CO-FINANCED BY: KUJAWSKO-POMORSKIE REGION, MINISTRY OF CULTURE AND NATIONAL HERITAGE FROM PROMOTION OF CULTURE FUND AND POLISH FILM INSTITUTE
EASY RIDER, RAGING BULL
Wednesday December 4th, 2013
Samuel Bayer's Masterclass, photo by Wojciech Gruszczyński
First times are hard, although for Samuel Bayer they would usually turn out to be quite lucky. When this year's recipient of the Award for Outstanding Achievements in the Field of Music Videos decided to quit his career as a painter, he took out for lunch a person who could help him with his plan. He could afford to pay just for her meal, but he got his first commission; he had to shoot a music video for an unknown band from Seattle to a song with a rather strange title - Smells like Teen Spirit.
At Camerimage Festival Samuel Bayer made his debut as a lecturer. Did the first time turned out to be lucky again?
Still from "Smells Like Teen Spirit"
Even though it was the last day of the festival, people were crowding in front of the room where Bayer was supposed to hold a master class. Nobody was more surprised by it than the filmmaker himself: “I had a couple of drinks before I came here because I was really scared. I thought there would be five people at most, which would be really bad for my ego."
With his looks and his behavior he resembled a rock star, rather than a director and cinematographer with a staggering body of work. Although he wouldn't admit his age, it was betrayed by the lack of familiarity with recent bands. “What's the name of this band, Sugar Rose?" - he asked, meaning popular musicians from Iceland. On hearing the right answer, he just shook his head: “I'm like your father who doesn't have a clue about anything."
Samuel Bayer used to work with the best, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that he was throwing anecdotes left and right. He told amused listeners that after taking too much acid the lead singer of Blind Melon tried to seduce...a cow, how he ruined Robbie Williams' career in the United States and about Mick Jagger's untamed libido, who spent years chasing after a beauty who played in a music video to Anybody Seen My Baby. Her name was Angelina Jolie. “She was a completely unknown, twenty-two-year-old girl, I even saw her naked...what I was saying?" - he muttered plunging into pleasant memories.
He showed music videos that still make him proud after many years: Smells Like Teen Spirit and Anybody Seen My Baby, which were already mentioned before, Zombie by The Cranberries which was shot in Ireland, Until It Sleeps by Metallica, alluding to the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch and Bullet with Butterfly Wings by The Smashing Pumpkins, inspired by Sebastião Selgado's photographs, No Rain by Blind Melon, What Goes Around...Comes Around by Justin Timberlake and antiwar Wake Me Up When September Ends by Green Day. The last one holds a special place in his heart: “I'm friends with Sean Penn and with my friend Dave we went to maneuvers with him in the desert, and this really hardcore guy from SEAL team 6 which was training with him hated my guts. He thought I was some hippie kid and was really mean to me (...) Sean wrote me an email that he showed him this video on the last day when they were doing maneuvers and the guy started bawling like a baby."
Still from "Zombie"
Music has always played an important part in his life, he considers the opportunity to meet his heroes, get drunk with David Bowie, hang out with Johnny Lee Hooker and The Stones as the most wonderful thing in his career. "It has been amazing working with these guys. Jagger has never been on a subway system before and Keith Richards was smoking pot on set, he threw a joint down on the floor and my crew went leaping through the air. I don't know if they were trying to get some pot or see what was keeping him alive."
Bayer wasn't trying to hide that working with such strong personalities often meant that conflicts and even fights would break out on set. However, after so many years he is proud that he was fighting to save his vision at all costs: “I have my name on a horrible movie and I tell people that it was like a Stockholm syndrome. I wanted to please my captors, the producers, I was a really nice guy and at the end of the day I got screwed over because the movie sucks. And when I did music videos, I was arrogant enough and egotistical enough, but also strong enough as an artist that I never let them. You have to fight for what you want." His collaboration with Nirvana, on which depended his whole career, turned out to be one of the worst experiences he has ever had. Nevertheless, he didn't back down: “I look at this video now and I think it's pure emotion, raw and nasty. The only advice I can give you guys is to fight for what you want, because no one is going to give it to you."
On set he was always both a director and a cinematographer because, as he noted, he has to look through the lens himself. Images, not words, were always the most important. “When I see The Shining by Kubrick, this blood coming through the elevator, these twins at the end of the hallway - these are like music video images in a way. When I see certain images I don't care about the story, I'm just so enamored with the visual. The last thing I ever want to know is what the lyrics were about. It's the absolute last thing. Wake Me Up When September Ends is about Billy Joe Armstrong's father dying, that's really what it's about. I came up with this idea to make it about the war."
This year Bayer was the head of the Jury of the Music Videos Competition and he was impressed by what he saw: “I don't really watch music videos anymore and I don't really do them, I do commercials. I thought that s... was better that what we did back then, and I come from a generation where there was Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, and Fincher was doing stuff, and Mark Romanek, so from a very competitive time in music videos." Even though he still makes music videos from time to time (last year he made Payphone by Maroon 5), he considers that chapter of his life to be over: “The music has changed. I don't hear a lot of stuff that I want to do videos for. I don't want to do Katy Perry's video, Justin Bieber's video, One Direction video. It's a young person's game. I thing music videos should be done by young people, not by middle-aged people (...) I am proud of what I did, but I think my time is kind of over." More than one person in the room felt regret on hearing these words. Not bad for the first time.