Filmmakers to Watch: Noel Paul & the Work of That Go

Noel Paul may only be directing music videos and commercials right now, but he’s got a cinematic style and unique artistry to his work that will serve him for a long time. One half of the filmmaking team known as That Go, Paul and Stefan Moore have made some of the more interesting music video art in the past few years. Some of them (more recently) are even short films, which is nice to see the progressive expansion of their film body moving in that direction. I’m not trying to say I know that Paul or That Go has any intentions of making a feature film one day, but I’m simply saying I know that he could make a pretty damn decent one if he wanted. One of the signs of a good, blossoming filmmaker is the consistency in their work, the progression in their work and the common themes and imagery in their work. Noel Paul has displayed these qualities and I, for one, will be keeping an eye on him for future projects. Here’s a select retrospective of his video work with some of my thoughts and comments (in a sort of chronological order).

Back in 2009, one of Paul and Moore’s early music videos, “Jerk It” for Thunderheist, started them off with a bang, winning a Grand Jury Prize at SXSW. Co-directed by Moore, it’s main attraction is the obvious slyness of the imagery coupled with the song and song title, and it all works very well and is fun to watch. Paul would carry at least one of the themes from this video forward, and that’s the theme of the female muse in a studio setting where there’s no telling what may happen to her. Though most of his later work appears a little on the darker side than this one, there’s still a strain of eerie-ness to “Jerk It” which is hard to shake off after a viewing.

The video “Carry the Deed” for Angel Deradoorian shows Paul maturing in his use of the female form in a studio setting. There’s also a couple of types of imagery (the beach setting, the fairly creepy digital pupils, and the stroboscopic and 360-degree profile shots) which will crop back up in future work as you’ll see below. Paul also has a unique ability that almost feels as if he’s blending fashion photography with cinema that I also think is very well honed. You could easily picture him creating a commercial for some Alexander MacQueen women’s fragrance or something one day.

Their videos for the band Röyksopp, “Senior” and “The Drug” are really one in the same. “Senior” is basically a short film and “The Drug” appears to be a sort of shorter re-edit of the former. Moving this time from the studio to a dilapidated industrial-side somewhere in Detroit, Moore and Paul expand on some of their themes while also weaving in a Fish Tank-via-Gomorrah-esque group of young girls and a “Come to Daddy”-via-28 Days Later barrage of sparseness and creepiness. Shown below here is the “short film” version for the track “Senior.”

Paul’s video for The Dø’s “Slippery Slope” expands on the style of videos like “Carry the Deed”. “Slippery Slope” has an oddly M.I.A. kind of feel to it, and the video combines classic Japanese style horror imagery and taiko drumming and the usual female form in a color splashed studio setting.

That Go’s video for Alex Winston’s “Sister Wife” features Mark Romanek “Criminal”-era spotlighting and even more creepy imagery than their previous videos. This one is chock full with shadow lovers, angry ghosts (or just a indoor tornado maybe) and alternate reality puking cats. An homage to the Japanese horror classic House, maybe?

Noel Paul’s video for Father John Misty’s “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” is maybe the most narrative work to date for Paul. I won’t give away the faint plot line or sort of surprise ending, but I will say that it’s a great use of both his skills with stark and dark imagery, atmospheres and the singular female form in distress.

Paul’s first video for Bat for Lashes, “Laura,” is fabulous. It’s simple in concept and tone, not too over the top and actually feels like it has a lot of story behind it. The storyline may not feel completely original, but it is most certainly inspired and connected to the lyrics of the song in a unique way. It’s a great match up of words and imagery.

Paul’s video for Thousands’ “At the Edges” is again simple in concept and tone, but effective. It utilizes the digital pupil theme Paul seems to like playing with (there’s definitely a thing with eyes in most of their work). The best part about it though, is how dark it is (both visually and thematically), and how vintagely processed the film is (originally shot on Super 8).

Paul’s second video for Bat for Lashes, “All Your Gold,” is again nearly flawless. The combination of music and imagery is pitch perfect and simple, artistic use of the iridescent neoprene bodysuit Natasha Khan wears is a unique and great touch. If you watch it long enough, it’s almost like she’s liquid gold.

And finally, there’s Paul’s third video for Bat for Lashes, “A Wall.” A little more narrative than the other two Bat for Lashes videos, it’s still strong and a great example of the cinematic style and creative use and blending of fashion, photography, music, film and art for which Noel Paul and That Go should be recognized.

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The State of Music Videos Today

I can’t wrap my mind around this new music video. The artist’s name is SBTRKT and the song is titled, “Wildfire.” It’s stylistically like a blend of Asian horror and David Lynch, topped with homages to Barton Fink and Apocalypse Now. I want to like it, but I feel like maybe I’ve just been tricked when it’s over. Music videos these days all have this thing now where they want to build you up to something without ever giving you a payoff.

On the other hand, not too long ago there was a superb video which had much of the same style and feel (maybe even storyline?) which also had a pretty big (however, depressing) payoff.

Next up is Zola Jesus’ “Night.” Let’s be honest, this is essentially a music video remake of Jean Cocteau’s Blood of a Poet crossed with Orpheus (oh, if he only had access to color film back then).

Lastly, there’s the new video for the Girls’ track “Vomit.” Seriously? I shot stuff like this when I was in high school and first started driving – I just didn’t have the HD camera and rock music score. How is it that a music video for a rock band can actually be boring? Don’t get me wrong, I like a shiny ’68 Mustang just as much as the next guy, but I don’t need three minutes of slow dolly shots around the fender. This is just an abomination. Hey Christopher Owens, next time you want a music video, give me a call and I promise I’ll give you something more exciting and original than whatever this drivel is. It almost hurts me to repost it here, but here goes…

Why does nobody make music videos that are original or inspiring anymore?

Three Extremes

From Fruit Chan’s “Dumplings”

Billed as “three masters of Asian horror cinema” together for the first time, Three Extremes is anything but a unique Asian horror cinema experience. Opening with director Fruit Chan’s “Dumplings,” an effortlessly creepy pean to classic Asian cinema from the 50s or 60s (think Japanese ghost stories like Onibaba), the collective film as a whole seems initially promising. Soon though we realize that Chan’s short is really only superb in it’s cinematography, and without the standard voyeuristic, slo-mo laden and heavily saturated shooting style of Christopher Doyle, “Dumplings” would be a bore. Why slow motion on the pot of boiling water? Who knows.

From Chan-wook Park’s “Cut”

It should come as no surprise then that the film delves directly into overindulgent territory with Chan-wook Park’s “Cut.” A short about a film director who is “too nice” for his upper-class lifestyle, he’s held hostage in his mansion/film set by a regular extra from many of his previous films. The angry extra wants nothing more than to make the director hurt somebody before he let’s him or his wife go, all the while “directing” them as if they were marionettes in his own twisted production. The build-up, torture-porn infusion and twist-ending payoff add nothing to the story and so “Cut” continues on as boring as the collective film began.

From Takashi Miike’s “Box”

Finally, we reach solace with Takashi Miike’s closing short “Box,” a well thought out short story and gorgeously shot final addition to the trilogy. Miike uses all the best parts of his style to create a short, sweet and although easily predictable story, a spooky one nonetheless. If you see Three Extremes, watch the first 15 minutes and then chapter through until you get to Miike’s film – it’s the only thing worthwhile in this 2004 advertising ploy for the then-rising Asian horror cinema movement.