Published October 1, 2010
Parisian filmmaker Mathieu Saura, better known as Vincent Moon, catapulted to fame after shooting The Arcade Fire playing in an elevator, resulting in collaborations with artists such REM, Sufjan Stevens and Sigur Rós. His ‘Take Away Shows,’ are informal studies of bands that he encounters across the world in a personal quest to act as an intermediary between artist and audience. Moon is currently in Iceland as a guest of the Reykjavík Film Festival and is using his visit as an opportunity to shoot local artists such as Helgi Jónsson, Bárujárn and Kría Brekkan.
How did you first get into the business of making music videos?
I was interested in all kinds of diverse art forms when I started out and didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. Most people are probably like that today, hybrid creatures. We know a lot about music, art, dance and cinema because things are readily available to us. Hybrid art, hybrid forms. It’s impossible to put things in a box like we used to or define things by words anymore. The present is a beautiful moment for creation. My origins are in photography. I grew up in Paris and after high school I ended up by accident in film school. After a year there I attended a photo class for four hours, one night a week. It changed my life. That’s where I discovered the situationist movement and it totally transformed my way of seeing things. It’s all about making one’s life an art piece. I grew up in Paris, and studied there and had access to so many things. I was nineteen when I decided to give myself six years to learn as much as possible and then become someone else. That was pretty clear in my mind. I was a nobody. I didn’t have a personality. I was a transparent, extremely shy guy and I decided to change myself and learn more than other people. It was my revenge on the world.
Was your name change to Vincent Moon part of this metamorphosis?
Absolutely. And for years I went to see all movies, art exhibitions and dance performances. I was like a bulimic, gorging myself. I became more and more interested in music, especially live music. I became a fan of a band called The National and became friends with them. I found that cool: “wow I’m friends with a musician.” I asked them if I could take photos of them, and that’s how it started. They used my photo on their album cover. Then I decided to try my hand at music videos. I was especially inspired by the photographer Antoine d’Agatha, who does some really violent, radical stuff. I knew there was something missing for me, it was the interaction. Not just putting images on mp3 and making films from songs. That’s not collaboration. At this time I met up with the founder of La Blogotheque, Chryde, who was doing podcast interviews with bands and I started to make these live music recordings, which became the Take Away Shows. We would meet up with foreign bands playing in Paris who were mostly sick of stupid questions from journalists. When we arrived we’d say: “Hey we’re not going to ask you any questions, just play some music.” This is what my work evolved from, sharing a moment with a musician, improvising, capturing that pure energy.
And Arcade Fire was your big break?
Well, our first really well known band was Grizzly Bear, but yes, everything changed when we did a video for Arcade Fire, which was shot in a freight elevator. That video went everywhere. That’s when people started coining me as a filmmaker who liked to shoot bands in weird places. Which, in fact, is not right. The idea was just to try out new things off stage. It doesn’t have to a particularly weird place. But yeah, after that success came quickly and shortly after the Arcade Fire video, REM called me and asked me to do a video. But now I refuse a lot of things and I’m not really interested in doing very successful bands. Why should I? They don’t need it. I feel it’s my responsibility to focus on unknown bands, to be an intermediary and to promote all the wonderful things that I encounter around the world and make them known to others.
But aren’t consumers becoming more choosy, refusing to be fed by the mass industries and picking out things on the internet?
I wish that were the case. But the golden age of the internet was, like, five years ago when unknown bands were able to surface and become famous in this way. But now, the industry is back in business. It took the big guys a few years but now they understand how it works. Take Pitchforkmedia for example. I recently spoke to the guy who started up Pitchfork and he said he hoped he hadn’t created a monster. But yes, he did create a monster! In the end people will read Pitchfork and Pitchfork will tell them what to listen to. People don’t have much initiative or imagination. They don’t use the internet like they could or should. They just wait to be fed.
Are you done with the idea of the Take Away Shows now?
No, right now I’m not done with this idea. I still have to continue doing my little things. I do portraits of people I love around the world. I travel, spend a few hours with people, they play their music, and they get a beautiful film. Sometimes I get a nice dinner or something in return. That’s how things should work. I’m trying to prove to myself that I can get by on virtually no money at all. What I’d like to continue exploring is my fascination of the relationship of man and images and how we play with images in this age of information. What I’m scared of is that I don’t think people are taught enough about images and new technologies. It seemed that the internet was an easy tool but it’s not. People are not being educated on the subject. We go to school to read text but we don’t know how to read images. People are becoming numb to images. My point is that the only way to save our souls is by going so far into the images that they cease to exist. Icelandic people have been very inspiring to me, especially how they create. Creation is an everyday thing. People make so many images constantly that they don’t make any sense. It’s the actual creation of the images that makes sense and not the end result. It’s something I’ve been trying to do as much as I can in my work. I say to the musicians I record: “Let’s just have a really good time, whatever the result of the movie may be.” Artists interact with their audiences and everyone is a part of the creation. Let’s reach the ultimate point where everybody is making films and nobody is watching them.