A disintegrating relationship, intense performances and some surprising Easter Eggs make for a dark modern fable
Following on from the eerie horror of Ringan Ledwidge’s Massive Attack video ‘Voodoo in My Blood’, fellow Rattling Stick director Ed Morris has written and directed a foreboding promo for the band. The film for ‘Come Near Me’, a track featuring Ghostpoet, explores the isolation and irresistible downward pull of a broken relationship. Central to the video is the seething chemistry between the lead performers, Kosovar actress Arta Dobroshi and British actor Jonathan Aris.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with director Ed Morris to explore the film’s influences and meaning and delve into the craft behind it.
LBB> What did you make of the track when you first heard it? Was there anything about it that particularly resonated with you
EM> You should never do a promo unless you really like the track, I really liked the track. The first thing I thought was that the track was filmic. It had a very singular, immediate and arresting tone and personality. And the subject matter was compelling and rich.
LBB> What was your way into the story and the treatment? In the early stages, were you led more by that core emotional idea or the visuals?
EM> I wrote quite a bit until I got on to an impasse, a dispute, and emotional stand off. Then I tried to visualise that.
LBB> The decision to include those outside observers – the woman in the car, the boys on the bike – who break in, over the track was a really powerful moment for me because it highlighted how isolating bad relationships can be and how frustrating it is to outside observers/friends. Maybe I’m projecting… but I was wondering what you were hoping to get at with these moments?
EM> You are right, they are there to do that. They are the normal everyday contrast to the veiled madness and isolated intensity of the relationship breakdown. They also work practically to fuck with the narrative here and there and drive it a bit.
LBB> There’s a bit of an Easter Egg in the promo, when Unfinished Sympathy starts blaring out of a passing car. When did you come up with that? Was it in the treatment or was it an off-the-cuff experiment? What did the band make of it? And what do you think it brings?
EM> At first it was two coppers. I wanted D and G to play the police but they couldn’t, so I came up with two of the girl’s mates on their way out.
I’ve been circling the idea of introducing another second track in to a promo for a while. You know, you pull these things out the hat when you need them. I have a hat under the table.
LBB> What were you looking for in the two lead actors? They have a pretty intense chemistry and it’s that tension between them that supports the whole film – how did you work with them to capture that?
EM> I was looking for two people who could transmit everything without doing anything. I did an intense sort of mini workshop with them in a hotel room before we went out. I filmed it on my iPhone, and reviewed it with them. They got it immediately, they loved it.
LBB> It’s not the first time you’ve worked with the Massive Attack crew – there’s your short for Robert del Naja’s Battle Box. Did that create a more trusting environment for the project? If so, what sort of impact did it have on the whole process of bringing the film to life?
EM> Yeah, there is trust. That helps of course but you can’t rest on that. D and G and Marc their manager are all about as sharp as it gets and you can’t second guess any of them. If anything, there is an expectation from them; you have to honour that.
LBB> Where did you shoot it and what were the most challenging elements of the actual shoot?
EM> We shot in Southwick, near Hove. It’s a semi industrial and interesting little seaside town. It has some interesting landmarks. I drove down there one Sunday after I’d written the script and it just had this incredible sense of place to it. Everything became crystal clear then.
On the actual shoot, I had an amazing team around me. I couldn’t have asked for better so it really was a smooth and fairly easy process. The challenge is always time I suppose, and the limit of my own intelligence - that fucking close ring fence I keep hurtling in to.
LBB> That shot on the motorway gave me a wee jump! Was that a particularly tricky stunt?
EM> Yeah, we had to go out there and rehearse the timings and do the traffic control, that kind of stuff. You know, make sure it could cut right etc. The Council are pretty jumpy about all that.
LBB> While the action of the video is quite simple, it layers up these really complex emotions and the timeline jumps back and forth… the edit is really key. How did you approach the edit and who did you work with on it? What did they bring to it?
My editor Flaura [Atkinson at The Quarry] is, I think, one of the best editors in the world, certainly when it comes to anything musical. We worked backwards. I knew the pace must come from the last scene. I asked her to string it out as much as possible, make it almost unbearably drawn out. We found the film that way; it’s rhythm and atmosphere. Then we built it scene by scene.
It wasn’t easy because so much depended on sound and remixing the track, the stems. The film dismantles the track and the narrative. After, Scott, a great sound guy I like to work with, got stuck in. We batted it back and forth a bit between edit and sound, just crafting really.
LBB> The grade too is beautiful – especially that rich deep blue at the very end... Who did you work with on that? And what sort of influences and ideas did you have for the colour?
EM> Well Franz Lustig, the DOP, graded stills from the shoot at my place while we drank sloe gin chatted late after the shoot. He’s born the same year as me, we discovered.
I also take film stills when I shoot and use those to inform the final grade. Then of course we take all that to Seamus O’Kane at the mill and he just makes it better from there. The Mill really took care of some magic on this. The magic Mill.
LBB> At the end of the video, I couldn’t help draw comparisons with folk tales and dark fairy tales – the siren, the Little Mermaid melting into the sea, even the Scottish selkie… Was that something that influenced that end scene? Are these stories something that interests you? Or am I projecting again?
EM> No, you are right, I’m pleased you picked that up. Yes, all forms of story interest me. Yes, it is like a little fable.
She is luring him really, it’s her will, her dogged defiance that he ends up the victim of. She is the victor, the strength.
There’s a play by Georg Buchner called Woyzeck. It’s a favourite of mine; the final scene ends with this sad character who has killed his partner and his partner’s lover. He’s standing by a lake. He throws the murder weapon, a bloody knife out in to the lake. His paranoia fuelled by his guilt grips him and he wades out to reach down and retrieve the knife to throw it yet further. He finds it and throws it deeper again. Ever more paranoid and desperate to cover his blame, he repeats this several times until he drowns and never comes back.
I’ve only ever read it as a play but I’ve imagined that scene again and again. It’s a hypnotically devastating end to a terrible story.
The last scene was influenced by that. Water, submergence, complete disappearance. Water, the sea is like a kind of earthly physical heaven or other world. It is at once beautiful, sensual and indiscriminate, violent. Like sex.