If Romantic composers and prog rock bands share anything, it'd be a surplus of ambition and a flair for the melancholic. Ghost Against Ghost frontman and producer Christopher Bono combines these musical mindsets on Checkpoint Charlie, an EP on which he also adds tasteful doses of drone, psychedelia and post-rock textures. A two-part excerpt from Ghost Against Ghost’s upcoming album Oia, Checkpoint Charlie follows a narrative arc of love lost and the descent into personal hell it produces. And this narrative arc is given visual form with the experimental short film of the same name, soundtracked by a remix from film soundtrack mixer Satoshi Mark Naguchi and Christopher Bono.
Directed by Craig Murray, the short features human forms writhing below a white fabric on a landscape that resembles an asteroid drifting in a void. Beneath the fabric is a fluid, and out of this is born another fluid that takes a humanoid form and attempts to escape.
Bono first came across Murray’s work with the video for Mogwai’s “Teenage Exorcists”, a similarly trippy video with deep shadows and single dynamic light source. After initial discussions about the concept of the video, Murray got to work on the visuals.
“My initial idea was the journey of two different liquids, how they move and react with each other, repel and attract,” Murray tells The Creators Project. “These liquids were visualized as figures, one battling to get away from the other. After one of the liquids has seemingly been borne out of the other, the journey begins with an instinct to escape. This can be referenced, reasoned and reflected upon in many ways and in all walks of life, but I prefer for it to be left for the viewer to immerse themselves in the video as a trip-like experience.”
In setting the languid rhythms of the video, Murray found inspiration in the slow pace of the Checkpoint Charlie EP. He was happy to find a musical piece that would let his shots breathe and immerse the viewer. Murray and his director of photography, Colin Elves, also wanted to evoke the painter Caravaggio’s use of a single light source, which would create areas of high illumination and shadow. To shoot the film, Murray used Vision Research’s Phantom, a camera known for its insanely high frame rates used for slow-motion filmmaking. For some shots, his team placed the Phantom in a fig rig, a circular camera mount that allows filmmakers to shoot rotating footage.
“I had not seen this as a physical move before in films and I was super happy with the results,” Murray says. “We also shot loads of liquids to mirror the actions of the performers, which was fun, albeit a lot to clean up.”
To create visuals that reflected the depth of the music, Murray shot multiple miniature models and built landscapes using coral to detail the tunnels and voids. These structures were hand-built miniatures influenced by the Polish painter Zdzislaw Beksinski.
“I wanted to create architectural forms which also had a very organic look—they needed to present themselves similarly to how fabric or liquid freely falls and covers a structure or figure underneath,” Murray explains. “They also needed to convey logical weight and architectural robustness whilst creating a balanced and semi-symmetrical backdrop for the performers to inhabit.”
Murray’s team shot all performers against black or green with a bit of live full-scale dressing of the miniature environment. They then pieced the shots together in post. “I believe there is a realism in miniatures that is lost in computer graphics,” says Murray. “This has a lot to do with how light hits them and how volume and form is created. It is often visceral imperfections that sell the shot.”
Multiple liquids were chosen and used because of the way they reacted with each other and mirrored the performers. Murray says they were mainly oil and water-based liquids, as well as some metallic powders used to highlight the actor’s movements. This unlikely fusion of fluids and performers, of light and shadow, coalesce into a surreal dark science fiction space opera of Wagnerian scale.
“I gave him the overall arc of the piece’s narrative, and he created a kind of dreamy psychological journey silhouetting the idea without taking it too literal,” Bono tells The Creators Project. “The results are a strange, surreal sci-fi, dark fantasy film that has a (hard to describe) emotional impact and visceral feel.”
Ghost Against Ghost’s Checkpoint Charlie is out April 7 on Our Silent Canvas. Pre-order a copy here.
Click here to see more of Craig Murray’s work.