“The original concept was that the music video would become almost like an art film. Something powerful, dramatic and theatrical, drawing on my research into psychoanalytical theories revolving around the origins of desire, sexuality and power. Exploring gender roles, the uncanny, the macabre, and Freudian theories of death and sex.” Laura Clarke, Director
In the music video for Strangefruit‘s “Sea of Fog”, husband-wife duo Laura Clarke and Matthew Oaten weave together visual cues from David Lynch, Lars Von Trier, and Mikhail Bahktin, as well as incorporating themes of sexuality and visceral natures. The result is a morbid, eye-catching and initially misleading feast of fools. We spoke with both the video artists and the band below, on the process of shooting the music video, as well as its deeper philosophical context.
“Ghosts” and “Tell Me” come from Strangefruit’s debut EP, Between The Earth and Sea, which is out now. “Tell Me” was recorded and produced at Abbey Road with Greg Wells (Adele/Rufus Wainwright/Pharrell Williams/Katy Perry), and “Ghosts” was produced by (The Killers, Goldfrapp, White Lies). Stream both tracks below.
[audio:/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Strangefruit-Ghosts.mp3|titles=Strangefruit — Ghosts]
[audio:/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Strangefruit-Tell-Me-Abby-Road.mp3|titles=Strangefruit — Tell Me (Abbey Road Version)]
Laura Clarke (Director) &
Matthew Oaten (DoP)
Laura Clarke: “Matthew and I have collaborated on several films over the years, but the film I am most proud of to date is a film I made in 2010 called Punctum. Punctum has been screened all over the world, most recently the Brighton Fringe Festival, but also the Young persons Moscow Biennale, the London Short Film Festival and a show called Screen in Barcelona. It follows a young girl’s journey from innocence to experience, exploring the liminal space of puberty.”
Strangefruit — “Sea of Fog” Music Video
Please scroll to the bottom of the post for the music video.
“The original concept was that the music video would become almost like an art film. Something powerful, dramatic and theatrical, drawing on my research into psychoanalytical theories revolving around the origins of desire, sexuality and power. Exploring gender roles, the uncanny, the macabre, and Freudian theories of death and sex. I loved the idea of a banqueting table that looked opulent and decadent at first glance, and then upon closer inspection, was a decaying, rotting mess. The vulnerable, naked woman in the center of the feast, being devoured not only by the men, but by women too. The idea being that a feast is always a precursor to either death, violence or sex.” – Laura Clarke
How did the collaboration between band and filmmakers first come about? How much creative freedom was given?
I met Laura through a printmaker friend at the Royal College of Art. We were looking for someone to collaborate with on visuals and Laura and her husband, Matt, were a filmmaking duo. I sent Laura some music and she immediately picked up on “Sea of Fog”, coming back with a treatment for it almost straight away. The treatment developed as we exchanged artist references and ideas, but we pretty much left Matt and Laura to it once we knew we were on a similar wavelength. We shared quite a few of the same influences, so the concept made sense. Everything else spun into place after that.
Laura Clarke: Jenny and I met at a private view at the Royal College of Art last year. We got chatting about what we both do, and decided that a collaboration would be ideal. Matthew, my husband, is a filmmaker, and we have worked together on projects in the past, so we listened to some of the tracks and instantly fell in love with “Sea of Fog”. I believe that because of our mutual love of film, art, and each other’s work, a bond of trust was formed very early on — which meant that I felt like I could have a lot of creative freedom. I really wanted to deliver something that would find a balance between my own fine art practice, the literary references in the lyrics, and the energy of the band.
What is the underlying concept driving the piece, and how was that formulated?
Matt and Laura listened to the song and were drawn to this idea of liminality, of being drawn between two states. [Mikhail] Bakhtin
‘s Feast of Fools
became a focal point — visually — and so, a banquet scene was introduced as a division between the dark and light tableaus.
Laura Clarke: The original concept was that the music video would become almost like an art film. Something powerful, dramatic and theatrical, drawing on my research into psychoanalytical theories revolving around the origins of desire, sexuality and power. Exploring gender roles, the uncanny, the macabre, and Freudian theories of death and sex. I loved the idea of a banqueting table that looked opulent and decadent at first glance, and then upon closer inspection, was a decaying, rotting mess. The vulnerable, naked woman in the center of the feast, being devoured not only by the men, but by women too. The idea being that a feast is always a precursor to either death, violence or sex.
Are the specific symbolic meanings to any of the items shown? Like, for instance, the dead rabbit or the feathers falling from the sky?
Strangefruit: We wanted to play with contrasts – the aim was to create a world where all was not quite as it seems – “Where fools become wise … [and] opposites are mingled,” [according to] Bakhtin. I guess the rabbit (my precious) became part of that metaphor. We wanted everything to be a bit seditious — delicious.
Laura Clarke: I have always been interested in ideas of transgression between the animal and the human — in mythologies, folklore, freak shows, etc. I believe that the transformation that takes place, when the animal and the human are combined, creates one of the most ancient grotesque and challenging forms. The human form laid out, unraveled, and exposed on the butcher’s table, alongside slabs of internal organs, the feathers, the blood-like fluids: all conjure up feelings of the abject. The dead bunny rabbit suggesting a wrong turn into Wonderland.
Strangefruit is featured in the music video. How difficult/easy was it to style a band in the context of such a surreal universe?
Strangefruit: It was a great location and it was fun playing in such a surreal context. Originally, we weren’t going to be in it as a band, but we were brought in at the last minute –
Laura Clarke: I had always intended to have Jenny appear in the music video. She has a frightening beauty, which is something that I thought would be wonderful to include in the story. I decided the twist would be that the siren/banshee would appear to be a saviour, but in fact would be more frighting than the feasting men. When I was told that I had to include the whole band, I originally felt that this would pull people out of the surreal world I had sought to create. But I think this just created another facet to the piece. The wailing woman with her band of men casting her spell on the feasting glutinous men, the howling banshee-like femme in her tower, the bird-like Ondine calling out from her nest, all aided the saturation of this world I had created.
What kind of budget were you working with?
Strangefruit: Dimes, nickels and bottle tops… We were really lucky, Matt and Lau worked really hard to secure the location and equipment and to keep costs to a minimum. They gathered an amazing crew of talent together and made it happen. It wouldn’t have been possible without them.
Laura Clarke: The budget was small — but enough to make it work and look as we wanted. We shot it in a 12-hour day — which was just about doable with some very careful planning. From our experience we knew how to maximise the production values by careful budgeting, selecting areas to prioritise and other areas where we could get away with spending less without affecting the overall look and feel of the piece. We had lots of help from friends, family and crew we know in the industry without which we wouldn’t have got it done!
Strangefruit – “Sea Of Fog” Music Video
Influence-Mapping Strangefruit + Laura Clarke & Matthew Oaten
Observations & Patterns
CHASING THE DARKNESS
The musicians and the directors had the most overlap in the field of visual art and film, and the connection between this music video and all of those artists is obvious — as visualized through the embrace of the dark and the moody, with a penchant towards the surreal and warped. Even the shared literary and social science influences bear some parallel, as the worlds of Franz Kafka are twisted mazes, and Sigmund Freud is known most for his theories about sexuality. There were no commonly shared music influences.