The Light Of Love - The Making Of The Pagan Poetry Video !

Alien Rock !, 1er janvier 2002

The music video for “Pagan Poetry” is a strong visual representation of Björk’s feelings for her lover and may easily be considered her most personal music video to date.

The music video is about a woman preparing herself for marriage and for her lover. She is sewing a wedding dress into her skin—it turns out to be a topless dress (designed by Alexander McQueen) —and this caused MTV to ban the video from airplay. The last shot shows its unusual laced back : a silver chain passes through three pairs of loops that are vertically aligned, pierced into her skin, and bleeding. “I think ideas-wise it really all came from Björk. I just facilitated her,” Nick Knight, the music video’s director, says.

“Everybody wants to make a video for Björk. She has consistently created interesting pieces of work and consistently played around with her image,” Simon Chaudoir, (Aphex Twin “Come to Daddy”, Best Cinematography CADS Award ; Portishead “Only You” ; Lauryn Hill “Ex Factor”) the director of photography for the video, says. “When my agent told me that it was for a Björk video it was thrilling enough, but when I heard it was Nick Knight as well, I pursued. I made myself very available, turned down other work.”

Knight is most famous for his stills work—e.g., in English Vogue, Christian Dior ads, and his book Skinheads—and isn’t particularly interested in music videos. “It [a music video] just doesn’t grab me,” he says. But when Björk asked him well in advance to direct this one, he agreed. He has worked with her on half a dozen other projects. “You very much got a sense that there was a special collaboration between them [Knight and Björk]. They were very thrilled to be working with each other,” Chaudoir says.

The music video contains three stages of shooting : a video shoot of piercings, a private video shoot handled by Björk, and a film shoot of Björk. The piercings video and film shoot were done in a day in June 2001 in Nick Knight’s northwest London photo studio.

The first two-thirds of the video contains a great deal of post-production digital effects by Peter Marin (nominated for a 2002 Best Special Effects in a Video CADS award for his work). Marin manipulated most of the private and piercings shots into very abstract, line and watercolor-like drawings. The final third is Björk’s direct-to-camera performance.

For the boldest effect, Knight directed Chaudoir to shoot the piercings by placing the Sony Mini DV camera on the women’s bodies—mostly chests, arms, and shoulders—and getting as physically near as he could while maintaining a close, macro focus on a wide-angle lens.

The sole light source was diffused sunlight shining through the ceiling windows of the second floor daylight studio. This studio gave a “northlight” look and had a rawness to it that matched the subject matter, Chaudoir says.

A nurse and piercing unit were on hand, but no thimble, so the bleeding most often came from casted girls’ thumbs as they pushed the needles in. “It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever filmed because I felt I was on the verge of throwing up,” Chaudoir says. “I liked to actually only watch it by the video monitor rather than with my eyes as it were because it was just too much.”

Björk pierced her own ear at the shoot, but all other piercings were the casted girls’ (The producer, Gainsbury and Whiting, casted about five young women who were into subculture and piercings).

Knight gave Björk a Sony Mini DV camera and asked her to shoot her own private scenes. “To try and do an honest job of documenting or presenting somebody’s intimate love life, there really is no cause for me to be there whatsoever,” Knight says. “She asked me to make a film about her love life, so I merely gave it back to her and said ‘Film your love life.’”

Chaudoir saw himself as primarily brought in for shooting the film footage. He and Knight planned that, when the music stops and it’s just Björk singing “I love him. I love him. . .”, it would look like an actual break in the video, making a very poignant and revelatory moment.

“We discussed how to do something with the moving image that was a mirror of what was happening musically. . . . It had to have a different look from the video footage and from the digitally altered video footage. I knew it had to look as luscious as possible,” Chaudoir says. “It’s stripping away the artifice and the digital effects, into the raw image of Björk.”

Chaudoir felt that the best film stock for Knight would be the 5274 Kodak 200 ASA tungsten film. “It’s a gorgeous film stock. There’s no grain. It’s very rich and velvety,” he says. He shot in the super 35mm format because he wanted to give it a very large, clean negative. As he always does when using 35mm film, he shot on an Arri 435ES, shooting for the most part at 25 fps and occasionally at 37 ½ fps. He remembers the stop being around 2.8. He used Primo Classic lenses, the 100mm for the close-up shot and the 50mm for the head-to-toe and mid-shots.

“He [Knight] wanted to see what other people had to offer,” Chaudoir says. Tired of endless music videos where the star constantly addresses the camera and lip-synchs throughout, Chaudoir suggested having Björk lip-synch and look into the camera only for some of the last lines. He also suggested using a track so they could move closer to her as she sings these lines (which was finally chosen) or move closer before she sings them—“so it’s like a reveal of her,” he says.

There wasn’t a script, so some improvisation made it to the final cut. “Initially we were going to do this one close up [just one move into her], but I think as it went on we thought, Well, why don’t we do a mid-shot ? Why don’t we do a head-to-toe shot ?” They also realized that they needed to roll a minute or so before the last lines to capture the most intense performance. A few takes were of the entire song. Chaudoir estimates over 25 in all, and that the chosen one was somewhere between take 10 and 20.

Knight shot stills of Björk in her wedding dress, using the lighting style he wanted Chaudoir to re-create for the film. It appeared Knight used a ring light ; he’d also put Björk slightly beyond the exposure. The pearls on her dress were very alive and reflected light, Chaudoir says, but her skin tone was underexposed. Chaudoir and Knight performed a prelight. Chaudoir used a spark to show, one at a time, his lights’ effects and how they may best mimick the stills’ lighting. In the end, the duplication was simply achieved : Chaudoir placed 4 single bank, Kino Flos, used without their reflectors, on each side of the camera, about six to eight feet from Björk, between the camera and her. They used smaller Kino Flos for the tracking mid- to close-up shots.

“We would establish the widest point of the tracking shot, throw the Kino Flos around the edge of the frame, and then track in as if the lens were up against them as it were, until the camera couldn’t travel any further.”

Knight prefers more subtle, simple lighting. “What I try, and do in my still photography, is to remove the photographer out of the equation as much as I can. . . . I just want people to see it. I actually don’t want people to acknowledge the lighting and the camera work and everything else,” he says.

Keeping it simple, Chaudoir stuck to the necessities. He didn’t use diffusion, he didn’t consult with post-production (since something like blue-screening and CGI work wasn’t involved—“It was one of those jobs you knew would very much be created in the edit,” he says), and he arrived with only a few assistants—a gaffer, loader, grip, focus puller, and some electricians—he’d worked with individually in the past.

The Kino Flos were so close to the lens, he was shooting with the light, filling in any skin flaws with light ; and the film was teletinted as well. “Now you can do so much with skin tones digitally that it’s possibly best to give the teletint operator a very clean negative [rather than using soft effects filters in front of the lens,]” he says. There was no production designer either. Björk performed before a white cyc that, at Knight’s request, he shot underexposed so it would appear industrial grey.

“Basically what I was asked to do and what I thought I’d be able to do is more or less there,” Knight says about the realized vision. In response to what he may have changed, he says, “It would have benefited from being simplified down to a much more bold and direct visualization of what she was trying to do. I think we were too subtle in that.”

Main simplifications would have included using only one very abstracted, extended scene from Björk’s private footage, using only one uncut take of her direct-to-camera performance and shooting that in video, and leaving more of the piercings unabstracted.

“I think I was to some degree seduced by having so much great material to work with and wanting to get lots of it in,” he says. While shooting a music video only in video is quite unheard of for today’s MTV, Knight strongly prefers it. “Film often feels over-romanticized to me and of another era. To be a bit more positive, I enjoy the video feels of now. It’s what we are. I don’t feel we’re best represented by film anymore,” Knight says. “I felt that film [in the music video] was too stunted.”

Though Chaudoir has shot more commercials than music videos since 1997, he loves shooting music videos much more. “I think the energy, having to work so quickly, being able to take risks, the direct communication between me and the director, rather than mainline communication between the director and the advertising agency. . . . That’s what I love about music videos.”

par Alien Rock !, 2002 publié dans Alien Rock !


  • Nick Knight