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Music Video Round-Up: Interview with Severed Ways Director Tony Stone

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Music Video Round-Up: Interview with Severed Ways Director Tony Stone

After confusing critics at festivals and brief theater runs over the past two years, Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America—a set in 1007 AD, shot on digital video, heavy metal-scored, Viking anti-epic—made its way to DVD this past summer. Though most certainly not a music video, it’s a movie not only dominated by the interplay between music and images but one that apes the quiet-loud dynamics of the heavy metal music that makes up most of its score. Music is at the movie’s core and in that sense, seems appropriate for “Music Video Round-Up.”

Like an art metal album abruptly but successfully segueing from low-end riffing to Brian Eno-esque ambience, director (and co-star) Tony Stone’s Severed Ways bounces between Malick-esque patience and pulpy, in-your-face bursts of ugliness. Laconic hunting and gathering makes way for heathen church-burning. Wandering in the woods moves to the side for an awesomely unnecessary defecation scene. Imagine the atmosphere of your quasi-historical, Dungeons & Dragons-inspired metal video sucked of all the bombast and almost entirely focused on tiny activities of survival.

The result is one of the most bizarre and strangely moving films of the past bunch of years. And the film’s artfully jagged merger of opposites extends to its creation too; conceptualized, studied filmmaking sent into the Vermont woods, forcing on-the-fly, improvisation. Tony Stone was kind enough to break-down these unresolved tensions and why it was so necessary to go “off the grid” to make Severed Ways and explain metal’s rarefied appeal.

When the trailers for Michael Mann’s Public Enemies—a brooding, DV period piece—came out in the spring, I immediately thought of Severed Ways. Outside of convenience and budget issues, what’s the appeal of bringing video to a movie about guys in the year 1007 AD?

Well, the simple fact that it modernizes the image. I think what’s incredible about Public Enemies is it takes one of the most cartoony portrayed eras and makes it look current. We’re used to seeing the 1930s over-stylized and everything looking like its out of Dick Tracy. Seeing a Tommy Gun being fired at rapid fire in a no grain, extreme hi-def image is something completely new. Those guns usually look silly, but they’re terrifying in Public Enemies, as they should be. No different than an automatic weapon out of Heat. I think it’s very disconcerting to people to see the period piece myth shattered. I think people feel more comfortable putting up a sheen/wall between the past and present, saying “that was then.” But what is interesting is to suggest there is little difference.

And there’s the metal soundtrack, which similarly removes that wall. You even have a scene where the Vikings head-bang. Like the digital, I assume this was an extension of this “past is the present” attitude?

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Yeah, exactly. This movie is trying to get out of that wall between the past and now. We’re basically doing the same shit as now. And the head-banging is more of ritualistic Pagan act. It’s a sacrificial moment to the gods after they’ve constructed their shelter. Granted there’s music playing in the film over the visual, but it’s the same act now as then.

The choice of metal, like the DV, is obvious but really subtle too. That’s to say, metal and Vikings go together, but there’s deeper thematics and stuff going on when the music of Dimmu Borgir pounds through a scene.

I’ve always loved the contrast of Metal in the raw nature, because of the clash. The clash is emblematic of us in it. We were listening to all this music when were making the film, it’s in the roots of the films’ incarnation. It wasn’t a choice made in the editing room later on. The film began with the metal attitude as part of the storyline and tone. There was a philosophy.

In the beginning when the Vikings are an intact unit, the heavier, more triumphant music of Dimmu Borgir is used to reinforce the Vikings’ belief system. But as the Vikings’ friendship begins to fade, the more atmospheric music enters. Brian Eno is used as Heathen to Christian conversion theme, and Popol Vuh represents the spirituality of the earth. Burzum is used as a reoccurring theme, representing the existential plight that they’ve found themselves in this endless natural world. There is a depth and darkness in [Burzum’s] music that captures it perfectly—and it is not a coincidence that he composed the piece in jail while doing time for church burning and murder.

And the film incorporates many themes of metal. I think there’s a tone in the film that is familiar to any metal head. That gut understanding can be lost on those unfamiliar with the music.

The use of metal also feels like it comes from someone who’s a fan of the music, which you obviously are. It’s a movie by somebody who gets the appeal of metal—that tension between subtlety and obviousness. A leisurely plot with minimal dialogue, but then there’s a close-up of a Viking shitting or some burst of violence. Was this conscious, translating heavy metal rhythms to film?

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Yeah, partly it was. But I think just abiding by the metal spirit, it just ended up naturally having that ebb and flow. And I think metal is subtler than it is recognized as being. It doesn’t have to be sonically heavy to be metal. Ambient metal is just as heavy emotionally. There’s still a feel and tone that can transcend the lack of heavy riffage.

And when its heavy, like let’s say a Mortician track, it’ll go from super slow heavy sludge to then an unbelievable fast drum-programmed part. Metal is all about rhythm changes—double time, half time, drone time. There are some schizophrenic moments in Severed, but the changes felt necessary as part of the arc and rhythm of the film.

The blurring of past and present is a huge part of the movie, but you are also never ironic about the Vikings and their actions.

I was trying to place it in their time—being as in the moment possible. They’re doing what they’ve been told to believe and act. They are acting on religious fervor as people do today. It’s what they know. Considered with compassion, they can be seen as victims of their time, as we all are.

The movie is rooted in The Vinland Sagas, which is close to a primary document. Can you contextualize the sagas and how they relate to Severed Ways?

Severed Ways starts off where the Vinland Sagas end. The Vinland Sagas are all about the exploration of America, beginning with Leif Ericson. And for the most part they are very accurate. The Norse settlement in Newfoundland was discovered by sailing the description written in the Sagas. And the story of the two characters continued, but not on the written page. They were never heard from again, so their glory and their Saga was never recorded. It goes unwitnessed. But I wanted that rhythm of the Sagas to continue from the written text and be very blunt and action-oriented.

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Yeah, like, this is from Erik Explores Greenland: “Erik was banished from Haukadale after killing Eyjolf Saur and Hrafn the Dueller, so he went west to Breidafjord and settled on Oxen Island at Eirikstead.” That could be an entire movie, not a sentence! I get the sense you were sort of expanding these sagas into real-time?

Exactly. Everything is told in matter-a-fact rhythm. They build fort, they hunt, they eat. It’s abrupt and direct. Not much chit-chat. I also think that’s more or less how it was. When you have to work for survival and everyday existence is in question, you’re not going to be yapping it up. Maybe a little fireside conversation, but that’s about it. So that’s why the rhythm felt right.

That kind of rhythm’s clearly important to the look and feel of the film. Nothing overly grand about the characters’ clothes or the movie’s style. It’s stylish and really awe-inspiring at times but it also just feels like a bunch of dudes wandering around in the woods…which I guess is what they are?

Yes, they are. The dudes today are no different than 1000 years ago. They had their own vernacular as we do today. They did not speak in an English accent in semi-Shakespearian grammar as we usually see in a period piece. And everybody wasn’t a chieftain. There are a lot of stories that haven’t been told and slipped through the cracks about Joe Blow who didn’t make enough of an impact to have his story told but was trying to. And maybe the story of these Vikings would have been told if they were more successful. Their attempt at glory and having there name written in stone doesn’t work out and they fade into non-existence. The also have this religious fervor that encourages martyrdom, so risk-taking and dying in battle is encouraged, but it doesn’t always lead to much.

But I think you can read a lot into people by their physicality, how they walk, chop. I think it’s more accurate and fairer to the characters. I think it’s far more interesting to decipher characters by actions than words that conveniently tell you who these people are immediately and give you their backstory within five minutes of watching a movie. That’s not how life works.

Was there research done?

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Yeah, there was. Went to a couple of reenactment camps, which actually further instilled the level of informality and practicality of the Vikings. Everything was very simple and basic, but highly functional, including their clothes. Day to day outfits were pants with drawstrings, kind of like sweatpants. They didn’t mend seams, so things frayed. Basically, unless you were a king, you didn’t have chain-mail or a some fancy red robe. You wore sweatpants made out of wool, and perhaps a tunic that looked like a dress. It’s kind of like that Monty Python line that you can tell he’s a king because he doesn’t have shit all over him.

Also, I’m fascinated with their building and construction. They were incredible carpenters with very basic tools. The boat building was highly advanced, and the sod houses and grass roofs are unbelievable. I think their systems are the ultimate guide for any serious future-primitive back-to-the-lander.

Between research and an actions-over-words style to the movie, you develop a core empathy with the Vikings’ thinking and way of life, free of modern-day oversensitivities and recontexualization.

The two Vikings are operating by a warrior code that has been ingrained in them by their culture and beliefs. But in crisis, the code frays and doubt sets in, exposing something within these archetypal male relationships. They are sensitive and, at times, fearful Vikings who aren’t always blowhard warriors. They have their insecurities. At the same time, these guys do what needs to be done to survive without hesitation. They’re quick to act, and violence is not something that is used sparingly.

When they meet the Monks, there’s a moment of excitement, as the Vikings have been alone for so long, but then they attack them and burn their shit down.

Right. There’s a perfectly good structure they could take over but there’s this automatic reaction that kicks in and they kill the Monks because they’re Vikings. That’s what Vikings do, they’re trained to kill the Monks. And as spectators, we’re trained for that action as well. There’s always an obvious solution that’s right in front of us, but we neglect to see it. That’s why these guys aren’t successful in their journey. There were a lot of dumb dudes that tried exploration and disappeared into thin air.

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The approach to Christianity vs. Heathenism is really sophisticated. From a 21st-century intellectual perspective, it’d be easy to find a lot distasteful in both belief systems. But the arrival of Christianity here totally upends the movie. The raw visceralness of the movie exits to some extent once the Christians enter, which seems appropriate as everyone’s beliefs system is being challenged/confused.

Yes—the Christianity actually represents consciousness. I think there’s a dose of humanity between the Viking and the Monk. A simple act of friendship and intrigue, born from guilt. Volnard puts down the Sword for the Book, and there is this clarity in stepping back from the chaos and incessant violence. Volnard forgets about the quest for glory and they just exist in their surroundings and companionship.

And like so much in the movie, this is mainly conveyed through actions and images. Your recent short, Out of Our Minds, is told entirely through story and action. What’s the appeal of visual, almost strictly visual storytelling?

I think visual storytelling is kind of lost. Its either extreme action, or a very talkative indie or romance. Back to Michael Mann, I think the effect of his movies can just knock you out. The actual words are hardly ever important, like in Public Enemies. Your brain is just trying to play catch-up with all the visual information. It’s exhausting and rewarding. Severed Ways and Out of Our Minds are basically silent films. I was always loved the films of Dreyer, which I think Mann takes a lot of inspiration from. I feel like people are forgetting the power of images and not looking for visual metaphors within them. There’s so much to show and explain through the visuals, editing and simple pacing. Most films are spending most of their time figuring out how to frame a conversation. It’s pretty liberating to be free of that restraint.

And it seems to me, the way you made it too, shooting with a small crew in the woods, freed you of typical moviemaking “restraints.”

The idea was to get out and off the grid to make whatever we wanted. To listen to the surroundings, and let them dictate what and when we shot. No restrictions within isolation and immersion. We knew people might not get it or like it, but the idea was to experiment and do what felt right. We knew some would recognize what we were doing. In a way, I guess it’s kind of like making a dark black metal album. You make what you want, and don’t really give a fuck if anyone likes it. And there was such focus up in the woods. In Vermont, where we made the film, there was no internet or phone service, and only enough solar electricity to charge the camera batteries. It was severe isolation. So we were getting close to living like our characters—shitting in the woods, not showering, sleeping out doors, eating the food we killed in the film. The mundanity of the woods also started to make us crazy. They’re beautiful and endless, but that can start to feel claustrophobic because you can’t get out of them. They’re eternal.

Brandon Soderberg is author of the sites No Trivia, The Biographical Dictionary of Rap, and Are You a Serious Comic Book Reader?

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Through the Years: Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” at 30

To celebrate this sacred anniversary, we’re taking a look back at the single’s evolution over the last three decades.

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Through the Years: Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” at 25

This week Madonna’s iconic hit “Like a Prayer” turns 30. The song is, by all accounts, her most broadly beloved contribution to the pop-music canon, landing at #7 on our list of the Best Singles of the 1980s. Even the singer’s most ardent critics can’t help but bow at the altar of this gospel-infused conflation of spiritual and sexual ecstasy, a song that helped transform Madge from ‘80s pop tart to bona fide icon. To celebrate this sacred anniversary, we’re taking a look back at the single’s evolution over the last three decades.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on March 3, 2014.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1x2z_rY1Fjk

Pepsi Commercial

Following a teaser that aired during the 31st Annual Grammy Awards in January of 1989, Madonna premiered “Like a Prayer” in a Pepsi commercial during The Cosby Show, the #1 rated series on U.S. television at the time. Part of a $5 million sponsorship deal with the soft-drink company, the ad, titled “Make a Wish,” was an innocuous bit of nostalgia that would soon be eclipsed by the scandal surrounding the single’s forthcoming music video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79fzeNUqQbQ

Music Video

Madonna dances in front of burning crosses and kisses a black saint in a church pew in this modern morality tale about racial profiling and pious guilt, prompting both the religious right and cultural critics, like bell hooks, to cry foul. Eventually, the mounting outrage caused Pepsi to pull out of their multi-million dollar deal with the Queen of Pop. The singer’s response was coyly defiant.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Xvjnay4kS8

Blond Ambition Tour

Madonna’s first live incarnation of “Like a Prayer” was also her best. Sure, her voice was raw and unrefined (“Life is a misstaree, eve’one mus stan alone,” she heaves), but her 1990 tour performances of the song displayed a rapturous, almost possessed quality that she’s never been able to recapture.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4vSbVWm6F8

Mad’House Cover

Dutch Eurotrash group Mad’House’s claim to fame is their blasphemous take on “Like a Prayer” from 2002. The glorified Madonna cover band’s version is stripped of the original’s nuance and soul, a tacky, mechanical shell of a dance track. Regrettably, this is the version you’re most likely to hear on Top 40 radio today. (Only slightly less heretical, the cast of Glee’s rendition of the song peaked at #27 in 2010.)


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MTV On Stage & On the Record

Then notorious for forsaking her older material, Madonna dusted off “Like a Prayer” in 2003 during the promotion of her album American Life. Thirteen years after her last live performance of the song, even Madonna’s comparatively reedier voice and noticeably more limited range couldn’t diminish its enduring magic.


Sticky & Sweet Tour

After performing crowd-pleasing but relatively anemic versions of “Like a Prayer” during her Re-Invention Tour in 2004 and Live 8 in 2005, Madonna reinvented the song for her Sticky & Sweet Tour in 2008, using elements of Mack’s “Feels Like Home” for an amped-up techno mash-up.


Super Bowl XLVI

Madonna closed her record-breaking Super Bowl XLVI halftime show in 2012 with “Like a Prayer,” and though she wasn’t singing live, it was the closest she’s ever gotten to her ecstatic Blond Ambition performances. (For those lamenting the lip-synching, she would go on to reprise this version of the song, completely live, during her MDNA Tour later that year.) And if there were any doubt, a stadium of nearly 70,000 football fans waving flashlights and singing along is a testament to the song’s transcendent, all-encompassing appeal. The performance’s final message of “World Peace” seemed attainable, if only for a brief moment.


Met Gala 2018

Last year, Madonna dusted off her old chestnut for an epic performance at Vogue magazine’s annual Met Gala. The event’s theme was “Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” which seemed tailor-made for both the Queen of Pop and “Like a Prayer.” Madonna slowly descended the steps of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in a shroud, flanked on both sides by a choir of monks, as she sang a Gregorian-inspired rendition of the pop classic. The performance also featured a portion of a new song, “Beautiful Game,” and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

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Oscars 2019: Complete Winners List

The 91st Academy Awards are now behind us, and the telecast told us just about nothing that we don’t already know about AMPAS.

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Green Book
Photo: Universal Pictures

The 91st Academy Awards are now behind us, and the telecast told us just about nothing that we don’t already know about AMPAS. Which isn’t to say that the ceremony wasn’t without its surprises. For one, whoever decided to capture Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s performance of “Shallow” from A Star Is Born in one single take that would end with the pair sitting side by side, rapt in each other and framed in Bergman-esque repose, should hereby be responsible for every Oscar ceremony moving forward.

For some, though not us, Green Book’s victory for best picture came as surprise. As our own Eric Henderson put it in his prediction: “Those attacking the film from every conceivable angle have also ignored the one that matters to most people: the pleasure principle. Can anyone blame Hollywood for getting its back up on behalf of a laughably old-fashioned but seamlessly mounted road movie-cum-buddy pic that reassures people that the world they’re leaving is better than the one they found? That’s, as they say, the future that liberals and Oscar want.”

In the end, the awards went down more or less as expected, with the only real shock of the evening being Oliva Colman’s stunning upset over Glenn Close in the best actress race. (Glenn, we hope you are on the phone right now trying to get that Sunset Boulevard remake to finally happen.) Black Panther proved more indomitable than expected, winning in three categories (none of which we predicted), and Free Solo pulling a victory over RBG that was the first big sign of the evening that, then and now, AMPAS members vote above all else with their guts.

See below for the full list of winners from the 2019 Oscars.

Picture
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book (WINNER)
Roma
A Star Is Born
Vice

Director
Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman
Pawel Pawlikowski, Cold War
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma (WINNER)
Adam McKay, Vice

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Actor
Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody (WINNER)
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

Actress
Yalitza Aparicio, Roma
Glenn Close, The Wife
Olivia Colman, The Favourite (WINNER)
Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali, Green Book (WINNER)
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott, A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell, Vice

Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, Vice
Marina de Tavira, Roma
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk (WINNER)
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

Adapted Screenplay
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
BlacKkKlansman, Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott, and Spike Lee (WINNER)
Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty
If Beale Street Could Talk, Barry Jenkins
A Star Is Born, Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper, and Will Fetters

Original Screenplay
The Favourite, Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara
First Reformed, Paul Schrader
Green Book, Nick Vallelonga, Brian Currie, and Peter Farrelly (WINNER)
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón
Vice, Adam McKay

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Foreign Language Film
Capernaum (Lebanon)
Cold War (Poland)
Never Look Away (Germany)
Roma (Mexico) (WINNER)
Shoplifters (Japan)

Documentary Feature
Free Solo, Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (WINNER)
Hale County This Morning, This Evening, RaMell Ross
Minding the Gap, Bing Liu
Of Fathers and Sons, Talal Derki
RBG, Betsy West and Julie Cohen

Animated Feature
Incredibles 2, Brad Bird
Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson
Mirai, Mamoru Hosoda
Ralph Breaks the Internet, Rich Moore and Phil Johnston
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman (WINNER)

Cinematography
Cold War, Lukasz Zal
The Favourite, Robbie Ryan
Never Look Away, Caleb Deschanel
Roma, Alfonso Cuarón (WINNER)
A Star Is Born, Matthew Libatique

Film Editing
BlacKkKlansman, Barry Alexander Brown
Bohemian Rhapsody, John Ottman (WINNER)
Green Book, Patrick J. Don Vito
The Favourite, Yorgos Mavropsaridis
Vice, Hank Corwin

Production Design
Black Panther, Hannah Beachler (WINNER)
First Man, Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas
The Favourite, Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton
Mary Poppins Returns, John Myhre and Gordon Sim
Roma, Eugenio Caballero and Bárbara Enrı́quez

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Original Score
BlacKkKlansman, Terence Blanchard
Black Panther, Ludwig Goransson (WINNER)
If Beale Street Could Talk, Nicholas Britell
Isle of Dogs, Alexandre Desplat
Mary Poppins Returns, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman

Original Song
All The Stars from Black Panther by Kendrick Lamar, SZA
I’ll Fight from RBG by Diane Warren, Jennifer Hudson
The Place Where Lost Things Go from Mary Poppins Returns by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman
Shallow from A Star Is Born by Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando, Andrew Wyatt and Benjamin Rice (WINNER)
When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch

Costume Design
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Mary Zophres
Black Panther, Ruth E. Carter (WINNER)
The Favourite, Sandy Powell
Mary Poppins Returns, Sandy Powell
Mary Queen of Scots, Alexandra Byrne

Visual Effects
Avengers: Infinity War, Dan DeLeeuw, Kelly Port, Russell Earl, and Daniel Sudick
Christopher Robin, Chris Lawrence, Mike Eames, Theo Jones, and Chris Corbould
First Man, Paul Lambert, Ian Hunter, Tristan Myles, and J.D. Schwalm (WINNER)
Ready Player One, Roger Guyett, Grady Cofer, Matthew E. Butler, and David Shirk
Solo: A Star Wars Story, Rob Bredow, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan, and Dominic Tuohy

Sound Mixing
Black Panther, Steve Boeddeker, Brandon Proctor, and Peter Devlin
Bohemian Rhapsody, Paul Massey, Tim Cavagin, and John Casali (WINNER)
First Man, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Ai-Ling Lee, and Mary H. Ellis
Roma, Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan, and José Antonio García
A Star Is Born, Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic, Jason Ruder, and Steve Morrow

Sound Editing
Black Panther, Benjamin A. Burtt and Steve Boeddeker
Bohemian Rhapsody, John Warhurst (WINNER)
First Man, Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
A Quiet Place, Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
Roma, Sergio Diaz and Skip Lievsay

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Makeup and Hairstyling
Border, Göran Lundström and Pamela Goldammer
Mary Queen of Scots, Jenny Shircore, Marc Pilcher, and Jessica Brooks
Vice, Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe, and Patricia Dehaney (WINNER)

Live Action Short Film
Detainment, Vincent Lambe
Fauve, Jeremy Comte
Marguerite, Marianne Farley
Mother, Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Skin, Guy Nattiv (WINNER)

Documentary Short Subject
Black Sheep, Ed Perkins
End Game, Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman
Lifeboat, Skye Fitzgerald
A Night at the Garden, Marshall Curry
Period. End of Sentence., Rayka Zehtabchi (WINNER)

Animated Short
Animal Behaviour, Alison Snowden and David Fine
Bao, Domee Shi (WINNER)
Late Afternoon, Louise Bagnall
One Small Step, Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas
Weekends, Trevor Jimenez

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Review: Someone Is in My House Showcases the Reach of David Lynch’s Obsessions

Lynch’s paintings are beautiful yet macabre, mysterious and rich in the tactility of the methods of their creation.

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Someone Is in My House

Though famous for being a filmmaker and co-creator of the TV series Twin Peaks, David Lynch works in many other mediums, including music, sculpture, photography, furniture-making, and painting, the last of which is the wellspring of his creativity. Lynch has painted since the 1960s, finding his voice among the ruinous squalor of a once-rough Philadelphia. Inspired by artists such as Francis Bacon, Lynch developed a style that’s rich in the irreconcilable contradictions that would drive his cinema. His paintings are beautiful yet macabre, mysterious and rich in the tactility of the methods of their creation.

At times, Lynch has been dismissed as a “celebrity painter” who nets prestigious exhibitions based on his fame as a filmmaker, as well as on the urge to utilize his other art as a kind of decoder ring for his films. These claims may be partially true, but this doesn’t mean that the art itself isn’t extraordinary, and there’s a concentrated effort underway to recalibrate Lynch’s reputation within pop culture. The documentary David Lynch: The Art Life featured hypnotic footage of Lynch in the studio of his Los Angeles home, smoking and creating new canvases. Last year, the book David Lynch: Nudes collected his empathetic, erotic, and astonishingly subjective photography of nude women. Now there’s David Lynch: Someone Is in My House, a gorgeous volume of Lynch’s painting, photography, sculpture, and short-film stills.

Someone Is in My House impresses one with the reach of Lynch’s ambitions and obsessions, affirming yet another contradiction of his art: that it’s vast yet repetitive and insular. Across the spectrum of over 250 stills, this volume spotlights the many techniques that Lynch utilizes. After perceptive essays by Lynch biographer Kristine McKenna, who places Lynch’s work in the context of legendary art at large, and Michael Chabon, who emphasizes Lynch’s grasp of the uncanny truth of the everyday, among others, Someone Is in My House offers a tour of Lynch’s work that’s divided by medium, starting with “Works on Paper” and continuing with “Painting/Mixed Media,” “Photography,” “Lamps,” and “Film and Video Stills.”

Each section is structured in chronological order, spanning five decades, so as to subtly assert Lynch’s ongoing evolution as an artist. The book ends with a brief biography, which will probably be well-known by anyone driven to buy it, and a list of Lynch’s exhibitions. If Someone Is in My House has one disappointment, it pertains to this structure, as a straightforward chronological organization of Lynch’s art might’ve more vividly emphasized the wild multi-pronged simultaneousness of his imagination. But this is a small issue, as this volume offers the gift of relative accessibility, allowing cinephiles and other aesthetes the opportunity to access a major and generally rarefied mine of Lynch’s workload.

To open Someone Is in My House is to plunge into landscapes of darkness inhabited by deformed humans and other creatures, who have distended, shrunken, or extended appendages, heads that are animalistic or brutalized, and bodies that are often either a collection of tumorous protuberances or are merely composed of a few lines like primitive stick figures. Among this darkness is bright color, usually red, which offers beautiful illumination that’s understood to exist at the cost of atrocity. Among darkness there’s a light of injury in other words, as Lynch is obsessed by the idea of people coming in contact with nightmarish entities and being destroyed or severely hurt in a manner that suggests enlightenment to be a kind of state of higher confusion.

Someone Is in My House

Photo: Prestel

In Lynch’s art, blood and other substances gush out of heads like geysers, and people’s faces are often twisted in knots of anxiety. As in his films, Lynch’s paintings are obsessed by the home as a symbol of our illusions of stability and how easily they can be violated. This art is surreal, in that it conforms to no requirements of literal representation, but it’s also overwhelmingly docudramatic in its emphasis on its own DNA. The lithographs on Japanese paper, for instance, which are some of the most starkly memorable of this book’s many unforgettable images, are driven in part by their sense of fragility. The ink appears to have been applied to the canvases in a frenzy, and seems as if it could quite easily be wiped away. Lynch’s multimedia work, particularly his mixtures of sculptures and paintings, are populated by lumpy figures that show the imprint of the artist’s fingerprints and are built from globs of materials, suggesting how easily they could be morphed again by another god. (Or by us, who could in turn by victimized by other gods such as Mr. Redman, a quasi-corporeal explosion of carnage that haunts Lynch’s oil and mixed media canvas of the same name.)

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Lynch’s art is also driven by the preludes and aftermaths of events. In This Man Was Shot 0.9502 Seconds Ago, a phallic string of guts explodes out of a man with a characteristically vague and misshapen face—a Bacon-ish image that occurs against a symmetrical interior backdrop that would be at home in an Edward Hopper canvas. Acknowledging these influences, McKenna goes on to write one of the most profound things I’ve read about Lynch’s paintings: “They have a clumsy, accidental quality and come across as thwarted attempts to make oneself understood; they feel wrought rather than painted.” Rendering characters in the face of impending or concluding cataclysm, Lynch adapts techniques that mirror their awkwardness and alienation, and this chameleonic—at once assertive and self-effacing—style has probably been part of the reason for Lynch being taken somewhat for granted as an artist.

However, Lynch’s primitivism communicates robust emotional quandaries, especially an earnest yearning for a return to a normalcy that’s been shattered—a normalcy that never existed and which is embodied by houses that are composed of only a few skewed lines. These houses might be harbingers of nostalgia for Lynch’s characters, but they’re hollow or—in the case of Lynch’s lonely and forbiddingly poignant black-and-white photographs of snowmen—closed off and ridden with secrets that are impossible to know. Many Lynch characters also face their brutal reckonings with a becoming and majestic dignity, such as the nose-headed subject of an untitled 1971 pencil sketch.

Though Someone Is in My House is adamant that we take Lynch’s artwork on its own terms, without always connecting it to his films and TV, such an exercise isn’t entirely resistible. Lynch’s art clarifies to an extent what his films are also doing: valuing moments of privatized emotional experience, and often suspending plots in time so as to show how individual epiphanies can knock us off the course of our own “narrative”—that is to say, our lives.

Twin Peaks: The Return, which is clearly on Lynch’s mind in the art that’s included in this book from 2010 forward, is a collection of scenes and images that bind the existential cosmic with the domestic rituals of our lives. For most of us, finally connecting with a lost love at a coffee shop means more than considerations of the unknowable evil that may or may not pull the strings behind the curtains of eternity. Kyle MacLachlan’s Agent Cooper became unstuck in time because he took for granted the heaven of his kinship with the townsfolk of the hellish yet pastoral Twin Peaks. He failed to recognize what the subjects of many of Lynch’s paintings discover: that, to quote McKenna again, “Life happens through us, not because of us.” Throughout his career, Lynch has mined a vein of ecstatic powerlessness.

David Lynch: Someone Is in My House is now available from Prestel.

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