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We're Trying To Talk To You

Music videos for the past umpteenth years have been on this rinse and repeat cycle. Girl does fierce song, girl does fierce dance moves in front of camera, girl now has fierce video, girls everywhere scream… *yawn*. Since old-school MTV died, music videos have been little more than a gear in the marketing machine that is the music industry, and of course, if said band is super arty, the video is super arty too, and those are great to watch, but they fit into the same machine as any other.

However, recently, a couple of videos actually caught my attention, and they actually chose a subject to tackle. The first one, caught my eye originally because I saw that my friend Danny Dolan was in it (seeing some of my amazing queers in music videos for some of my favorite artists of late seems to be trending) and that was half the reason I needed to watch this video, the other half of it being that was new music from Hercules and Love Affair of course. If you haven’t seen the video yet, stop everything you are doing, turn off your distractions and just soak it in.

 

 

I was floored by the beauty of this narrative, and I was of course happy to see that it was a gay narrative, even though Hercules and Love Affair is and has obviously always been a dynamic queer/homo/transgender fueled band, it was still nice to see it go there openly and honestly. I could go on and on about the directing and the style and the scenes, but that’s not what this article is about.

Only a couple of weeks after seeing this, I started a month of travel. When I got to one of my destinations, London, I stayed at my friend Rod’s place (you might know him more as Bright Light Bright Light) and he told me his friend would also be sharing the flat with me while he was in London working. Somehow, this video got brought up while Rod and I were talking and he says, “oh ya, David, the guy staying here, directed it!” Well I’ll be. So of course, I expressed my fan-boy love to David about the video, and discussed it with him briefly. He noted that Andy (of Hercules) gave him free reign over the video to make whatever narrative he pleased. I thought this was great, and David told me he was in London currently working on another gay-themed video for Arcade Fire, wow, that’s great too! I even got to help him for a brief second with editing. 

And so, I went on my merry way in my travels and headed to Berlin shortly after. Upon arriving, I saw on Facebook that the Arcade Fire video was already up. I tried to watch it, but was cockblocked at first (thanks GEMA), but eventually found a way. I sat down by myself and popped it on. The video hit me with this emotional punch in the gut where I found myself instantly in tears and covered in goosebumps, a testament to David’s directing. It was powerful.  

However, the story does not stop here. 

First off, I have been having wonderful discussions with my friends in London, Berlin, Tel Aviv and others along the way on my travels about queer and transgendered issues. It is so different and enlightening at times to get the views of others thousands and thousands of miles away from the states and more specifically the Pacific Northwest and its rampant inner-queer-community bullying. It’s not that my friends in other places are behind the times, because they are not ignorant, but the overall outlooks are just so different here. Some friends explain that they see the articles their state-sides friends post and they read them because they want to be educated on the issues they are struggling with, and some are just disconnected altogether. Right now, I am a bit glad to be disconnected from the huge struggles happening stateside from whatever the hell is going on with RuPaul and Heklina and just about every other legend in the gay community, the people that paved the way for everyone today (does nobody but me remember watching RuPaul, a DRAG QUEEN, on VH1 when they were like six years old??). Tensions are so high right now and I’ve stayed out of the battle because there is too much fuel on the fire, there is no longer any right or wrong, everything can be proven wrong by somebody behind a computer somewhere, and it is seemingly more and more futile.

Now, we key back to the Arcade Fire video. The internet has taught me how to ignore people quite well because of its completely deplorable contributors, and when I scanned briefly below the video (of which has already received millions of views) I could see that the YouTube comments were going to be heavy. Very very heavy, but I thought this was good because part of the largely popular machine was using it’s visibility to bring an issue out to the greater population, which if you know anything as a homosexual/queer/LGBTQ/etc individual you know that the majority is ignorant and uneducated to our struggles, and our voices are rarely as strong as others. It is our job to educate people outside of our own community if a greater feeling of acceptance is what we seek, which is contrary to the current state of affairs of inner-community bullying. 

I decided I wanted to not only feature these videos, but ask David more about his creative process. However, now is where shit got real for me. The backlash from our community came to the forefront. [EDITED] I was sent this article by from PQ monthly by Leela Ginelle that unfortunately sparked more fires inside me than was ever intended, but was a culmination of so many fights and arguments happening as of late and having tried to stay neutral and away from them [EDITED]. While I will agree with the point in this article that it can be tiring when you are a part of the LGBTQ community to see violence, harassment, or AIDS in visual and other written narratives, the reason they are there is because they are real issues.

So this is where I step into the ring, not with my fists up, but with using my recent knowledge and connection to/of David, I went to the source and interviewed David and now I was coming at him with a different angle because of what I had read recently. Particularly since David told me he had free reign on the Hercules video, I wanted to know more about his creative control on the Arcade Fire video, and to see if I could defeat the asshole-white-male-straight-cis-privilege of Arcade Fire argument.

Nark: What is the most important message you were seeking to convey in the Hercules video?

David Wilson: The seed of the concept sprung the lyrical content of the song itself. John Grant came out publicly as being HIV+ when he performed this song for the first time with Hercules and Love Affair at London’s Meltdown festival in 2012. He sings about how he was never being able to reach out and talk to the man that infected him. There’s a huge deal of isolation in there.

The HIV diagnosis is a big, heavy topic, and I wanted as a film maker for this piece to work on that level, but also I wanted to pour my experience of emptiness that often (but not always) occurs from online or chance hookups. I felt it was important that the viewer could take something more universal away from the piece without prior knowledge of the background to the song. I think with the rise of Tindr in the straight community as well as Grindr that’s well established in the gay world, this is there's something that a lot of sexually active people are experiencing at the moment, and is part of modern life for a lot of people. I wanted to cast no judgement, but instead make a piece that relates to how an online hookup or chance meeting can sometimes be due to loneliness or the need to be held, and the moment of connection being beautiful, and then the parting sometimes leaves that feeling of emptiness. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that.

 

Nark: I feel like a running theme in gay culture is that it is so difficult to just be yourself: physically, emotionally, culturally and also in terms of gender, does this play a role in the storyline of your videos? 

DW: First up, Hercules and Love Affair and Arcade Fire are the first two films that speak directly to the LGBT community, my work has been extremely broad, and I take pride in that. From sexual fantasy in Tame Impala’s ‘Mind Mischief', (which actually works in a similar construct to Arcade Fire; the second half being a dream sequence, but this time, animated), to David Guetta’s ‘Titanium’ where I drew from the experience of bullying at school. A lot of my work is also based around what music does to my mind; the images it creates, the dynamics and the flow, resulting in psychedelic animated experiments such as Japanese Popstars 'Let Go’, Arctic Monkeys ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ or Moray McLaren ‘We Got Time’.

I don’t feel Hercules and Love Affair touches on that mis-placement in society at all; it’s more self-reflection on our lead-character’s relationships, so Arcade Fire is the only piece I’ve done that really tackles the struggle; but what makes me sad is that, from some responses, this struggle seems to be eclipsing the second half of the piece; the liberation and acceptance.

Everyone in the community has had their hard times, but what I love about being part of the LGBT community is that a huge strength comes from acceptance and the building of a new family. Going through something as heavy as coming out (whether that be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning) blows your world apart. The beauty is that, from that after the fall-out, starting a-fresh means that you are then able to reform your reality into everything you could ever want it to be, you question everything, and form a new way of being. If it feels wrong, there’s no reason it should be that way; and you change it. As a result, the community that I know and love is beautiful.

 

 

Nark: We all know that the single worst place on the internet is the pit of despair known as ‘youtube comments’ and We Exist is certainly creating some kind of “discussion”, was that the intention and is it happening in the way you predicted?

DW: With entering into the ‘We Exist’, I knew there would be a discussion around gender identity. I felt it was essential to put the line 'Our film follows the story of a young person's struggle with gender identity’ under the YouTube video. I feel, if it were possible for everyone to sit in a room and discuss together there would, obviously, be a lot more understanding. Platforms, especially Twitter, have the biggest reach and loudest voice, but when we’re talking about a subject matter that has such a huge spectrum, having 140 characters to debate a topic means that every sentence can become a barbed statement.

Before I dive into that I want to say in regards to some of the more negative comments surround the video, I want to state that I've been overwhelmed with messages of support and love, from a lot of people that I admire within the trans community, but also from people who have really connected to the message. Getting those messages of support and love have meant the world, and I feel that a lot of people are getting the love put into this project and drawing the emotion from the piece that was always intended.

In fact, the majority of feedback that leans towards the negative have been questions and discussions, and that’s only healthy and right, and that’s what I want to dive into now.

A lot of the discussion has been around casting Andrew rather than a trans gender person in the lead roll. The narrative was always intended as Sandy (Andrew’s character) struggling with what he feels inside. He could be at the very early stages of identifying as being trans, or he’s just trying to connect with what makes him feel himself. I certainly didn’t want Sandy to be portrayed as someone that was confident and sure about their gender identity, or even sexual orientation, and asking Andrew to go to a place where he had to question and struggle with his masculinity and femininity created a hugely powerful performance; the uncertainty and insecurity and vulnerability was all there because he was experiencing it for the first time. I 100% stand by my decision to have cast Andrew Garfield in the roll, He gave an incredible performance. Throughout the whole process I would constantly switch between referring to Sandy as ‘he’ or ‘she’, because the character is never sure about his identity through out the whole piece. Sandy’s story deals with the uprooting, the questioning of the black-and-white, girl-and-boy world; as this world is all that Sandy knows.

I like to create my videos with an artistic sensibility, rather than pure storytelling; I want to draw from the music with colour and feeling. There’s a trend at the moment to make music videos short films. This was not a short film. This was a music video. I chose to paint with a broad brush-stroke. I wanted the piece to reach people. There should be life and celebration, as well as emotional reality.

I hope, in the future, this video will be seen as Sandy’s story. I never wanted to represent a whole community with Sandy’s role.

The ‘We Exist’ statement was always intended as ‘we’ meaning the better place; an accepting community. I wanted to link the narrative to drawing strength from listening to music. I’m sure everyone can connect to drawing strength from powerful music. For me, listening to bands such as Nirvana made me feel better. It made me feel like I wasn’t crazy. That everything that was happening to me; the inner pain and angst and the misplacement with where I was geographically and socially wasn’t just me, I wasn’t alone; and making journeys to go to concerts made me feel warm and connected on such a spiritual level. I wanted this song to be where Sandy drew strength. 

That’s why the dancing men and the crowd is so important. There’s strength in numbers, and I wanted to say that whatever people are going through, there is a community that supports them. In Arcade Fire’s song, the ‘We’ is sung from the perspective of a gay kid talking to their father. I never intended for Win’s lyrics to be interpreted as Sandy’s voice; and I wanted that to be made clear by the ending. It was essential that we see the band playing this song. It’s the music that gives Sandy the strength to hold his head up and take a bold step.

What I feel has resulted in the most amount of discussion has been the headlines around this film: “Andrew Garfield as Transgender”, “Andrew Garfield in Drag”, these two statements mean two very different things. That upset me. To me, it felt that already, from the outset, there’s the impression of the piece being an unresearched, sloppy piece of work, and I hate that. 

What warms my heart on YouTube is that there are threads under the video that are long and thorough. People are writing essays, not single sentences. There’s a passion there, and people are talking, reading and listening.

What upsets me is that there are a huge number of people leaving remarks, calling the video disgusting and disturbing, in regards to Sandy falls on a spectrum outside the norm.

The top comment on YouTube is currently:

America can keep shoving this trash down the rest of the world's throats but everyone knows it, the jig is up. They're finished as a society and this self-pitying gender bending won't save it.

… the line ‘self-pitying gender bending’ turns my stomach.

I feel like there are two plains of discussion here: one is the misinterpretation of Sandy being a representative of the trans community. His role was never intended that way. The other being the hatred and disgust felt by so many people towards anyone that falls anywhere on the spectrum of gender identity or sexual identity. 

I’m glad people are talking, but I think I’d also hugely underestimated how big-an-impact a music video can have.

It’s ultimately healthy for people to be talking and discussing.

Thank you David, honestly your words are as powerful as your images.

 

David Wilson is an openly gay film maker and artist, predominately working in the medium of music. Six years in his career has left him a nomadic director traveling between his origins in London working with a company called Colonel Blimp and his new home in Los Angeles and career with The Directors Bureau. His background is in animation, having studied at the University of Brighton but remaining a self-taught director, he is now engaging in writing and directing live action work.

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