Vincent Moon: The man with the bands

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The Stranger, on the Take Away Shows: “I know the name of this short seems to mean absolutely nothing, but if you’ve never seen them, they’re amazing intimate musical fragments of famous artists taken from Vincent Moon’s handheld camera.”

Vincent Moon is an independant filmmaker from Paris/New York, mainly known for his music videos for a large series of indie rock artists, among which is The Ex, Liars, Arcade Fire, Daniel Johnston, dEUS, Animal Collective, and also some main stream artists like R.E.M. and Tom Jones, for which he received wide praise. He started filming musicians in 2007 and since then produced an amazing series of music clips for over 90 artists.

Don’t know Vincent Moon?  Get up to speed with these notes from a recent series of his work at Union Docs:

If you spend enough time watching Moon’s Take Away Shows, it begins to seem like the world is populated almost entirely by well-heeled, whimsical young people, strolling the streets of the world’s older cities with guitars, charming passersby with airy acoustic pop music.  Since 2006, Moon has traveled the globe, camera in hand, making music videos for La Blogotheque, a French webzine. The Take Away Shows are typically made in a single shot, often with the band performing stripped-down versions of their songs in public spaces. Moon works across genres, but his taste — or at least his taste in artists to document — remains fairly consistent, favoring breezy, melodic folkish pop; the kind of pleasant, if not terribly exciting, stuff that is disapprovingly referred to as “dinner party music”.

This is not as obnoxious as it sounds. Moon’s videos are not the twee lifestyle pornography they appear at first glance. Even if you have little interest in the music Moon favors, his videos are captivating and charming. O As he describes it, he would show up in a town and ask around until he met musicians that interested him, and then capture them as quickly as possible. Spontaneity is important to Moon. He doesn’t plan his shoots ahead of time, and prefers to catch the artists he records unrehearsed. “Spontaneity” is one of those words that, in other artists’ mouths, has ceased denoting anything specific and become a bland claim to aesthetic nobility, but Moon earns it. He is not referring to some abstract ideal of his process, but to something actually present in the work. The performers always appear loose and confident, like they are having fun — Moon is an adept director of actors — and no matter how magnificent his composition, it always feels like his camera could move anywhere. The unpredictability creates something like suspense, charging each moment with import, fixing your eyes to each movement like a cat’s to a dangling thread. Presence is the feeling that Moon unfailingly evokes.  His videos slice off and preserve a particular moment, and make it feel like it is happening now.

Moon is masterful with the light, portable DV camera. The single shot long take is a Take Away Show trademark, and Moon moves fluidly from extreme close-up to medium long shot, masking and revealing space, giving us both the sensuousness of performance and it’s spatial context. A favorite trick is to start very close on a singer’s face or guitarist’s hands, allowing the first minute or so of the song to play before pulling back far enough to show us where we are.  He is equally facile with bodies and space — the simultaneously unpredictable and precise movements that make music happen, and the looming, concrete reality of the metropolis. He makes people appear freer and more comfortable in their own skin, and cities bigger, and more mysterious.

Moon recently said, “I just hate, hate music videos. I just think it’s a terrible way to represent music, it’s not even about the music anymore. I really tried to do something much more cutting edge with musicians. I approached all the bands I loved and didn’t really ask them what they wanted to do. I would just start shooting. So it would be before or after a show, when they were all in a rush. It’s more exciting to keep things improvised. We were like, “Let’s do it over there. Let’s see what will happen, if someone in the background is going to scream or start dancing!”

What’s astonishing here is not the ideas — you have probably similar complaints from anyone who has spent more than 20 minutes with MTV — but that he makes good on it. The Take Away Shows are truly unlike other music videos. They do not just perpetuate an idea of cool, or tap our ravenous desire for sex or product. Even the best music videos usually wear out their welcome before they are half-finished, owing their success more to a director’s visual flair or keen cultural positioning than the creation of an active, constantly engaged viewing experience. Moon’s work tingles nerve endings we are more likely to associate with good documentary than with the kinetic pleasures offered by music videos: the persistent, tug-at-your-sleeve suspense produced by watching real life built, piece by piece, into narrative, and the conviction that what you are watching has somehow captured the world in all its simultaneity and caprice. There are, of course, plenty of music documentaries, but must of them are too concerned with conjuring a romantic aura of authenticity, or rehearsing the received wisdom of historical legacy to give any sense of the real thrill music can provide.

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Or read a few interviews with him here:

http://www.prefixmag.com/features/vincent-moon/interview/37989/

http://www.nylonmag.com/?section=article&parid=1582

http://badgerherald.com/artsetc/2008/02/07/parisian_filmmaker_v.php

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And if that’s not enough, we’ll be giving away free coffee cards to the first 20 people who come to see Cheap Magic Inside on Friday at 8pm, courtesy of our local hallmark of French culture, Cafe Presse.

Read more about Moon and all the artists in this series (August 20-26), which include Beirut, Mogwai, the Arcade Fire, and REM, here.

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