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BERLIN — The decline of the music video in modern times was the impetus for Arcade Fire‘s Spike Jonze-directed short film Scenes from the Suburbs, appearing in the shorts section of the Berlin Film Festival.
The movie, inspired by their album The Suburbs, is an episodic and impressionist look of friends drifting apart set against a dystopic world where ‘burbs and towns go to war against each other. Under the conceit of a man trying to piece together memories, scenes jump, rise and fall, and are all impressively performed by actors who naturally capture teenagedom, even if the narrative leaves you scratching your head.
Bandmembers (and brothers) Will Butler and Win Butler wrote the project with Jonze, who cast total unknowns in Austin. How unknown? The lead girl was a drama techie who did lighting for school plays.
It’s unusual for a band to take on such a project, especially one that isn’t made for marketing purposes (Arcade Fire purposely avoided showing it when their album was coming out).
But the genesis of the movie lies in the change of the nature of the way people consume videos, considering we live in a world where video has been appropriated by the public, who make their own videos that find their own audiences, sometimes even more successfully than “official” videos.
Arcade Fire saw that happening with their songs so “we wanted to have some say in our visual legacy,” said Win Butler. “So that 30 years from now, when a computer virus crashed all the computers, and people have to look at DVDs to see what life was like in the early 2000s, there is some record of what we were thinking visually. And we didn’t want that to get completely lost just because of the times that we live in.”
“The music video died before we got a chance to really make music videos,” he also said.
The band partnered with Jonze, who was a fan and used their songs for inspiration — and the trailer — for Where the Wild Things Are. But Jonze, coming off seven years of working on the troubled Wild Things, and the band, admitted amateurs, didn’t want to make a full-length movie. So they took a songwriting approach to the film.
“You start from a feeling and it’s not necessarily the plot points of a song,” said Win. “To me the film is very much about trying to talk about the relationships and the feelings of that age.”
“We were tying to show the emotion and the emotional links without necessarily getting ideep into the plot,” explained Will, adding the band wanted “to have a more emotional and impressionistic arc.”
Another source of inspiration that informed the storytelling were B movies, science fiction movies, Terry Gilliam, and their childhoods, where they caught by their parents watching action and sci-fi movies they were to young to be watching.
“You’d end up watching the first half before your parents would come in and bust you,” said Win. “It’s inspired by watching the first half of films and not having to figure out how to resolve them.”
The band was been on a worldwide tear, traveling from their home in Montreal to Los Angeles for the Grammys then to London for the Brit Awards. Half the band got to back home but the Butlers, along with Regina Chasagne trekked to Berlin.
The music awards had not yet sunk in yet, although Win said, “It feels like maybe in some small way the world bumped a little bit left. Which is pretty exciting. The last time I felt this way was when Obama won North Carolina.”
Scenes from the Suburbs will play at SXSW in March, then will get released on DVD in the spring. The band is also considering entering it into more festivals.
“I think we would have been a band of moviemakers if making movies wasn’t 140 time more expensive than making records,” said Will.
Take a look at the teaser trailer below.
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