As members of MoMA’s PopRally committee, our goal is to provide our audience with a dynamic program of unique, one-of-a-kind experiences that engage with our exhibitions and collection. So when we received word that Sofia Coppola—who is herself represented in MoMA’s film collection—had directed a new video for Phoenix’s song “Chloroform,” we jumped at the opportunity to present the exclusive premiere. To mark the occasion, Anne Morra, Associate Curator in the Department of Film and a great supporter of Coppola’s work, spoke with the director about the inspiration for the piece, how it fits in with the rest of her work, and her relationship with Phoenix’s music.
Anne Morra: Your brother Roman has directed a number of music videos for Phoenix, for which your husband Thomas Mars is the lead singer. Why are you now directing the video for the new song “Chloroform”?
Sofia Coppola: I’ve always loved Phoenix, and the videos Roman did for them. I love the song “Chloroform,” and I had an idea based on a photo, and since I haven’t done many videos, I like trying things that are unfamiliar. The idea came from a photo by Joseph Sterling in his book The Age of Adolescence. Thomas’s sister’s boyfriend, Mateo, who works at the Book Marc store, gave me the book last X-mas.
AM: What was your process for shooting, and is there any significance in the venue?
SC: We just had a day to shoot, no significance for venue. We wanted it to look beautiful and classic while shooting on digital because of the low budget. It was the first time I worked with the [director of photography] Darren Lew, so we were figuring out how to work together as we shot.
AM: Visually, [it] seems less like a traditional video and more like a film. The band is quickly seen at the very start, but in shadow and silhouette. The line-up of beautiful and emotional young women flanking the stage is featured more prominently than the band. Why is that? Is there a narrative you would like to share with us?
SC: I wanted to show they were at a Phoenix concert, but keep them afar and mysterious, and have the focus be on the girls. I wanted the video to be about the girls losing it over the band, and that feeling you have when you think a band is romantic.
AM: One of the recurring themes in you work is the concept of celebrity. You are the child of a celebrity and one in your own right, and you married a prominent musician. In your film Somewhere, Johnny is taking a break from his celebrity driven life, while in The Bling Ring, the protagonists are drawn like moths to the shining flame of celebrity. In [the video] there is a definite sign that Thomas is the “celebrity” as you photograph him looking down on the audience. Was exploring the theme of celebrity part of your plan for this short?
SC: I didn’t think about that, I can see it when you say that, but didn’t have a connection in mind. I have always been interested in how people act around celebrity, since I saw it from an early age, and I did like having Thomas from a distance, and playing up the romantic rock star. I always like the idea of longing.
AM: In your films, you conjure complex worlds that young women inhabit and must learn how to navigate for themselves. What was your inspiration for depicting the young women in this short, who make up 100% of the audience? There are no men depicted other than the band.
SC: I wanted it to be a fantasy of young girls fixated on a band they love, and try to capture that feeling I remember of seeing bands when I was a kid, when you could totally lose it…and to play up the band as close but out of reach. It’s a fantasy audience, all young, pretty girls.
AM: The lyrics to “Chloroform” are enigmatic and beguiling. Sort of a love song, but there is also mention of deception and love being cruel. Is this a love song? Are the crying girls reacting to the message of the song? Are they reacting to the proximity of the band? Or, are they experiencing some sort of internal conflict separate from the song or the performance by the band?
SC: I like that there is some teasing in the song, and the girls are eating it up.
AM: You rarely shoot without color. When I think of a Sofia Coppola film, I recall the lushness of greens in Somewhere, the neon pop of colors in Lost in Translation and the bubblegum, confectionary colors in Marie Antoinette. What made you decide to not to include color in this short? It reminds me of your directorial debut with the short Lick the Star (1998).
SC: I was in the mood to shoot in black and white, and probably because idea came from that photo.
AM: Phoenix was featured in both Marie Antoinette and The Bling Ring. Do you feel like there is an inherent aesthetic connection between your filmic work and their music?
SC: They’ve had music in all of my films. I met Thomas when he did the song “Playground Love” with Air for the end titles of my first film, The Virgin Suicides. Then, I wanted to use their song “Too Young” in Lost in Translation, when Bill and Scarlett’s characters are dancing at a party and it captures the feeling of that moment. And now I feel like I like to always have a Phoenix song, maybe for good luck.
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