist for happiness and beauty. If you’re walking through the city and there’s noise and honking and you get nervous, walk into a field or look through the window at the grass or the flowers—it makes you happy. I always tell this anecdote of the monk in Times Square. People see him standing there and they ask, “So what do you think about this noise, this commotion?” And the monk says, “What noise, what commotion?”
HUO: How would you define happiness?
JM: The state of happiness is when you’re with friends and you have food and good conversation and lifted voices and you drink and eventually, where I come from, we sing and dance. It’s an intense moment of existence. There are many people who have everything but they are so unhappy they have to go somewhere else to experience happiness. They go to Greece to some poor village and watch people sing and dance and remember what they have lost. We are losing so much of the joy and happiness that we crave in our civilization.
HUO: You often talk about a moment of happiness living in a farming village in Lithuania before the Russians arrived.
JM: We did what we had to do in the fields and then in the evening we got together and we felt like part of the landscape, part of nature, and we were very happy. I miss nature and the color changes in the late spring when flowers are just beginning to appear, and all the colors of autumn. When I go to galleries or museums I look for colors; I don’t care what the painting’s all about.
HUO: The whole background of nature that you mention leads us to something you once described as the “intensity of the moment.”
JM: That is the challenge in my film. I’m like an anthropologist, looking, craving those intense moments when something very insignificant but also eternal happens. Like when you open a present from a good friend—that’s the moment I’m trying to get to. It’s very fleeting and you have to be totally, non-intrusive to preserve its innocence.
JPJ: So when you’re making the selection of images for your film, what makes you choose one moment over another?
JM: That, I do not know. I’m filming through my own temperament, through what I am.
The Godfather of Avant-Garde Cinema Celebrates His 90th With a Major Retrospective and World Premiere
Jonas Mekas reflects on the relationship between memory and image in this clip from his feature-length film, Outtakes From the Life of a Happy Man, which premieres this week at London's Serpentine Gallery. The Lithuanian-born filmmaker, poet and avant-garde instigator assembled this visual diary from the over 50 years of footage shot since his emigration to the US in 1949. Upon arriving in Brooklyn Mekas borrowed money to buy his first Bolex camera, and so began to capture every aspect of his life, recording intimate moments with family and extended circles of friends in pastoral landscapes in addition to the urban sprawl of his adopted city. Using previously unseen footage, here the director creates an impressionistic vision of his autobiography, accompanied by his own poetic voiceover. The film jumps forward non-chronologically, formally enacting Mekas’ dictum that life is unknowable, memory transient and the image the only reliable manifestation of the past. Old footage is spliced with recent shots of the auteur at work on the film as we watch it, hunched over reels late into the night, physically cutting and pasting narratives together. Mekas was instrumental in the underground culture of 1950s and 1960s New York, screening at small galleries on the Lower East Side and working with the likes of Yoko Ono, Allen Ginsberg and Andy Warhol. In 1970, he co-founded the Anthology Film Archives, a groundbreaking center for the preservation and exhibition of experimental film. His work has since been exhibited at such major venues as the Venice Biennale, PS1 Contemporary Art Centre and the Centre Georges Pompidou.
Jonas Mekas’ 90th birthday is marked by three separate shows across London and Paris. In London, an exhibition of work opens today and runs through January 27 at the Serpentine Gallery and BFI Southbank's season of Mekas films begins December 6. A retrospective runs at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris until January 7.