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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Sound City

Dave Grohl, the musician notorious for being in Nirvana and the man behind the Foo Fighters, Them Crooked Vultures and a host of other musical side projects, has widened his scope to the cinema now. Granted, it’s a Vh1-looking rock documentary that will probably only find itself in rotation on your basic cable music channel; in January though, Sundance (of course) will unveil it which will no doubt bring out the hip Hollywood stars.

The doc is about the rise and fall of the famous recording studios in California named Sound City. Watch the trailer below to check out the impressive lineup of musicians that have recorded there, and many of which are interviewed by Grohl to reminisce. While I’m excited at the prospect of learning about this famed institution and seeing its history, the trailer is frankly less than captivating or polished.

The soundtrack Grohl has put together as compendium to this film though, looks honestly amazing. It’s out March 12, 2013 (but available on iTunes now – which seems in direct opposition to what this doc is soapboxing about), and features a collection of musicians from some of the notable bands that recorded there, playing together with Grohl on a number of original songs (one of those now infamous mashups is the former Nirvana bandmates, Krist Novoselic, Pat Smear, and Grohl, performing the song “Cut Me Some Slack” along with Paul McCartney, which they premiered to the world during the 12.12.12 Sandy Benefit concert earlier this week). Here’s the full tracklist (via Pitchfork):

1.) Dave Grohl, Peter Hayes, and Robert Levon Been: “Heaven and All”
2.) Brad Wilk, Chris Goss, Dave Grohl, and Tim Commerford: “Time Slowing Down”
3.) Dave Grohl, Rami Jaffee, Stevie Nicks, and Taylor Hawkins: “You Can’t Fix This”
4.) Dave Grohl, Nate Mendel, Pat Smear, Rick Springfield, and Taylor Hawkins: “The Man That Never Was”
5.) Alain Johannes, Dave Grohl, Lee Ving, Pat Smear, and Taylor Hawkins: “Your Wife Is Calling”
6.) Corey Taylor, Dave Grohl, Rick Nielsen, and Scott Reeder: “From Can to Can’t”
7.) Alain Johannes, Chris Goss, Dave Grohl, and Joshua Homme: “Centipede”
8.) Alain Johannes, Dave Grohl, and Joshua Homme: “A Trick With No Sleeve”
9.) Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, and Pat Smear: “Cut Me Some Slack”
10.) Dave Grohl, Jessy Greene, Jim Keltner, and Rami Jaffee: “Once Upon a Time… The End”
11.) Dave Grohl, Joshua Homme, and Trent Reznor: “Mantra”

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

Blakroc 2

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.