Choreography: "Planets"

Musician Emily Haines multiplies herself in the music video for “Planets,” directed by Justin Broadbent. Perceived as one “continuous” shot, the rigid architecture of the space frames an evolving narrative that reflects on the role of chance, choice, and change in our lives.

As Art Director of Emily Haines + the Soft Skeleton’s album Choir of the Mind, Broadbent curated the visual artwork and music videos for the album’s four singles. His work on the project explores themes of feminism, fame, false idolization, and rebellion through different characterizations of Haines. Broadbent expands on the contemplative lyrics of “Planets,” with multiple versions of Haines echoing the “multiple dimensions of one’s internal monologue.” A raw and clinical background provides a stark contrast to her blue dress and bright orange hoodie.

Plan Diagram of Entry/Exit points, turns, and stops relative to the grid over the course of the Music Video.

Plan Diagram of Entry/Exit points, turns, and stops relative to the grid over the course of the Music Video.

“Planets” consists of seven versions of Haines entering and exiting a fixed frame. Broadbent notes that the video was filmed serendipitously; the simple structure and staging of the video involved minimal guidance, intervention, or scripting. Broadbent’s simple instructions—enter the frame, cross the center of the frame, turn five or six times, and exit the opposite side—yielded a complex field of paths and processions. Haines intuitively responds to the architecture of the space: she guides her movements by reacting to the gridded tile floor, her proximity to the room’s walls, and her relation to the camera.

Broadbent’s graphic design interests influence his organization of the video, exploring how things overlap and come together through spatial formations. His improvisational filming was organized in the editing process: he curated the processions so that “Haines did not intersect with herself,” never wanting “more than two images of Haines on screen at the same time.” She enters and exits the frame “faster than humanly possible.” The resulting seven versions of Haines do not respond to each other—they float and orbit across the frame in a meditative, isolated manner.

Frequency and overlap of the steps taken, Entry/Exit points, and the baseball bat as it is dragged across the grid.

The layered structure of Broadbent’s video is hierarchical, growing in complexity as time passes. The viewer’s anticipation similarly grows when two versions of Haines appear at once, when she pauses at the wall, and when she nearly crashes into another version of herself. Haines passively drags a black baseball bat throughout the video, implying, as Broadbent says, "a nonchalant potential to use force." Overall, her movements are inconclusive, with no clear climax or resolution. Starting and ending in the same location, the video could be viewed as an infinite loop, reflective of each of our own meditations and inner monologues.

Screen Captures of the same path stopping/turning points at various points of the Music Video.

Screen Captures of the same path stopping/turning points at various points of the Music Video.

Whether by chance or by choice, there is an organization of patterns and repetition to Haines’ paths and stopping points. Mapping each path illustrates that there are two pairs of repeated paths, with five stops and turns on the same location of the grid. In one case, Broadbent used the same shot twice; in the other, Broadbent chose two similar shots. Overlayed together, Broadbent establishes an undercurrent of orbits and seasonality, much as the song’s lyrics allude to how a person grapples with the cosmic and cyclical way people enter and exit our lives. These moments of intersection and overlap reveal our conscious and subconscious tendencies—in Haines’ choice of routes, Broadbent’s choice of edits, and our awareness of the choices we make as we experience change.

Each procession is isolated and notated to indicate duration, change in direction, and Entry/Exit relative to other paths.

More drawings inspired by “Planets” can be found below. Gabriela O’Connor is a designer in Boston. Justin Broadbent (Keith Dungeon) is an artist in Toronto, Canada. Choir of the Mind by Emily Haines + The Soft Skeleton is out September 15th, 2017.

Haunting House: A Ghost Story’s Rumination on Home

In an exclusive interview with Interiors, Contributing Writer, Willa Granger, spoke with Director, David Lowery and Production Designer, Jade Healy of A Ghost Story (2017). Photos are courtesy of Jade Healy, Andrew Droz Palermo and Bret Curry.

With every ghost comes the house it haunts—and David Lowery's recent film, A Ghost Story (2017), starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, has everything to do with the suburban ranch house that the couple inhabits. "When I was little and we used to move all the time," Mara's character "M" recalls, "I'd write these notes, and I would fold them up really small, and I would hide them." These were "things I wanted to remember, so that if I ever wanted to go back there'd be a piece of me waiting." M's childhood gesture captures the feeling we all have about the places we have lived, or are living: that the structure itself becomes a receptacle for remembrance. Philosopher Gaston Bachelard, whose 1957 book The Poetics of Space examined the phenomenology of intimate places, described the house as "an instrument with which to confront the cosmos." In many ways, A Ghost Story cinematically captures many of Bachelard's ideas, including his concept of topoanalysis: “the systematic psychological study of the sites of our intimate lives."[1] Particularly for "C," Affleck's character, his humble home reflects his cosmos, a fact that is literally underscored through Lowery's introductory shots of the starry night sky. “Ghosts are almost always confined to spaces,” the director reflects. “Ghosts have an inherent nostalgic quality, and our own sense of nostalgia often has to do with very specific places.” It is our subconscious, Lowery observes, that likely benefits from bounding those ghosts within four walls.

These notions—of attachment, memory, and home—are old hat for architectural historians. As early as 1849 John Ruskin described architecture as a "strong [conqueror] of the forgetfulness of men" for "we cannot remember without her." A forerunner of the modern preservationist, Ruskin recognized the home as having "all the record it bare of [men], and all of material things that they had loved and ruled over, and set the stamp of themselves upon."[2] Both the physical and mental space of "home" registers our own memories, but also those that have come before us: quite literally, the material "ghosts" of others, such as M's notes, hidden in nooks and crannies. "Ghosts are ubiquitous in the places in which we live," writes sociologist Michael Mayerfeld Bell, "and they give a life to those places."[3]

Whether consciously or not, we apprehend these ties to home. When C is asked why he loves his house so much, he simply responds: "history." It is unclear whether he means his own history, or that of others, but A Ghost Story, which jumps forwards and backwards in time through multiple inhabitants of this home, seems to suggest both, and the suburban house becomes a medium for those histories. According to the film's Production Designer, Jade Healy, that's exactly what Lowery and his team were looking for. "The main parameter was to find an old house that had a sense of history," Healy reflected, "A house that had seen many lives before and after C & M." Director Lowery notes how, “All my feature films to date have revolved around the concept of home.” True to trend, and especially for a “haunted house movie,” Lowery knew from the start that A Ghost Story would “be a mainline to whatever sort of thematic obsession I [had] with domestic environments.”

Much of A Ghost Story takes place within and around the young couple's house, which, significantly,  is not a manicured McMansion, but a firmly middle-class, semi-rural, mid-century tract home. The building is single-story, and its features are all too familiar, from its picture window to the paint peeling off its wood siding.  You can almost imagine the olive-green station wagon that once parked underneath the carport, or the Ambrosia salad whipped up in the dark walnut kitchen. We've all seen this house, either on small-town backroads or at the fringe of cities. The banality of the form matches the comically-classic image of C's white-sheeted ghost after his car accident. Yet the ubiquity—of both house and ghost—becomes a vessel, a blank slate able to support the memories of multiple people.

According to Healy, the production team initially found the house in "a state of disrepair," and it had to be rehabbed into something more "livable." Carpeting was removed to reveal the original hardwood floors, and the entire kitchen was built out; the ceilings were replaced, and in one instance Tom Walker, the co-Production Designer, meticulously re-glued torn-out tiling. For Healy, decorating the house meant not only channeling the tastes of M and C, but also coloring it with a hint of the "imperfect." After all, M longs to leave the space. For the scenic decisions that Lowery did not make are telling. M and C are not living in a cute bungalow, or a sleek condo—though M fantasizes for both, and at one point early in the film she cruises through real estate listings online—but rather a plain, homely place. So often the ghost trope is paired with a creepy, creaky Victorian mansion; not so in A Ghost Story.  "The house needed to feel very lived in, some peeling paint, walls that had been painted over and over again," Healy said. "Basically the house needed to have character, layers that had been built up throughout time."

Their house is not only the site of their love but also, and increasingly, the site of tension. M wants to go, C wants to stay—a rift hinted at from the movie's start, when we see M asking about movers and lugging an antique chest to the road. "The house shelters daydreaming," Bachelard writes, "the house protects the dreamer," and the viewer immediately recognizes C's inability to relinquish his space of daydreaming.[4] But after C's abrupt death, he paradoxically gets his wish by literally haunting the house, watching over his partner, her grief, her growth, and ultimately her departure. Before leaving, M writes a note, presumably to her husband, and forces it into a crack in the wall. Both C and the note haunt the house, the former patiently scratching at the wall to retrieve it. The note becomes the silent center at the heart of the film, the thing that will ultimately absolve C from his hauntings. As time progresses, C stays: terrorizing the small family that comes after his wife, observing a party of young people, and finally: the demolition of the house itself. Architectural historians have often explored the physic, communal, and symbolic impact of changes to the built environment, a question brought into sharp contrast through tragedies such as 9/11. "What happens when we leave that place, or that place no longer exists," Architectural Historian Shelley Hornstein asks. "What happens to the memory of an event if the site where that memory was recorded or is demolished, or we only know it through movies or photographs or the story someone recounted to us about it?"[5] A Ghost Story inverts this thinking by giving us the lens of Affleck's ghost to see how the site itself changes through never leaving, though his connections to the place—his love, his partner—disappear. It is the privileged yet painful perspective of the ghost to see how others memory-make within one's own space.

But even these changes will not stop C's haunting as he lives through the demolition of his home. This scene was so critical in fact that the production team sought out houses with the help of a demolition company. The violence of demolition gives way to new construction, and C floats through the growing high-rise atop his former home’s footprint. This new building swiftly emerges, culminating eventually in a vast, dystopian landscape of dark skyscrapers and neon lights. The film unfolds a spatial spectrum, from rural to urban (and back again), drawn from “what I see around me, living in Dallas,” according to Lowery, a phenomenon that he imagines is “similar all over the world.” Texas, where the film was shot, becomes a particularly acute example of this narrative according to Lowery: “Rural Texas has a very unique and striking aesthetic, and it's interesting to see modern architectural trends manifesting themselves in this landscape.” Such a narrative seems to nullify the house-as-object entirely, suggesting that our personal histories endure beyond this, and further explains the resilience of place and memory even in absentia. "Past, present and future give the house different dynamisms, which often interfere," Bachelard writes, "at times opposing, at others, stimulating one another."[6] Lowery suggests this same alloy, as time suddenly loops backwards to the settlers who first inhabited the site, including a little girl who, like M, slips a note under a rock. It's clear that the concept of "home" has sheltered Lowery's own daydreaming, to return to Bachelard's concept, and A Ghost Story offers a visual and poetic rumination on the intangible and abstract connections that we all make to intimate spaces.

Willa Granger is pursuing a Ph.D. in Architectural History at the University of Texas at Austin. If you would like to submit an article that looks at Architecture and Film, please email us at contact@INTJournal.com.

[1] Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994 edition), 46, 8.
[2] John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture (London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1849), 164-165.
[3] Michael Mayerfeld Bell, “The Ghosts of Place,” in Theory and Society 26, no. 6 (Dec. 1997): 815.
[4] Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 6.
[5] Shelley Hornstein, Losing Site: Architecture, Memory, and Place (Ashgate Studies in Architecture Series, 2011), 2.
[6] Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 6.

The Architecture of Dunkirk: Land, Sea, and Air

We’ve previously made our arguments for why we think Christopher Nolan is one of the most architectural directors of our time. In his career, he has shown an inherent interest in architecture as a whole (from his portrait of Chicago as Gotham to the works of M.C. Escher playing a major role in Inception).

The past few films have seen him go bigger, bigger, bigger; and while his previous film, Interstellar (2014), was set in space, he comes back down to Earth (quite literally), in his latest effort, Dunkirk (2017), wherein he deals with the notion of cinematic space in new ways.

Dunkirk is broken down into three parts: land, sea, and air. The film’s narrative takes us back and forth through these three “spaces,” all of which revolve around the World War II Dunkirk evacuation.

We open on the backs of several British soldiers on the streets of Dunkirk, as they come under fire from unseen German forces. We follow one young British private in particular, Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), as he’s chased off the streets and onto the beaches of Dunkirk. Christopher Nolan plays with off-screen space here, never showing us the enemy, and suggesting that the threat can be much more fearful if you never actual see it, much like the shark in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975).

Dunkirk is a race against time (rescuing the stranded soldiers), as Christopher Nolan cuts between land, see, and air, playing with the concept of time.

Land

Dunkirk was shot on location on the beaches and harbor of Dunkirk, in the north of France. The first part of the narrative concerns itself with soldiers stranded in Dunkirk, who attempt to make their way off the land. In this sense, this portion of the film deals with escaping the space.

Sea

Sea.png

The second portion of the film deals with the sea, and while the Royal Navy prevents private boats from participating in the evacuation, Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) navigates his civilian ship (Moonstone) without permission from Ramsgate in England, with his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and George (Barry Keoghan). This small 43-foot long motor yacht, built in the 1930s, becomes a primary setting for the film, as the narrative makes use of every corner of the ship. In terms of space, it’s interesting to see that Mr. Dawson uses the Moonstone to rescue sixty soldiers, while the ship was originally designed for fewer than ten passengers.

Air

Air.png

We also follow the narrative into the sky, focusing on Farrier (Tom Hardy), a Royal Air Force pilot that mans a Supermarine Spitfire. The production outfitted a Soviet-era Yakovlev Yak-52, which was roughly the same size and shape of a Spitfire. Christopher Nolan once again uses space in noteworthy ways. The original plane had two cockpits, which meant that the production could film in-flight. The crew designed lens mounts and filmed in the sky with the actor, resulting in a much more believable look.

Choreography: "Cry Me a River"

Justin Timberlake’s classic 2002 kiss-off “Cry Me A River” cemented his solo career by telling the tale of a tortured man reeling through heartbreak. Fifteen years later, choreographer Andrew Winghart created a stunning tribute in a Los Angeles warehouse, featuring a heart-broken narrator engulfed by a ‘river’ of 36 dancers.

The choreography in Winghart’s tribute, much like his choreography for the Oscars performance of the Moana song “How Far I’ll Go”, uses large scale formations and the fluidity of fabric to create an evocative and emotional atmosphere.

For the first 30 seconds, Winghart’s narrator is alone in a grand warehouse—his loneliness and powerlessness emphasized by the large empty space around him. After this initial contemplation, the dancers engulf him, the river running past him. At times, they ripple and echo his movements with stylistic syncopations, acting like the irregularities of memory. At other times, the narrator thrashes and combats the river as he is consumed by the anger and desperation of his grief. Eventually, the narrator grows strong and comfortable in his confidence, buoyed by the support of the river.

A plan view of the performance as understood in five second increments

A plan view of the performance as understood in five second increments

Through breaking the piece into five-second increments, we can better understand the major and minor changes in sequence. The narrator has a limited path of movement, whereas the other dancers’ paths are constantly evolving and changing. Winghart refers to some of these “significant direction changes” of the dancers as one of “the most visually effective” aspects of his work. It is particularly powerful because the choreography is driven by and captured through a cinematic medium, rather than a live performance. While some of the spatial changes between sequences seem relatively minor, the use of video as medium helps to reveal their intricacies.

In these instances, the crowd of dancers execute simple choreographed moves at regular intervals, resulting in a mesmerizing fluidity that amplifies their effect. This is evident when the dancers are lined behind the narrator at 0:45, with each movement cascading down the river. As Winghart explains, “any change in direction multiplied by twelve rows creates an overwhelming and elegant effect.”

The dresses—originally designed for liturgical dancing—employ the fluidity of the fabric to soften the otherwise sharp and linear choreographed movements. While the narrator’s tight clothing stresses the constraints of his sorrow, the other dancers move freely in flowing dresses. “I have always been drawn to how long skirts echo the movement of dance,” Winghart notes, adding that “a lot of the movement in the piece was designed to emphasize the organic movement and weight of the dresses to add a kind of feminine strength.” At 1:30 the dancers jump in unison, and the behavior of the dresses creates the visual impact. Though the jump itself is quite static, the dresses’ reactions become an unpredictable and unique element that gracefully serves the piece.

A plan view of dress behaviors mapped at 1:30

Additionally, syncopations and rhythmic irregularities highlight movement by using simple motions “to create a nice effect without unnecessary distraction.” The buoyant step-touch during the pyramid’s forward movement at 2:40 becomes complex through the unevenness of the rhythm tied to the downbeat. Following in an almost liturgical approach, Winghart notes that the pyramid sequencing is derivative of “the step-touch of gospel singers.” These syncopations gain further power as they move through the 36 dresses—the river of dancers rolling and flowing behind a narrator who confidently floats atop.

More drawings inspired by the piece can be found below. Andrew Winghart is an LA based choreographer known for his unique and high energy compositions and intricately crafted staging patterns. Gabriela O’Connor is an architectural designer based in Boston. Her work continuously navigates between the architectural and ephemeral.

Music Video: Oxford Comma by Vampire Weekend

It's 2017 and we have come a long way from the boom of music videos on MTV to the not so new Digital Era. Nowadays, it is all about Online Streaming, Facebook Live and Online Music Services. We even have “Lyric Videos” for popular songs, which makes you wonder if artists are even trying anymore. Fortunately, there are some artists that still do. 

Vampire Weekend was one of the first Indie Bands that appeared in 2006. Their simple approach to music and easy going style made them popular among crowds, but it was the details of their music and image as a band that made them complex and interesting. 

Specifically, their cultural impact and the people they have collaborated with for music videos have been one of their strongest assets. Richard Ayoade is a Director that has worked on music videos for many iconic bands, such as the Arctic Monkeys, Last Shadow Puppets, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Kasabian and Vampire Weekend. He has also extended his work to the cult-classic film, Submarine (2010).

"Oxford Comma" by Vampire Weekend was released in 2008 as the third single for their debut album. The music video, which was directed by Richard Ayoade, consists of one long take, a characteristic Ayoade uses in many of his pieces. In this particular music video, we see two stories developing; the band is performing the song in the forefront and the narrative is in the background. This concept is very different from how most music videos put the song in the background with the story as the focus.

The narrative escalates in the form of Chapters. In Chapter One, we see the band arriving in a car, getting out and performing. While most of the video focuses on the performance of singer, Ezra Koenig, we are able to see the other band members interact throughout the video. An example of this is the end of Chapter Two when the band comes together to perform part of the song. 

Oxford Comma (2008)

As the video continues, the story keeps developing. In the background, we see different scenarios; a group of other guitarists and a shooting sequence, until the end, when the band meets again and leaves together in the same car they arrived in, followed by a group of fans.

It is important to notice some specific points in the video. Integration, for instance, happens at different points of the video, where both stories collide and create a unique moment; these moments are the “mini-cores” of the story, making it impossible to deny either one.

In the following diagram, the complete route of the Music Video is shown and the Chapters are shown as an abstract way to understand what is really going on through the entire sequence. Space plays an important role in the development of each scene and the one continuous shot throughout the video.