Taken from the December issue of Dazed & Confused:
Chris Cunningham began filming his screwy multimedia Warpaint documentary at Joshua Tree in March 2012, when the band began writing their new album. Presented above for the first time are stills from the visual piece, one of just six music-related projects Cunningham has undertaken this millennium.
Dazed Digital: What interested you about this project?
Chris Cunningham: It's been a long time since I’ve wanted to make a music video in a traditional way, so a video diary is more appealing to me. I thought what might be interesting would be to film stuff in this big way and make a surrealist thing. It covers everything around and during the making of the record, but it's not a ‘making of'. It's me filming with a camera whenever I have one and them filming on their phones, and then I've been taking outtakes and random pieces of drumming and making new remixes of their songs and using that as a soundtrack. I was filming when we were on that Coachella cruise festival, I was filming when we were in Joshua Tree, I was filming when we were in my house in England — wherever.
DD: Are your remixes a companion piece to the record?
Chris Cunningham: Yeah, a soundtrack to this documentary could be something in its own right.
DD: Is filming on phones something you've done before?
Chris Cunningham: I film on anything, basically. Apart from one exception when I made a commercial on film, I don’t think I've used anything other than crappy video cameras since 2001. Actually, when I started making music videos I drove people nuts trying to find crappy lenses. When video cameras came out and you could deinterlace them I was in heaven, and I love the images from phones.
“I couldn’t be further from a documentary maker. When I'm working, the process is to carefully construct situations where happy accidents can happen”
DD: You've done your fair share of high-gloss videos, such as Bjork's "All Is Full of Love" (1998). Is filming on phones a reaction?
Chris Cunningham: Not at all, I just try different things. There’s a part of me that likes crisp, beautiful photography, but my influences are more like painting, trying to get the feel of things you love about paintings, like Degas' abstract paintings and Francis Bacon. Things that have something messed up about them.
DD: What was the filming process like? Did you try to be inconspicuous?
Chris Cunningham: That’s interesting, because I was trying to explain to them that I couldn’t be further from a documentary maker. When I'm working, the process is to carefully construct situations where happy accidents can happen. It's very detail-oriented and very mindful of everything, and in a way it’s the complete opposite of how I see documentary filmmaking. I don't like being inconspicuous. I’m the last person in the world that will be constantly pulling my iPhone out and using my camera when people are hanging out or working.
DD: The 90s are seen by many as a heyday for music videos. Do you think they were more artistic then?
Chris Cunningham: I wouldn’t want to diss where they are now. The only thing I do know is that there definitely seemed to be a sweet spot, a pivotal moment in time when there were budgets across the board, so a mid-range indie band would probably have the kind of budget that a big mainstream act has now. The idea of having somewhere in the region of $100,000 to make a Björk video for a track that’s not even the lead single of that album is fucking crazy in retrospect. That was the spot when people like Spike (Jonze) and Michel (Gondry) were able to create work, it wasn’t crazy money, but it was just enough to be able to render the ideas properly. That time definitely came and went, but it’s probably just as interesting a time today in a different way. The technology means that anyone can be tracking or compositing, and doing basic stuff. The medium opened up, which is probably how it should be.
“I say good riddance to film because it’s just a fucking pain in the arse”
DD: How would you characterise Warpaint's visual sensibility?
Chris Cunningham: One of the things that is really interesting about them is that all the girls paint and draw, and they all have their own style. Jen is playing on some of my stuff and we’re also writing together. I'm working on a new project which is completely live. A surrealist performance video-type thing with me playing all the parts.
DD: What do you think the future of moving image holds?
Chris Cunningham: I don't really have any thoughts about that. I only know about the future of my moving image. The live thing is just my format — it’s my way of bypassing and almost making a medium for myself.
DD: So technological advances are only positive for you?
Chris Cunningham: It’s funny how, especially in the last ten years, you hear people whining on about, ‘Oh, not having to shoot on film is a bad thing.’ But every time you think something is not going to be the same without that particular thing, like say the film stock or the lens you like, it’s only a matter of time before there’s a plug-in that can emulate it. It’s fucking amazing. Whatever technique a puritanical filmmaker uses there will be plug-in that a fucking kid can use! I say good riddance to film because it’s just a fucking pain in the arse. Just when things are getting good you have to reload the camera and carry these things which weigh the same as a box of fucking house bricks around a set. It's a nightmare.
Read our December issue feature with Warpaint here.
Follow Owen Myers on Twitter here @owen_myers