SCREENING ROOM: Art House Porn, Death Cults and NYU’s Rare Synths Collection Are Just the Begining of Future Primitive’s Music Videos For Blank Dogs, Zola Jesus, Moon Duo and More

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  • “If they catch you, just say you’re Americans! They won’t shoot!”

    That’s what Jacqueline Castel and her Future Primitive Films crew heard as they hopped a decrepit fort fence in Queens and captured part of Gary War’s “Highspeed Drift” video–her first of many for one of self-titled‘s favorite local labels, Sacred Bones Records. (Among Castel’s other activities: custom headdresses for Devendra Banhart; costumes based on Marcel Dzama’s Department of Eagles video; and movie curation through The Third Floor, a collective of ex-Kim’s Video employees.)

    Taking cues from our Primer guides to artists, subgenres and scenes, the following is our first installment of Screening Room, a running commentary that revolves around music video directors that’d be all over MTV…if it was 1991 and Matt Pinfield was still around. If you or someone you know would make sense for a future profile, let us know over at our Twitter or Facebook pages.

    And now, our feature presentation…

    “It was as exhilarating as it was horrifying.”

    When [Zola Jesus frontwoman] Nika [Roza Danilova] and I started talking about doing another video together (“Clay Bodies” is near the bottom of this page), what was most exciting was the prospect of doing something completely different. This time around, ’80s futurism, Klaus Nomi, the new-wave aliens of Liquid Sky, Bauhaus’s performance in The Hunger, and porn were our starting points. The work of pornographer Rinse Dream was particularly inspiring; Café Flesh and Night Dreams are total classics. Where else can you see two identical cowgirls, speaking in deadpan unison while having sex in front of a bonfire over Wall of Voodoo’s cover of “Ring of Fire”? It’s incredibly absurd art house pornography. I like that it’s got a sense of humor.

    The mirror water shot in the beginning of the video pays homage to Jean Cocteau‘s 1930 film The Blood Of A Poet. I wanted to try the technique, but wanted to do it with a much weirder and darker sensibility. We built the set, shot the beginning sequence, and then flipped the set horizontally, and remounted the camera from above. My production designer, Max Isaacson, created this giant black water coffin for Nika to fall into, which he calculated held 4600 pounds of water in it. It was the middle of February, and the Greenpoint studio we were shooting in ran out of hot water, so make that a freezing cold giant black water coffin. Nika was such a good sport about it, plunging herself into the water over and over again until we had it right. The water kept leaking from the box, spilling out all over the floor and caused the lighting and electrical departments to scramble so we wouldn’t all be electrocuted. It was as exhilarating as it was horrifying.

    Twelve Dark Noons is me wanting to work on shorts again–something a little more narrative driven. But I still wanted to incorporate music as a heavy element of the project. Long story short, Caleb Braaten (of Sacred Bones Records), Shawn Reed (of the label Night People and the band Wet Hair), the Sydney-based band Naked On the Vague and I decided to converge in Australia this summer to shoot a short film together. Shawn came up with some promotional artwork, and I made this Super 8 teaser a couple weeks ago featuring music from the new NOTV LP, Heaps of Nothing on Siltbreeze.

    I don’t like to talk too much about projects that haven’t been shot yet, but I can say that Twelve Dark Noons will feature Lucy Phelan and Matthew Hopkins of Naked On the Vague, and a grandfather clock whose face only has 12s. It’s my love song to ’70s horror films–a psychedelic movie for the apocalypse in 12 chapters.

    We’re offering exclusive limited edition records, cassettes, artwork and DVDs if you help get us there, too. We’re fundraising on Kickstarter now.

    I knew right away that I wanted to explore themes of isolation and abstraction in this video. It felt very natural and intuitive given Moon Duo‘s repetitive synth lines and sparse, pulsating beats. I love the cover for Silver Apples’ Contact LP; vintage analog synths feel so at home with outer space travel and psychedelics to me. I was also heavily drawn to an image from an old Process Church magazine collage called “Jehovah’s Path.” It’s from the “Sex” issue. I had recently been introduced to the Process Church as an obscure California death cult via Ed Sanders‘ account of the Charles Manson clan in his book The Family. “Jehovah’s Path” features a lone man, holding a knife in total isolation, heading for a low hanging sun. “Killing Time,” in other words.

    I was in San Francisco back in December and met with Sanae Yamada and Erik Ripley Johnson to shoot their segments of the video. It was a small, intimate setting with a two-person crew. Ripley kept throwing on records; Christmas carols were mixed with old Krautrock LPs while mirrored mylar and Sanae’s projections hit the wall. The rest of the video was shot a few days later on Christmas Eve at Pyramid Lake and the Black Rock Desert outside of Reno, where I’m from. The oil and water liquid light show projections were created one night in my old bedroom at my parents’ house right before a big snowstorm, and the synthesizers at the beginning of the video are part of NYU’s collection. I had a friend who was a grad student there, so we sneaked my camera and some lights into the studio and filmed them. They have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of rare analog synths there, it’s incredible.

    I co-directed this video with my close friend and fellow filmmaker/animator Preston Spurlock. We knew that we wanted to experiment with photo collages and Xerox machines to create this clip, it was a close fit with Meghan Remy’s (U.S. Girls‘ main member) own photocopied collage artwork from her record covers. Going through old women’s magazines from junk stores, we’d see so many of the same types of images reappear over and over again. The images almost became hypnotic meditations on the mythology of the American woman and mass culture consumption. We wanted to make a “replacement animation”-style video, where the illusion of movement is created by popping between completely different found images, reinforcing the idea that these women, products, and lifestyles were in themselves completely interchangeable. Two films in particular that we used as reference were This is a Recorded Message by Jean-Thomas Bédard, and Mothlight by Stan Brakhage–both great examples of this replacement technique.

    Preston and I spent countless hours combing through magazines and catalogs for this video; isolating the images, organizing them, and finally making collages on the floor of his apartment while listening to Flipper, eating Chinese takeout, and watching documentaries like The Killing of America.

    You can check out more of Preston’s great work here.

    This is a live video that I shot at the Sacred Bones Halloween show in 2009, at 171 Lombardy Street in Brooklyn. I had made a custom Moondog helmet for Caleb, and I was wearing a handmade raccoon mask, perched on a PA next to the stage. I love all of the projections that Sanae Yamada (of Moon Duo) does. Lighting with projections always looks great on video, and the Wooden Shjips really killed it that night. My biggest embarrassment about this video is that you can tell in the wide shots that the camera is moving to the beat of my foot tapping.

    “With only one exit up a rickety ladder, we decided to get out before we got trapped.”

    I had this idea to film the video for “Clay Bodies” in Detroit. It seemed like the perfect backdrop for Nika’s haunting, apocalyptic pop song. Culling inspiration from Eastern European and Soviet Block ’70s art house cinema, elaborate silent film epics, religious iconography, and the decaying, and often quite beautiful state of a forgotten city itself, “Clay Bodies” was my opportunity to create softer, prettier imagery and experiment with layers and textures by using a combination of 16mm and HD.

    I’ve always been attracted to abandoned landscapes, and I knew there would be a wealth of good locations in Detroit. I also knew that no one would care if we had permits to shoot there. We crept into a series of abandoned buildings, art deco hotel lobbies with mirror-lined hallways, a once decadent train station, and crumbling automobile factories to shoot. Hearing Nika’s vocals echo through those buildings still haunts me; her voice was so ethereal and eerie, it almost didn’t feel real. You tend to have a constant adrenaline rush when you’re somewhere you’re not supposed to be–you became hyper aware of your surroundings, of every sound and movement. What was to culminate in an afternoon of shooting in an abandoned church was cut short, however, after we noticed someone watching us through the windows. With only one exit up a rickety ladder, we decided to get out before we got trapped. It’s a shame though, it really was the most beautiful location, and quite perfect for the end of the video.

    We ended up shooting the end sequence a few weeks later at the Loews Jersey Theater in Jersey City. It’s an old movie palace that was built in the late 1920′s that feels like an opera house, covered in gold and blood red carpeting, and still a little shabby, although clearly loved and well cared for. It’s one of my favorite operational movie theaters, and a quick trip from the Path train.

    This was the first video in a series of videos that I’ve done (and continue to do) with Sacred Bones Records. I was a huge fan of the label, so when Caleb approached me to do a video for Gary War, I was thrilled. And I loved the beginning of the song “Highspeed Drift.” It felt instantly cinematic to me. Greg (of Gary War), Caleb and I sat down to dinner one night, hashed out a plan, and shot a week later at Fort Totten and Fort Tilden, which are on opposite sides of Queens. When we got to Fort Totten, which is located on a partly operational military base, the gate to the old fort was closed, but at the suggestion of our shuttle driver, we hopped the fence, with some of our fellow shuttle patrons shouting after us, “If they catch you, just say you’re Americans! They won’t shoot!” Greg put on a shower cap, painted his entire face silver, and we filmed all over the base with a VHS camera and the PXL 2000 camera, an old Fisher Price toy camera that was manufactured in the ’80s and shoots heavily pixilated black and white images onto audio cassettes.

    I ended up shooting a couple more times at Fort Tilden to complete the video, and adventures of being kicked off the beach repeatedly for not having permits ensued. Somehow, the rest of the video got shot, and what results is a video created during the sweltering days of a New York City summer, born out of a slow paranoia that crept into my mornings after restless sleep. It was the result of obsessive conspiracy theory reading and searching for spacecrafts in the night sky.

    “We had enough WD40, lighter fluid, and blowtorches to blow the entire block.”

    This video was really the beginning of everything. I was hanging out at Academy Records one day, and at the casual mention that I made films, [Blank Dogs frontman] Mike Sniper asked me to do a video for his In the Red double LP (Under and Under). The video was shot in two days at Vanishing Point, an old DIY show space that had recently been forced to shut down after a bust by the NY Fire Dept. Ironically enough, a couple weeks later, we had enough WD-40, lighter fluid, and blowtorches to blow the entire block, far surpassing any damages a DIY show could ever dream of. I shot everything on my 16mm Bolex camera, the sets were created out of cardboard, and the girls braved their choreographed dances gripping torches they could barely see from the eyeholes of their masks. That being said, it was a pretty hilarious and fun set in retrospect.

    I knew I wanted to channel the old Residents music videos. “The Third Reich ‘N’ Roll” was a big influence, as was a lot of the costume and set designs for Dada plays (Tristan Tzara’s “Le Coeur a gaz” in particular), LiLiUT’s cover of the Eisiger Wind 7-inch, and the video for “Fred vom Jupiter” by Die Doraus & Die Marinas. And contrary to popular belief (or, at least, American belief), the masks are not based on the KKK. I’ve been working on a documentary in Cuba about Afro-Cuban religions, and in my research I stumbled upon the all male secret society of the Abakuá, originally imported to Cuba from Nigeria during the slave trade. I was instantly intrigued, and the masks used in this video are basically exact replicas of their ceremonial costumes. So, it’s like, actually impossible that this is a racist video, okay?

    Factums released a dense, claustrophobic and primordial soundtrack to a film that doesn’t exist called A Primitive Future back in 2008. The ‘film’ takes place in the year 4000–civilization has collapsed, nature has retaken the land, and man finds himself once again hunted. This idea resonated with me, and the record ruled. I saw it as a return to the beginning, to the primal, taking archaic technology and mixing it with newer techniques and equipment, it seemed to fit what I wanted to do. Thus, the birth of Future Primitive Films. But watch out, said ‘imaginary’ film may well be on its way to being actualized in 2010. Shhhh!!!