Hey Venice, What’s Up with Massive Cruise Liners Barreling Down a Tiny Canal?
Feb 3 2012
Some days you feel like picking up a 12-pack of Miller Lite, sliding the old jon boat into the lake, and reeling a few in while not having to utter a word to anyone (especially your wife) for eight hours. Other days you feel like listening to Italian rave music while watching a very large cruise ship that looks an awful lot like the one that just ran into a rock in the Tyrrhenian Sea and capsized because its captain was (probably) busy fucking a Moldovan dancer who looks like an extra from Alien Nation barrel down a canal in Venice.
The above video features no CGI, special effects, or camera tricks (the ship doesn't cruise into the frame until about the :45 mark). Filmmaker Ries Straver shot the footage in 2005 on a trip to Venice, where in one day he witnessed no less than five of these luxurious behemoths coast down a waterway that is mostly meant for locals and tourists piloting rowboats and small-motor craft. Then Ries showed his footage to Italian electronic musician Batongo, who immediately began tweaking a track he had kicking around so that it synched up perfectly with the video (see below for details on that). The result was “Cruise,” and the story behind its creation, which involves Italian techno and cruise ships squeezing through a tiny canal in Venice, was ridiculous enough that we decided it made the perfect Friday jerkin’-around-at-work combination. And we even did one better by hopping on Skype with Ries and Batongo to discuss how their project came to be.
VICE: When I first watched this video I thought, “This isn’t real. It’s some viral marketing thing, and at the end they are going to try to sell me ‘sexy’ deodorant or a cell phone.” But then, if you watch it long enough, it becomes very obvious that it’s completely real.
Ries Straver: Yeah, lots of people think it’s fake.
And just to be very clear: This is an official music video, right?
How did the idea come about? Are you guys friends?
Ries: Yeah, well, are we good friends? I guess so.
Batongo: Very good friends.
Ries: So Batongo made me listen to his demo tracks—
He forced you?
Ries: Yeah, he put me in a chair, did some bondage, and then it was demo tracks all night long. I really love this track. It has this acid bass line that comes in after 30 seconds, and it felt really alien to me and it made me think of this alien intruder, this huge ship that enters into this postcard-iconic image of Venice, which is actually something I shot about seven years ago. I pulled it out of the archives and it just matched.
Batongo: And after that, we brought the video to the studio. We placed it on top of the demo track that I had, and it already looked amazing and almost in sync, but I decided to tweak the track a little bit and made an edit to make everything fit together.
Ries: There’s a lot of little things that you might not notice, but if you look carefully, like in HD, you can see every little bird or boat that comes through the scene, or any tourist taking pictures from the boat, the flashes of their cameras. Everything is synchronized to the music.
So you’ve been sitting on this for a while, and then the Costa Concordia capsized and all of those people died. As much of a tragedy as it was, there couldn’t be a better time to release this.
Ries: It was actually finished for nine months or something. We were waiting for the right moment to release it, and because of everything that’s happening we decided it was about the right time to release the video, even if the music is not out yet.
So what’s the larger context of this project? Why were you filming this in the first place?
Ries: Well, I went around with my camera a lot when I was in Venice, and I was in a lagoon in a boat that day. It was a very beautiful and specific day, because normally you can’t really see the mountains behind the skyline of Venice. I saw this boat coming, and we noticed this huge cruise liner, and I was on an island called San Lazzaro, I think.
Batongo: San Clemente or San Lazzaro?
Ries: San Lazzaro. I looked it up on Google maps before. Because San Lazzaro has a sort of outlook from which you can see the lagoon and then you see a piece of Giudecca, then you’ve got the Canal of Giudecca, and behind that you’ve got Venice. And these cruise liners go through the Canal of Giudecca. So I didn’t have a tripod; I put my camera on a little wall, which is part of this outlook, this post, and I just hit “record.” I adjusted the framing a little bit and it was a perfect postcard-like image. I just hoped the tape would last long enough for the boat to pass all the way through. What I imagined would happen actually happened, which is this cruise liner just completely raped that postcard-like image of Venice. It screws with your idea of what we all know of Venice. It completely changes it. And that’s why it feels so disproportional and abstract. That’s why a lot of people think it’s fake, even though there’s no editing, special effects, or compositing whatsoever. It’s just hitting “record” and then “stop,” and being in the right place at the right time.
I noticed the length of the video appears completely unedited from what you originally shot. Is that the case?
Ries: This is the full footage. And in the last bit of the footage, as you can see, I sort of pick up the camera and try to reposition it because the cruise liner was passing San Marco at that moment—the famous San Marco square—but we deliberately chose to keep that last few seconds in as well, because it shows the moment where you can tell this is real, that it’s raw footage.
Where were you when the cruise liner recently capsized?
Ries: I think I was reading a newspaper on the toilet. I was like, “Holy shit!”
Literally, holy shit.
Ries: And then I think I listened to this interview, this phone call, with this Schettino, the captain who is sort of held responsible for the disaster. And it was just the right moment to release the video clip. Also, it addresses a very significant problem in Venice. Imagine a disaster like that happening in the strait of Giudecca. All it would take is a small error and you would create a huge fucking crisis.
Yeah, that same thing happening in Venice—and it’s amazing that it hasn’t happened yet, after watching this footage—
Ries: Yeah, because there are six cruise liners passing through the Guidecca Canal every day. Two-thousand a year.
Batongo: Venice is the only city in the world that has its port behind the city instead of in front. I’m not sure, but it might be that in the past they wanted people coming by boat to see the beauty of the city, so they had to pass through the whole city to see it. I’m talking about 300 or 400 years ago. And right now it’s a big problem, and the only other solution is that the boats stop outside the lagoon. That would mean the tourists don’t get to see the city at all from the boat, and they want to see it of course.
Ries: This is pure speculation on my part, but I think riding down this particular canal is something that cruise companies offer to their clients. They say, “We go to Venice, and as a cherry on the cake you’ll have a panoramic overview of the city when we leave.” That’s part of the package. So there must be some kind of deal between—and again this is me speculating—between the cruise liner companies and local governments. And that’s not the only risk that is involved. The lagoon in Venice is a very delicate ecosystem, so having those boats pass through all day long fuck up the balance as well.
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