Two Music Videos Champion Performance Art In Rob Wisniewski’s Conceptual Filmmaking
In his latest music video, The Clown, Thor Rixon is beaten up by a gang robed in swathes of red cloth. At certain breaks in the track, these torturers become his back up dancers before the pushing and punching begins again and at the end he is buried alive. Before all of this a disclaimer warns that the violence you are about to see is all real. Throughout the video the hyper real becomes somewhat surreal, aided by an overly saturated yellow landscape and Thor’s skin-suit.
The filmmaker behind this chain of events is Rob Wisniewski, who also worked on Thor’s previous music video, Fuk Bread, together with David East. Fuk Bread features Thor in the same suit demonstrating the same dedication to pain as he is tattooed on the back of his head, on camera. Both videos are also shot as one continuous take.
Intrigued by his approach to filmmaking, and what else he is up to, we asked Rob some questions.
What are you interested in making films about?
Films about people, ideas…
I’m not out to make bold statements on anything – rather more personal films that people can feel a certain way about, or relate to in any way.
How would you describe your style of filmmaking?
The work I do is quite varied, but my personal work leans more towards an abstract style. It’s focused on trying to create a mood or feeling, as opposed to explicit narratives. So I naturally lean towards a surreal style because of this. But I wouldn’t be able to pin it down. I’d just like to make work which isn’t pretentious or boring.
Are the videos for Fuk Bread and The Clown good indicators of your film style? If so, how?
In some ways they are. I’m really into performance art and projects which weigh heavier on the conceptual side rather than the narrative. But these were very much a collaboration with Thor. Aesthetically, I’m into very clean and controlled images – I really enjoy meticulous studio work.
What were the reasons for shooting both in one continuous take? Does a lot of rehearsal go into it shooting this way?
[The reason was] mainly because of the performance-art aspect of it. Cutting it up would break that tension or take you out of the moment. For both shoots, time wasn’t on our side but we worked out the best route and rehearsed a couple of times over to get the movement right. It’s important to anticipate where the action is going and how to be involved in the action without getting in the way or lagging behind. Rehearsals were of course very important for that. But when it comes time for the shot, you only have one go at it, so it’s really about being comfortable enough to just go with whatever happens.
What were some of the visual inspirations and cues behind The Clown? And your work in general?
Colour is something we kinda played around with, but we didn’t have specific references in mind. It was a very organic approach and we worked with what we had around and input from everyone involved.
Generally, Roy Andersson’s films are a big inspiration. And some photographers like Ryan McGinley, and studio photographers like Aaron Tilley. But I’m more influenced by other things like painting, performance art, and especially music.
What techniques did you use to raise the suspense in the video for The Clown?
The movement and pacing are a big part of the tension. We also used some crash zooms to work with the dynamic of the video, which added a disorienting effect. We also changed the greenery to a pungent yellow in order to put the piece in its own bizarre kind of world: a sort of over-heightened reality.
There’s a dedication to authenticity in both videos – in Fuk Bread Thor gets a tattoo on camera and in The Clown he gets beaten up – does this come from the artist or from you?
Performance pieces are very much a part of Thor’s art – it’s really a discussion of how far he’s willing to take it, and that comes down to him. I think that we both have an admiration for performance art which we prioritise in our thinking when working on these projects. We have it in our minds that we’re filming a performance piece and the discussion is how far he wants to push it.
Fear is at play in The Clown video, especially at the end where Thor gets buried alive.
Yeah, the burying bit was definitely nerve tingling. We had precautions in place and Thor practiced well, so we felt relatively confident about it. Thor and I had a couple of discussions on how far we wanted this to go. He was dedicated to it and he’s also a tough cat so the threshold was set pretty high.
What are you currently working on?
I have a couple of shoots which I work on as a cinematographer or gaffer. But most notably: a range of collaborative projects – short films, short documentary pieces and a backlog of ambitious personal projects which I’m waiting to work on sometime in the near future.
Interview by Alix-Rose Cowie.