Lots of famous film directors have directed lots of famous music videos*, but in the 1980s a perfect confluence of talent, cocaine and nascent synergy produced some truly singular music video tie-ins, made by and often starring the directors of the film themselves. Sunglasses, mock(?) seriousness and an utter lack of self awareness, along with judicious re-use/seamless integration of movie clips** was the name of the game back then. Here are some of my particular favourites.
1. John Carpenter / “Big Trouble In Little China” by The Coup De Villes (1986)
There is no better example than this, in at number one – John Carpenter, the writer-director-producer-composer whose minimalist synth scores had put him at the top of the quadruple threat movie making list, proves that in the 1980s no matter how successful you were in your given career, you really just wanted to be the singer in a rock and roll band. Hence The Coup De Villes, Carpenter’s jam band who produced one full, not pretend album (Waiting Out The Eighties) and this, the theme tune to his perennially underrated Big Trouble In Little China.
2. William Friedkin / “To Live And Die In LA” by Wang Chung (1985)
William Friedkin’s To Live And Die In LA not only brought us the classic buddy cop “I’m too old for this shit” line, two years before Lethal Weapon, but also a none-more-80s soundtrack from none-more-80s band Wang Chung, who genuinely picked their own name, and not even as a joke. Friedkin cameos throughout with the novel application of the video’s central conceit – we are watching them record the music/make the music video! Kudos too, for the inclusion of one of cinema’s most vivid, apparently MTV-friendly, human eviscerations.
3. Ron Howard / “Gravity” by Michael Sembello (1985)
Another two or three boxes ticked – director cameo via an extended Ron Howard introduction AND he’s wearing sunglasses. In a darkened room. Then there’s the verite shot of the recording equipment at the start and the creative insertion of Cocoon footage into a minor masterpiece of cack-handed, 1980s neo-psychedelia. As Ron explains, “Michael loved Cocoon. He seemed to identify with it in an almost…unnatural way.”
4. Richard Donner / “Goonies R Good Enough” by Cyndi Lauper (1985)
A quintessentially 1980s barnstormer featuring practically the entire cast of The Goonies, with cameos from a range of WWF wrestlers (including Roddy “They Live” Piper), producer Steven Spielberg and even, as a trio of female pirates, the freakin’ Bangles. This, sadly, is the short version.
5. Tony Scott / “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins
Where a sweaty, apparently hungover Kenny Loggins variously wears sunglasses indoors, struggles to get out of bed, takes photographs of his penis and masturbates to flashbacks of Top Gun. Unlike the movie, there’s no homosexual subtext to the music video per se, but mechanophiliacs may empathise with Loggins’ passion for Tomcats.
BONUS: James Cameron / “Reach” by Martini Ranch (1988)
This is just a bonus, given that it’s not from a film soundtrack, but instead sees King of the World James Cameron direct one of his regulars, Bill Paxton, in an epic 7-minute promo for Paxton’s pleasingly 80s-sounding band, Martini Ranch. “Reach” also features a bunch of other Cameron regulars, embellished by cast members of Near Dark, Bud “Harold and Maude” Cort and human avatar of the period of time between 31st December 1979 and January 1st 1990, Edward Ernest “Judge” Reinhold Jr.
* Not counting the many that came up from music video directing – Anton Corbijn, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Michel Gondry, Jonathan Glazer, Spike Jonze, Mark Romanek, Tarsem Singh et al – here’s an inexhaustive list:
Michael Bay (“I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” by Meat Loaf)
Kathryn Bigelow (“Touched By The Hand Of God” by New Order)
Tim Burton (“Here With Me” by The Killers)
Sofia Coppola (“I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” by The White Stripes)
Brian De Palma (“Dancing In The Dark” by Bruce Springsteen)
Jonathan Demme (“Genius Of Love” by Tom Tom Club)
David Fincher (“Cradle Of Love” by Billy Idol)
John Landis (“Thriller” by Michael Jackson)
Spike Lee (“Fight The Power” by Public Enemy)
David Lynch (“I Predict” by Sparks)
Gaspar Noe (“We No Who U R” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds)
Sam Peckinpah (“Valotte” by Julian Lennon)
George A Romero (“Scream!” by The Misfits)
Martin Scorsese (“Bad” by Michael Jackson)
Gus Van Sant (“Under The Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers)
And a special mention for Simon “Con Air” West who is responsible for “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley (on its way to 100 million views thanks to the rickrolling phenomenon).
** An honourable tradition continued in Julien Temple’s 1991 clip for Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”, and which reached apotheosis with Paul Thomas Anderson’s video for “Save Me” by Aimee Mann (1999).
Screenwriter Paul Laverty will be attending Dunoon Film Festival next week, for a couple of events. First, a screening of his most recent collaboration with Ken Loach, Jimmy’s Hall (2014), after which he’ll be taking part in a Q&A session (Saturday 13/09 at 16:00). Second, an In Conversation event on Sunday 14/09 at 13:00, which I have the honour of hosting.
Full details at Dunoon Film Festival’s website.
I’ll also be hosting a Q&A event after the screening of Finding Family (Chris Leslie, 2014) on Sunday 14/09 at 16:30. Director Chris Leslie will be in attendance to introduce his latest film, alongside his recent short The Bird Man of Red Road (2013), and discuss his work afterwards.
Again, full details at Dunoon Film Festival’s website.
If you have any questions you’d like to pose either Laverty and Leslie, let me know in the comments or, better yet, buy a ticket and come along – only £5 for each event!
Big Star: Live In Memphis is screening at GFT on Thursday 07/08. Filmmaker and photographer David Julian Leonard edited the concert film from footage that had been left in a cupboard for almost 20 years. Filmed in 1994 at one of Big Star’s first reunion tours, it’s the result of a rare concession to cameras on the part of Alex Chilton and a “seat-of-their-pants” effort to put together a four-man film crew at the last minute. As they rarely performed live in their early 70s heyday and were even more rarely recorded, the film is the only professionally-filmed record of a whole Big Star show.
I spoke to Leonard about his experiences approaching the raw footage after all this time and his friendship with the sadly departed singer Chilton. He told me, “The GFT asked who should be credited as the director, and I said, ‘Well, I don’t know. I don’t think it has a director.’ They said, ‘No, that can’t be! How about we just credit all three of you as the director?’ The three of us who are the producers, and I’m the editor. So I said, ‘OK, fine.’ Then we were figuring out, ‘How do we list the credits here?’ Officially, it’s going to say, ‘Directed without a net.’ It was like a high-wire act, and these guys did it.”
You can read the full interview over at GFT’s website, here.
Matchbox Cineclub is back! We’re bringing our VIDEO ON event to Sofi’s in Edinburgh in a four-week residency. Every Monday evening in August, we invite you into Sofi’s back room while we stick a tape on – the kind you might once have set to record overnight, never suspecting what rare treats you would capture as you slept. Each programme is themed to a cult film director – four weeks, four tapes – every one full of strange delights: adverts, oddities, ephemera and lost treasure.
Week 1: “ABSURD”
Week 2: “TRASH”
Week 3: “CHAOS”
Week 4: “BLOOD”
On Monday 04/08/14, the intrepid few are invited to immerse themselves in the tape marked “ABSURD”. The exact content will be a mystery until after the event, but expect an exclusive cornucopia of David Lynch rarities and other complementary content. Later weeks are dedicated to John Waters, Werner Herzog and Quentin Tarantino.
On Saturday 26 July, 2014, Glasgow Film presents “a day-long cinematic spectacular” on the Clyde, a celebration of cinema and the city in collaboration with local arts collective 85A. After a launch event at Glasgow Film Festival 2014, 85A are gearing up for a multimedia, multi-disciplinary extravaganza that looks likely to eclipse their celebrated previous projects Chernozem: Kino and Jan Švankmajer. I spoke to 85A ahead of the event and for a “faceless, non-hierarchical organisation”, they were very forthcoming. An edited version of this interview first appeared on the Glasgow Film website.
Can you explain what 85A is, and introduce the key players?
We’re a group of multi-disciplinary artists who love to put on the kind of events that we’re personally craving, but that really just aren’t about in Glasgow. It generally involves generous servings of loud music, puppetry, masked performances, irreverent audience interaction, site-specific logistics, and a lot of film too. We have created 19 shows since 2008. There are about 12 core members, with many more associates that join in on a project-by-project basis. We also like to produce work from within a faceless, non-hierarchical organisation.
How did 85A come to be involved in this project?
Glasgow Film approached us to be part of their bid for Festival 2014. After the brilliant 2012 Glasgow Film Festival event that 85A organised at the Glue Factory – which featured over 10 site specific micro-cinemas showcasing the work of Czech animator Jan Švankmajer – it was a great chance to contribute to the brief that aimed to transform underused locations along the Clyde promenade into film screening spaces…an opportunity not to be missed.
85A have got a bit of history with building cinemas in unexpected sites. Our very first project was the screening of Stellan Rye’s Der Student von Prag with a live, musical re-scoring, in a disused ice cream van garage in Partick. We went on take over The Old Hairdressers, well before it re-opened as a functioning bar, for our submarine spectacular, The Orzel Film Performance. We had audiences of 50 packed inside an elaborate cardboard set of a WWII Polish sub, all the while watching this 1958 masterpiece as a live crew of musicians and folly artists created the soundscape.
Participating artists have been reportedly been asked to look through a cinematic lens at the city’s history of shipbuilding and shipping, and at the history of sport throughout the city. How did you approach this? What kind of technical challenges has it presented?
The main challenge of this project was to conceive an outdoor cinema event on a day where it wouldn’t be dark until 10pm. As such, we didn’t want to keep the audience in a tent or sit in front of a big LED screen. Glasgow Film had secured the amazing Clyde amphitheatre location for the event and we wanted to create a buzzing, celebratory atmosphere along the busy promenade. The solution was to turn the brief on its head and look at cinematography through a performative lens, and create a show about a madcap film shoot, enabling us to look under the skin of cinema and the shipping history without using a screen.
With the Clyde as a backdrop, the cargo ship was an obvious choice for the set as it created a natural link from the city’s history to many classic sea themed movies. At nightfall, our ship will become a spectacular cinema space with a two-hour screening programme. Between 10pm and 12am we will be complementing the commissioned artists’ films (by Chris Leslie and Torstem Lauschman) with some amazing documentaries from the Clyde’s shipbuilding heydays – featuring equal measures of brilliant footage of human endeavour and mighty industry. We’ll also be showing early work by New Orleans filmmaking collective Court 13 (makers of Beasts of The Southern Wild) who worked with the remains of Hurricane Katrina as a set, and destitute communities as actors – it’s great stuff.
What kind of research did you undertake, and where did you draw inspiration from?
As a group, our filmic influences are diverse, including Expressionism; surrealism; documentary filmmaking; indie productions; low budget horror, and the likes. We’re not into blockbusters or anything featuring bearded wizards with pointy hats. Between 2011 and 2013 the whole collective intermittently worked on producing Judd Brucke’s Chernozem, an industrial-horror tale featuring a man with a factory for a head who escapes a chain gang…filmed entirely on VHS with a degraded black and white finish. We collectively scoured Glasgow’s iconic wastelands as a makeshift film crew, filming, lighting, making sets and costumes, directing and acting in equal measure… sometimes with often highly comical or disastrous consequences along the way – a thoroughly better process to learn about cinema than mechanically going through the 100 Must See Movies Before You Die! Setting up a tracking shot or your own SFX really gives you a new understanding of filmmaking. This first-hand experience became the core of our research and it’s this appreciation of cinematography that we’d like to share with our audiences this summer. Cargo, Camera…ACTION! is an ode to low-budget filmmaking and taps into the electric atmosphere of the film set environment. As the project developed, we picked up on some seminal anecdotes, such as the famous Werner Herzog vs Klaus Kinski bust ups; the genius of special effects inventors like Ray Harryhausen; or even the real life production drama about Terry Gilliam, Lost in La Mancha. But we’re also commenting on the current state of film and TV with game show style audience interaction and invasive product placement funding strategies.
How does it tie thematically and practically to your previous projects, if at all, and how does it differ?
We placed particular emphasis on remaining true to our style for this show despite being part of such a mainstream event, so Cargo, Camera…ACTION! will be 85A through and through, in all its glorious madness. Having developed in the visual arts scene, we’re very aware of how elitist and alienating high art can be, but we’re fighting against this and are thrilled to be planting the black and white 85A flag right in the middle of the commonwealth promenade, bringing the party to a truly diverse audience.
How do you anticipate audience participation or interaction at events and how do you deal with it if it’s not built-in to the event?
Whether pushed along in trolleys, given wheatgrass haircuts, asked to pelt our giant puppets with seed bombs or crushed into a trap door, audiences truly have an active role at every 85A show. For Cargo, Camera…ACTION!, the audience will be cast as film extras for our pretend shoot, and in turn, will be required to help during some of the scenes with some very important tasks! And whilst waiting to get ‘on set’, the extras will be able to relax at our “backstage” cafe where the film shoot atmosphere continues, including: a tasty catering trailer, crew bar and an all day “wrap party”; DJs playing cinematic soundtracks and games; and a roaming make-up crew with talent scouts who will be preparing our fine extras respectively before their big scene.
Can you tell us more about the “upbeat global sounds of dynamic bands and DJs”, and how they fit into the whole event?
All of the bands will provide the focus for the show and are integral to its narrative. Our daytime show will run five times – featuring a different soundtrack every time – with the musical bill being shared by some of the most exciting Glasgow bands in a variety of styles: Dub champions Mungo’s Hi-Fi with special guests New Dehli’s Reggae Rajas; newly formed surf-rockers Halfrican; veteran seven-piece ska outfit Capone & the Bullets; musical maestros Gypsy Romania from Govanhill; and hypno-psych voodoo groovers Golden Teacher. Basically, audiences can see the show with the soundtrack of their own musical choice! And in the Café Bar, the groovy, eclectic and cinematic soundtracks will continue with the exceptional host DJ Afrodeesia and guests.
How do you recommend audiences prepare for the performances (and to be “flabbergasted”)?
Even though this will be the height of the summer, this is an outdoor event in Glasgow, so we’re preparing for a “rain or shine” show, and audiences should do the same. To make the most of this sea voyage as well, outfits in tones of blue/green/grey/black/white are highly recommended. However, once the filming starts, anything can happen – so all our extras should be ready for their action packed 15 mins of fame!
Tickets for Cargo Camera…ACTION! are free and go on sale on Thursday 26 June. Keep checking glasgowfilm.org for details.
I’m happy to announce that Physical Impossibility‘s newest stockist is Forbidden Planet, Glasgow – a shop I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time in ever since I was a knee-high to a Mr Mxyzptlk cut-out, so it’s very cool to see the zine on their shelves. We’ve also recently begun selling from Glasgow Film Theatre, the Filmhouse in Edinburgh and NewBridge in Newcastle. In Berlin, you can pick up a copy at Motto and in New York, the zine is stocked at Forbidden Planet in Manhattan and Desert Island in Brooklyn. Alternatively, you can pick up a copy by post from me, here. You shouldn’t pay more than £4, or the translated equivalent, anywhere.
Issue three, Copywrongs, is almost finished and we’re dead excited about it – all the contributions so far are fantastic. We’re hoping to send it to print in the next few weeks. In the meantime, if you’d like to stock Physical Impossibility, or suggest a stockist, please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Since my first thoughts on the EIFF 2014 programme, tickets have gone on sale and the final countdown to this year’s festival has begun. Also, I’ve been looking beyond the familiar, jump-out names to interrogate the line-up a wee bit more rigourously. Here’s my second thoughts:
Welcome to New York (dir Abel Ferrara, 2014)
21/06, 17:30 at Dominion 1 | 28/06, 17:30 at Dominion 1
Abel Ferrara’s latest is definitely coming to EIFF,
but exact details await confirmation (UPDATED 09/06). The film’s debut at Cannes provoked a pleasing storm of controversy, which didn’t need too much dressing up by the Daily Mail, who frothed, “Guests at the party, which was held on the beach, were each given a ‘dirty sex kit’ (note the initials, DSK) containing a whip, handcuffs and a condom. Men wearing hotel bathrobes encouraged them to sip a ‘Viagra cocktail’ or pose for a photographer on a huge bed bearing a sign that read ‘Love Hotel’.” DSK, there, standing for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, from whose infamy Ferrara’s film is said to derive (he’s apparently suing for libel). Ferrara, famous for Driller Killer (1979), Ms 45 (1981), King Of New York (1990) and Bad Lieutenant (1992) hasn’t made a truly great film in a long while, although he’s been operating on the fringes since the late 1990s and arguably hasn’t had a fair shake, critically or commercially, since the underrated The Funeral (1996). According to the Guardian, Welcome To New York is, “shameless, outrageous…an orgiastic vampire tale about a creature of the night who can’t face the mirror.” So, basically: tick, tick tick. And maybe it’s wishful thinking, but is an appearance from Ferrara really out of the question?
The Anomaly (dir Noel Clarke, 2014)
19/06, 18:10 at Cineworld 5 | 20/06, 18:10 at Cineworld 5
This is the world premiere of Noel Clarke’s new sci-fi actioner. Clarke’s arguably made a better fist of his post-Doctor Who career than any of his co-stars, David Tennant, Billie Piper or even Christopher “Oh, yeah, that was him in Thor 2” Eccleston transitioning from portraying sidekick Mickey Smith to writing, directing and producing his own films. The Anomaly is the third of those, after Kidulthood (dir Menhaj Huda, 2006) sequel Adulthood (2008) and crime thriller 126.96.36.199 (2010). Clarke also wrote Fast Girls (dir Regan Hall, 2011) and Storage 24 (dir Johannes Roberts, 2012), the latter of which, an apparently underrated (I’ve not seen it myself) sci-fi horror, is possibly the most relevant to The Anomaly. I’m cautiously optimistic about this because, while I hope and want to like it, expectations are certainly tempered by the facts that a) Clarke is yet to match his industriousness with a real break-out hit, b) somehow lost in the shuffle Lost star Ian Somerhalder is in the co-lead role and c) the rest of the cast list is filled out with Luke “the new Andrew Wilson” Hemsworth and EIFF stalwart Niall Greig Fulton.
The Skeleton Twins (dir Craig Johnson, 2014)
21/06, 18:00 at Cineworld 8 | 22/06, 20:45 at Cineworld 8
Craig Johnson’s follow-up to the mumblecore-y True Adolescents (2009) reunites Saturday Night Live co-stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, to exploit their comedic chops in a more serious set-up, à la fellow SNL alums Will Forte and Adam Sandler in Nebraska (dir Alexander Payne, 2013) and Punch Drunk Love (dir Paul Thomas Anderson, 2002), respectively. Resportedly directly inspired by the likes of The Squid And The Whale (dir Noah Baumbach, 2005) and You And Me And Everyone We Know (dir Miranda July, 2005), according to director Johnson, The Skeleton Twins is “Character-driven, funny and yet a little melancholy.” The first EIFF screening is also the European premiere.
Life After Beth (dir Jeff Baena, 2014)
26/06, 18:20 at Cineworld 8 | 27/06 20:30 at Filmhouse 1
The directorial debut of I Heart Huckabees co-writer Jeff Baena, this is one of a couple of notable zombie features at EIFF this year, the other being Sabu’s Miss Zombie (2013). Dane de Haan’s Zach gets a second chance with his recently-departed ex when she returns to life just a little more brain-hungry. Not a million miles away from 2013’s Warm Bodies (dir Jonathan Levine) in subject matter, Life After Beth‘s cast is what makes it really interesting. Aside from de Haan stretching himself as a romantic lead (will he be able to tone down the twitchy-creepy?), you have Parks And Recreation‘s Aubrey Plaza as the titular ex-ex (“Dane was wonderful. I felt like we had good chemistry from the start. It wasn’t hard to lick his face and try to eat him.”) and a smorgasbord of comedy talent filling out the cast, including Anna Kendrick, John C Reilly and Arrested Development‘s Alia Shawkat.
Hardkor Disko (dir Krzysztofa Skoniecznego, 2014)
26/06, 20:15 at Filmhouse 1 | 27/06, 18:00 at Cineworld 11
It’s probably the hipster in me that likes the look of Hardkor Disko, the debut feature from music video director Krzysztofa Skoniecznego, and if it falls on the wrong side of Our Day Will Come (dir Romain Gavras, 2010) there’s a good chance it’ll be a drag to actually watch. On the other hand, I like a wildcard and the trailer promises sex, death and rock and roll. In case you’re wondering about the title, according to writer-director Skoniecznego, “Hardkor is a word of our times which entered everyday slang meaning something surprising, brutal and ruthless but also something attractive and danger-provoking, connected with adrenaline. Disko on the other hand holds something from the past, it’s a word rather connected to the generation of our parents, it brings to the mind some kind of nostalgia.” The first screening at EIFF will also be the UK premiere.
And finally, a special mention for:
Cold In July (dir Jim Mickle, 2014)
20/06, 18:00 at Cineworld 8 | 23/06, 20:45 at Filmhouse 1
Based on the novel by cult author Joe R Lansdale (Bubba Ho-Tep, the Hap and Leonard series) and directed by Jim Mickle (Stake Land, We Are What We Are), Cold In July stars Sam Shepard, Don Johnson and a post-Dexter Michael C Hall. The pedigree is excellent and the trailer looks great, but it’s also on general release in July. Excepting a possible appearance by Johnson (also appearing in person at his Empire Hero Hangout on 21/06), the EIFF screenings are kind of more previews than anything else.