I’m feeling very chatty today! I am lounging on the sofa, about to get a behind the scenes, director’s view on things over a glass of pink champagne.
My special guest today is Jean-Marie Marbach, producer and director of the beautiful and amazing collision of art and science that is h2O,
the video. By the way, if you haven’t seen me in h2O, have a look here.
Greetings to the star of today’s interview and hello Jean-Marie. Welcome to my Naughty Nauga lounge of love!
JM: Very chatty indeed!
Bonjour Naughty Nauga, and merci beaucoup for welcoming me to your lounge of love! I’m wondering how naughty you’ll be today.
Nauga: (Laughs) Well, we will see! Your incredible attention to detail and high-quality finish have sent waves of appreciation across the Gentle universe and many Naugae were delighted to see me so well presented. I’m feeling very happy that you are here to talk about your inspiration for the h2O video.
JM: Well thank you for the compliment, and boy am I glad you didn’t notice that your face was inverted in the video! You’re probably looking at yourself in the mirror quite often…
Nauga: Hmm hmm. OK, let’s start at the beginning. It was your idea to independently fund and produce h2O. What interested you in h2O as a song and why did you decide to produce and direct this video?
JM: Speaking of my reaction to h2O as a song, the word “interested” sounds pretty cold. I’d say “charmed” is more appropriate.
First, there was the pleasure of hearing some new Gentle People material after such a long hiatus, and the satisfaction of going back to a wonderful and unique universe, with untamed core basics despite a new sound and new producer.
Listening to this song immediately brought exciting visuals to my mind, and for once, I decided to bring those visuals to life, instead of letting my mind wander somewhere else as soon as the song was over.
Nauga: I am glad you did. And apart from casting me, which was a great decision I must say, what else influenced the story you are telling?
JM: I just followed the lyrics, really. Everything I needed was in there. It was also the opportunity to visually explore a notion I had in mind for quite some time: Reaching the infinitely large through the infinitely small, which seemed like a good fit to a song dealing with the love formula. It sounds much deeper than anything shown in the video, but at least I gave it some thought.
Nauga: Infinitely large through the infinitely small – could you say more?
JM: I once pitched an idea for a science TV show opening sequence, in which the camera was following a DNA string falling into water. Beneath the surface, the air bubbles became stars… and the string was ending up in space. My pitch wasn’t selected, but my interest in this idea remained.
It was probably influenced by the intriguing and mystical ending of The Incredible Shrinking Man, where after fighting a cat and a spider (and despite even worse threats ahead), the shrinking man has an epiphany watching the stars at night.
My idea was just a different way to visualize this very classic notion that each infinite is connected to the other, and on both sides.
Nauga: Ah – as I am large from many small bites of cheese! Obviously as I spend a lot of time flying round the galaxy that had to be included in the video. But why did you decide on the other ways you have represented Gentleworld? And are there particular things that have influenced you stylistically?
JM: Again, I mostly followed the visuals that came to mind while listening to the song, and tried to blend classic Gentle People elements with my own personal tastes.
Still, I did quite a lot of research on the best ways of creating suitable and powerful moods with the most simple sets. My research went from Verner Panton’s and Shag’s works, to 60’s sci-fi flicks like Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires. These films had the most improbable stories, and yet they were visually beautiful. They showed me that “fun” and “cheesy” could also be beautiful and classy at the same time. A formula I thought was a perfect fit for The Gentle People, as the way I see it, fun + classy = groovy.
Oddly enough, except for a few things like the Panton pattern floor and the giant cheese set, nothing specific from these influences really made it to the video. Once I really get working, things tend to blend all together, fading in the background while others come up on their own. But to various degrees, general moods and colour schemes remained.
When I started to work on Gentleworld before the shoot, I decided to use the Panton pattern on the floor. And on the set, when Dougee got dressed as a scientist, I noticed that his tie had the very same pattern on it. As a result, the floor design in Gentleworld can now be interpreted as a projection of the scientist’s own tastes, which makes me look like a detail driven director indeed!
But even though we had discussed the scientist’s clothing, I never thought of discussing the tie. While I never mentioned the Panton floor, Dougee never mentioned the Panton tie, so the whole thing was just a coincidence, but a most happy one which convinced me I was on the right track.
Also, besides design issues, and in order to stay somewhat in line with all these 60’s references, I wanted the camera moves to stay as classical and realistic as possible. Restraining myself in such a way was frustrating at times since I could move my virtual camera any way I wanted, but I thought a more “modern” camera animation wouldn’t be a good fit for Gentleworld.
Finally, I also had to take Copy Cat Project‘s electro sounds into account, which prevented me from going too far on the retro path.
Nauga: I think my favourite part of h2O is my appearance at the end as I think my spin is particularly expertly shown. What do you like most about the final version and what are you most proud of technically?
JM: My favourite scene, visually and technically, is when The Gentle People’s bubble heads are singing in the water. I like the (almost) experimental look of it, and also the colours that remind me of 60’s groovy films. For this sequence, I also enjoyed playing with macro lenses with the help of my editor, and shooting deep inside liquids. The liquid environment in which the heads are singing wasn’t larger than two or three centimetres wide. I like the fact that what looks like a surreal liquid world on screen was in fact shot in a small Glencairn whisky glass, with just a few drops of oil and washing up liquid.
Nauga: Mmm whisky… I think it would have been even better if you’d featured more of me in h2Oof course. But if you were to do it all over again, would you change the video in any way and if so, what and why?
JM: Well you’re already featured in two shots… two shots more than Valentine… which is not so bad, is it?
There are actually quite a few things I’d change in this video now. But the main one would be adding some real interaction between The Gentle People. Although I had three Gentle People at my disposal, everyone was shot separately in the footage I used, and as a result, it lacks the spark that you get sometimes when members of a band are performing together.
Most of all, there was a shot I wanted for the very end in the lab, when Dougee is spaced out on his steamy desk. I wanted to have the “real world” version of Laurie and Honeymink, dressed as his lab assistants, come and gently take him from his desk, and out of the lab. It would have been a cute shot, with all three on camera together.
Also, it could have provided a (possible) explanation to the presence of these two singing ladies in Gentleworld: Were they just a figment of the scientist’s imagination, adding his assistants to his dreams…?
But we didn’t have enough time left. Everybody was exhausted, the day was over, and eventually, you have to know when to pull the plug.
Besides that, I wish I had found a way to fit some Tiki influences somewhere in there. Somehow, a video on Gentleworld without anything Tiki doesn’t feel right, but I couldn’t find a way to properly blend Tiki style with everything else. For a moment, I thought about filling Dougee’s lab with Tiki stuff, but I quickly gave that up as that lab wasn’t supposed to be in Gentleworld yet.
Nauga: Maybe next time! Now, cast your mind back now to what got you started in making films and videos. Who or what would you say are your greatest influences and why?
JM: Tough one to sum up…!
But to remain in the h2O spirit, where things are done a bit off the beaten path, and entire worlds are created with little or no budget, I’d say my main influences are probably people like Oskar Fischinger, Len Lye, and Lotte Reiniger.
These artists managed to create wonderful worlds out of nothing, and seemingly huge spaces while working on tiny sets. All this with little or no money. Sometimes even with no camera like Len Lye who’d scratch and paint his patterns directly on film.
They gave me confidence by demonstrating that as long as you really want it, there’s always a way to produce interesting visuals and tell any kind of story, even if no one gives you a decent budget for it.
And if they could do it in their day, anybody who really wants it should be able to do it now.
Finally, in a more contemporary area, I’ve become pretty interested in Mark Pellington‘s work. There’s something in his way of directing that just… gets to me. It’s difficult to pinpoint. His work usually displays a rare blend of unpredictability and “spectacular intimacy” I’m quite sensitive to. It’s like a wild blind date: You have no idea where you’re heading to, and the path is often of extremes. Loud noises and long silences. And I like that.
Nauga: Us Naugae are too chatty for long silences. But I have known the Gentle People for a very long time and appear on everything they produce as you know. Have you seen me on the cover of the Boy in the Window? I am very fond of that one. I also like my Gentle bubble boat on the back of Soundtracks for Living. But enough of me, how did you come across The Gentle People?
JM: I first discovered The Gentle People in 1996 or 1997, with the Aphex Twin remix of Journey, in Future Sounds of Jazz Vol. II. This was an intriguing and interesting compilation series from Compost, a German label… though I never quite understood what jazz had to do with it…
Anyway, I immediately got hooked, never heard anything quite like it. And a few weeks later, I found Soundtracks For Living in a CD store in Paris. I remember the first time I laid eyes on that pink cover, with the white glow, cartoon bubbles, and you flying by the psychedelic font… I wasn’t expecting that at all from the Journey remix… and thought “wow, who are these guys???”
I bought it immediately, and the music was also quite a shock. Although completely out of left field for the 90’s, it felt very innovative and familiar at the same time. The kind of discovery that makes you realise you’re not alone in your own bubble.
Nauga: Yes and I love bubbles. I also love dancing – I danced with the Gentle People in Moscow you know. The crowd loved me so I jumped offstage and danced with them too. Apart from music the Gentle People, what other music do you like and what do you dance to?
JM: Another tough one to sum up !
If I had to pick one band to dance to, it would be Los Amigos Invisibles. Other than that, my musical spectrum is pretty wide: From Sergio Mendes to Fantastic Plastic Machine and Vikki Carr, from Khachaturian and Los Fancy Free to Matthew Herbert and Akufen, etc…
My favorite recent discoveries are Connan Mockasin, Le Futur Pompiste and Modular. Last year’s was Minnie Riperton (better late than never I guess…).
Nauga: Groovy. I have plans to travel to the moon for a while. I have heard that moon dust is really something and I am looking forward to the lack of gravity. What are your next plans for film and video making? Are you planning any further adventures I can star in?
By the way, Guille Milkyway is also a Gentle People fan, and debating Gentleworld was the perfect way to get acquainted during our first dinner.
As to any new adventures you could star in, rest assured that as soon as something worthy comes up, you’ll be among the first to get the message(s).
Nauga: Ah, the pink bubbles are running low so I think it’s time for me to return to my space bubble for a lovely nap. Before I go, do you have a message for the extended Gentle People friends, fans and family?
JM: Yes, and a most important one. If some among you haven’t seen Planet of the Vampires and feel like checking it out, be warned that the title is slightly misleading, as there isn’t a single vampire lurking on that alien planet. But there are a few zombies wandering around though… and alien zombies are cool too, so you can give it a try anyway.
Nauga: I am not so keen on zombies but I am most definitely alien so perhaps I will. Finally, JM, if you had the choice, what would it be? Hawaiian or Space?
JM: That would be Hawaiian IN space. I want to have my (cheese)cake and eat it too.
Nauga: A fine answer. Thank you very much Jean-Marie, until we meet again, may you have much Nauga naughtiness.
JM: I’m working on it every day. Thank you Naughty Nauga.
Have a lovely nap.