I have been working on some projects with Agyness Deyn for a while. We had previously collaborated on a shoot for Elle where she and Natalia Bonifacci had dressed up like James Dean and Sal Mineo and we shot them around the pool at the Chateau Marmont. Another time I went with Agyness and a group of friends to Magic Mountain. We pulled numbers out of a hat before every ride to pair up. The idea was to make out with our partners and film it. Shortly after that trip, Aggy told me she wanted to do something with me based on Theodor Dreyer’s Joan of Arc.
At the time I was shooting Oz in Detroit, where I would be for the next six months. While I was there, Aggy and I developed the Joan of Arc idea and settled on a modern-day mash-up, Dreyer-style (silent, tons of close-ups, etc.). We decided that the majestic and widely photographed turn-of-the century Michigan Central Station—now abandoned and covered in graffiti—would be the perfect setting. But we couldn’t make the dates work for Aggy. Instead we ended up shooting a crazy version of Othello in the train station. In our version it is Emilia who is the mastermind behind Othello’s—and Iago’s and Desdemona’s— downfall; she is Othello’s lover and uses her husband’s jealousy to take down the Moor et al.
Then Aggy got married (much love to her and her husband) and became too busy to do Joan of Arc. Natalia Bonifacci became our Joan. Gucci was opening a new store in São Paolo, Brazil, and we thought a video would be the perfect way to help inaugurate it. Joan of Arc would be perfect. But now we had two new elements involved: Gucci and South America.
Videos that deal with fashion are great because you get to use all the toys you normally use when working on a film, including all the best clothes and working with beautiful performers, but you don’t have to worry about narrative in the same way. With feature films there is the constant pressure on the goal of entertaining audiences with things like stories and fleshed-out characters. Short videos do not have these restrictions and offer more freedom to embrace collage techniques because the audience doesn’t need to be emotionally grounded in the place of the piece in the same way they are expected to be when sitting through a feature-length narrative.
For our purposes, this sort of mash-up style is exactly what we needed to commuincate through the visuals. Joan connects to a higher power in our piece, but it is a higher spiritual power mediated though contemporary media. Of course, Joan of Arc today is communing with a simulacrum of God, embodied by Dreyer’s version of Joan, played by Falconetti. It is the actual previous film that she looks to for release from the abuses of the Earth’s demons (played expertly by the ATL twins).
Our Joan is the guest at a Michelangelo Antonioni kind of party, where the smallest things mean everything, and the break up of a marriage is tantamount to the flaying of one’s soul. Our Joan is attended by an angel, but this is an angel of the utmost beauty, suggesting that there is something very physical about transcendence, or the idea that the ideal can only exist on the higher planes of digital construction—within videos, photographs, or online, in general.
We all move further into the immortal manufactured realms of digital life and away from the decaying Earth of mortal embodiment. Joan can’t last on Earth, but she can escape and live forever in her martyrdom because it is captured on video.
VICE.com will be premiering La Passione in full tomorrow at 2 PM EST.
Follow James on Twitter: @JamesFrancoTV
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