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.

The Toddling Dead

Zombies are pretty much saturating the market right now, but it’s always cool to see filmmakers with fresh ideas for a quickly becoming played out fad. Check out this short film / music video directed by David Altobelli and Jeff Desom for the band HEALTH‘s song “Tears.” You can’t look away, and you won’t be sorry!

A Stunning Video Short from Filmmaker Alma Har’el for Sigur Rós’ “Fjögur Píanó”

What is it about Sigur Rós music that just makes you want to add visuals to it? It’s literally made for scoring a film it seems. So it makes sense that the Icelandic avant-rockers would hold their own little film festival of sorts for their new album “Valtari.” It’s a two-fold project (called The Valtari Mystery Film Experiment) consisting of a number of filmmakers whom have been invited to direct a video for one of the songs on the album, and an open call to all other filmmakers (in the form of a contest really) so they can also make their own videos for one of the songs on the album. Sigur Rós releases one new video a week on their site from the collection of filmmakers they’ve collated.

So far, they’ve gotten about half way through and they’ve all been pretty minimalist and droll, unlike most anything you’ve ever seen from a Sigur Rós video previously. Then there’s “Fjögur Píanó.”

Truly an infuriating piece of filmmaking for me, I am torn between the things about it I love and those things about it which I loathe. Let’s begin with the love. Shia LeBoeuf’s performance will for a long time be indelible from my mind. I watch a lot of films in my work and I have a weird habit of not liking to know too much about what I’m about to see before I see it. So unless I’m trolling for something specific, if I find a film to watch I initially intentionally avoid looking at anything about it except maybe who the director is, and in the case of music videos, the musical artist. Initially, when I viewed this short video, I thought he looked familiar but couldn’t put a name to the face. I was so compelled by his performance as “Man” though, that I when I saw who it was playing the role, I couldn’t believe it my eyes.

LeBeouf’s performance is heart-rending and real. When he smashes his hand through a glass frame, I found myself wondering if he actually smashed his hand though a glass frame and cut it. The award-winning director Alma Har’el seemed to truly be able to connect with these characters. The female lead who plays “Woman” is also phenomenal. Both of them together have a similarly cosmic and combative chemistry that is completely engaging.

The story is conceptually strong and metaphorically powerful, while not being blunt or compromising any artistry. Man and Woman start off having a close, connected and intimate relationship, when all of a sudden – quite literally – the winds of change blow through and force them down a path that tries their love at its very core. While the film takes a sillier turn at this chapter, it quickly redeems itself and regains traction as the couple finds themselves locked in an unforgiving downward trajectory of anger and repulsion.

Eventually, and almost subconsciously expected, Man ultimately kills Woman and then realizes what he’s done as something permanent and life-altering (it’s a little hard not think of Sid and Nancy here, but the unique touch Har’el adds at the moment of impact quickly snaps you ou of it). The fact that they lived in a bedroom of deceased and well-preserved butterflies, is almost a slap in face admitting that one of them should’ve seen this coming – for they were always trying to hold on to something that would forever leave them one day anyway. How many butterflies must be caught before the captor realizes they’ll never stop being another one out there to catch?

Even more interesting is the disjointed narrative which essentially depicts at the onset of the film, as Man and Woman dance gracefully with each other like winged insects themselves, that none of the preserved butterflies are on the wall and there are faded shadows resembling the ghosts of where there used to be something beautiful, caught, pinned and on permanent display. I assume it’s post-death of Woman when we open with this scene, maybe a memory Man has captured for a moment in time.

What’s wrong with this short film is the sloppy detour it takes mid-way through the story. I like the realistic depiction of a metaphor, and I like the aggressive etherealness of their dream-state, but the direction of this segue and the look of it was jarring and overblown. Finally, I wish there was more collusion with the music, but honestly this was the first Sigur Ros video I think I’ve ever seen where I cared less about the song than I did about the video. I think the beauty and fragile artistry of both mediums in this case worked against each other and one is lost for the other. I’d love to see this film with a less notable “soundtrack” and watch a video for “Fjögur Píanó” with a less engaging narrative.

WU LYF “We Bros”

Simple in concept and beautiful in tone, this short film/music video for the band WU LYF, directed by Sam Piling is worthy of film festival inclusion somewhere in this world! For now, enjoy it below.

Rebecca Hall Demonstrates Her Emotional Range

In this dreamy, glossy video for the Joni Mitchell cover “A Case of You,” performed here by James Blake, we see actress Rebecca Hall (Vicky Christina Barcelona) run the range of usual emotions as she’s artfully chased by a leering cameraman.

Sigur Rós “Inni”

If you have never witnessed Sigur Rós as a live show, you should do yourself a favor and take the next opportunity you get. I had the rather rare opportunity during their first-ever American tour to see them in the dank confines of a pre-Katrina New Orleans House of Blues, and let me just say, I’d never once before and have never once since been to a concert where the crowd was so enveloped by the music that during a quiet moment in “Viðrar vel til loftárása” you could literally hear a pin drop – no one was chatting, glasses never clinked together, and everyone just stood watching in sheer amazement.

Aside from being the phenomenal musicians and artists that they are, they are outstanding live performers. As expected, they’re not prolific US tourers. A few years back they released a concert film called Heima which was a fantastic way to experience all they have to offer both sonically and on stage.

Surpassing that, we now get another glimpse of their ethereal live experience in the new concert film INNI. Debuting recently at the Venice Film Festival, it’s now playing in some select cities and also available to purchase. Below is a promotional clip from it called “Festival” which runs about 7 minutes long and while giving you a fantastic excerpt of what they’re like live (just wait till about 2 or 3 minutes in), the filmmaking is also replete with Alphaville-like strobing lights and Murnau-esque, grainy, saturated black-and-white imagery.

If you’re interested in purchasing the live album/video, I suggest the Limited Special Edition version which is packaged in a 7″ x 7″ x 1″ box, printed inside and complete with:

  • an exclusive (and unique to each box itself) artifact from the live show which is sealed in a printed and numbered envelope
  • a one-sided 7″ colored vinyl with unreleased track “Lúppulagið” with etching on reverse
  • a 75-min performance on DVD and Blu-ray with 4 bonus performances in both PAL and NTSC
  • DVD with exclusive 5-min short film “Klippa”
  • 2xCD live album
  • 4 7″-sized photographic prints
  • an enamel “Inni” pin badge
  • black opaque envelope with 10 pieces of A6-sized light-sensitive paper and a special URL for creating your own “Inni” images and uploading to the band’s website

Stereo MCs Video Trilogy

I love slow-motion, gritty, British slice o’ life dramas, so maybe this mini-trilogy by the UK hip-poppers Stereo MCs is a bit dull for some viewers, but it’s a really nice unison of the three individual songs off their new album with a rather tender overarching storyline. They’re like Andrea Arnold-via-Lynne Ramsay-crossed with Tricky music videos. Superb.

Part 1 – “Boy”

Part 2 – “Tales”

Part 3 – “Far Out Feeling”

All songs are from the MCs’ forthcoming album Emporer’s Nightingale. Find out more about the band and the album (plus download a new mixtape for free!) at their website.

Drew Barrymore’s ‘Crazy For You’ Disappoints

Drew Barrymore is an extremely talented director and a amazing actress, but there’s really something to be said about putting together a film production in a rush. Barrymore’s directorial debut was the hilarious, poignant and retro-cool Whip It, and she certainly has the knack for shedding beautiful light on otherwise darkly lit subcultures.

Her second effort behind the camera is a music video / short film Crazy For You. Technically, the film’s impetus was a music video for the song “Our Deal” by new wavy shoegazers Best Coast. If you don’t recognize the band by name, you’ve probably heard their hits “Boyfriend” and “Gone Again” at least a few times on your local college radio.

Barrymore attests to having only had two days to shoot this film and in those two days, having to pull off 100 shots per day, according to a cute Pitchfork.com interview with her. Whether that’s how it actually went down or not, the film is clearly a little scattershot and could have easily been edited down to fall into the three minutes of the actual song “Our Deal.” Instead, we get an extended version which rather clunkily incorporates a veritable mash-up of Best Coast tracks.

The problem is it all feels too forced for the colorful, punk rock flyer filming style which Barrymore downright owned (neigh, revitalized) in Whip It. Honestly, Best Coast has a little too atmospheric of a quality for Barrymore’s edgy kind of modern love story on the skids. So even though there’s a few other issues with the film (keep reading), the biggest to me is the music is too weak for this story, none of it feels gritty enough for the attitudes which the characters are supposedly portraying. There’s basically two punk rock attitudes at work here – Barrymore’s and Best Coast’s – and like strong magnets, they’re repelling each other.

Crazy For You is merely shades of Romeo & Juliet and West Side Story when you can tell it desperately wants to be streaks of Sid and Nancy and The Outsiders. The lead actress Chloë Moretz wants to be kick ass (ha! get it?), but unfortunately looks more likely to topple over in the studded Doc Martens she’s bopping around in. No, seriously, there’s a at least a couple shots where you can actually see her trying to keep her balance – and it’s not like these “gangsters” are shooting up in the sewers of L.A.’s off-limits viaduct/”river,” so you can’t attribute these wobbles to her being shitfaced and/or fucked up. What’s worse – one of the first shots in the film is of the two gangster girls using a rope to carefully let themselves down into the graded walls of the viaduct. A rope!!? No self-respecting bad-ass ‘bows-dropper is going to worry about scraping a tiny hole in their skinny jeans sliding down the concrete walls of the dirty California landmark.

The simple storyline is really sweet and the plot is basically Romeo and Juliet up until the point where Veronica (Moretz’s Juliet character) doesn’t want to be part her gang “The Night Creepers” (and no, they’re not creepy in the least), and wants to run away with the boy who stole her heart, but who also happens to be in their rival gang “The Day Trotters.” One word I’m sure you will never hear a gang member say in your life is “trot,” “trotting, or “trotter.” I’m willing to bet you. Regardless, when she asks him to run away with her – in their meet-cute way of writing important notes to each other on their own hands – he takes the cute a step further and pops a can of spray paint from his back pocket to tag his answer on the wall next to her. Let’s just say it’s not what she expects.

Later, his gang faces off with her gang on the roof of a nearby building. In the toss up that ensues, Veronica clocks her man in the face (unrealistically) knocking him off the edge of the building to the pavement below. It’s then, that the film becomes bittersweet in it’s plot, but the combination of acting edgy by non-edgy actors, the milquetoast production design and costuming (the gangs’ names look like they were stitched or ironed on just a day ago), and the ill-fitting Best Coast score make the good ending seem almost kitschy.

I can’t wait for Barrymore to direct another film of her own, I really think just from the work on Whip It she is an auteur in her own right, but this entry in her oeuvre is one we can overlook. For completists and other cinephiles out there though, click here to watch it.

Liam Bachler

Filmmaker Liam Bachler’s videos are gloriously soft focus 70s throwbacks with pretty women doing mischievous things… What’s not to love!? Check out the best below and as soon as I can find his short film Time Machine I’ll be sure to put up a review and/or post it here.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra “Little Blu House”



Computers Want Me Dead “Letters and Numbers”

Still from Time Machine

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?