We were playing the title game – lists and lists of possible titles, each one slightly more or less abstract than the preceding one. And we were listening to a lot of music that we’d started to gather with a relevant theme or lyric. Music like Bing Crosby’s version of Don’t Fence Me In, Nancy Sinatra’s Things (later quite a guiding theme in terms of driving Janet’s memories), Perry Como’s Magic Moments (that made its way onto the soundtrack, albeit in altered form), Tom Waits’s Frank’s Wild Years of course (where the character got his name from, and driving force of the whole “swap wife for dream” narrative development), Regina Spektor’s Music Box (which is fairly chilling on some levels), Malvina Reynold’s Little Boxes (which has bugged me since childhood)…and so on.
But what was bugging us about Frank and Janet (her name just blurted its way out after we had his), was that it seemed to focus more on his story, and left her to play a victim or helpless heroine, and thus relegate her to a more minor character. The lyrics of The Cure’s Pictures of You (from their 1989 album, Disintegration) gave us another entry point:
I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you
That I almost believe that they’re real
I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you
That I almost believe that the pictures are
All I can feel
Remembering you standing quiet in the rain
As I ran to your heart to be near
And we kissed as the sky fell in
Holding you close
How I always held close in your fear
Remembering you running soft through the night
You were bigger and brighter and whiter than snow
And screamed at the make-believe
Screamed at the sky
And you finally found all your courage to let it all go
And from this came a jump forward in the story – that Frank was haunted in some way by pictures he had of Janet, both literally by pictures on their walls/mantelpieces, and figuratively by pictures in his head of their past. It was a skip and a jump to think of the Dream Creature as another aspect of this too – what if the dream was a manifestation of someone Janet should be, but for some reason wasn’t allowed to? Does Frank figure this out? How?
So we had Janet in 3 phases: past, present, and fantasy. And we had Frank in obsessive present focus, fussing over pictures and manifestations of his wife. It was again an obvious step to rewind his life and see what he might have been like in his early 20s, say, when he and Janet might have met. With these markers in place, we had what felt like parallel character developments to play in the telling of our story.
It also launched us into intense image collection, to give visual texture to the characters and the world they live in.
We’d already been looking at Bernard Buffet, whose work we’d used for a poster mock-up. His stuff is great – dark and scratchy, with a penchant for the slightly seedy, almost sinister, sometimes innocent and longing.
This is Les Ecorchés Tête d’écorché – 1964. It made us think very much of Frank, as if his skin had been scratched off by his obsessions. It also suggested some form of mask, with life and experience really having taken their toll.
For Janet we found this one – Femme assise – 1950. There was something so simple and yearning about her isolation, and became a major starting point for her character.
The graphic scratchiness also gave us ideas for the performance texture, as well as being inspiration for the eventual graphic design. Tom Schwarer of Black Square draws quite similarly, and has been the major designer for all our artwork over the last 10 years, so it seemed a match made in heaven. Or hell, maybe. These pictures are not all together peaceful or heavenly.
Another huge influence on development of the work visually was Gregory Crewdson, best known for his meticulously arranged, surreal pictures of American small-town life.
This just suggests a story waiting to be told, as most of his photos do. The loneliness, the longing, the mood and lighting all played their part on our sub consciousnesses.
This screamed Frank at the end of it all, plans and dreams in tatters.
Things going awry. I love the way his photos are like sets – the space of the bathroom with light leaking out is tempting to have a shadow pass by it.
Here again, the couple pinned to their carpet in the middle of mediocrity and failed dreams. OK, I’m imposing my reading on all of this, for sure.
Things beneath the floorboards. Secrets in the cellar. Repressed memory and desire will out.
It’s the combination of the familiarity of the house, and things we use to define life, and the strange, the incessant creep of nature, the planet just waiting to shrug humanity off it, the wildness of the world that, essentially, we’re all still scared to death of.
And here the aspects of Janet – reflections and fables. Who is she really? How can she tell? How can any of us really know? You get the feeling she’d turn around quickly and there’d be nobody there…
Phew. Apologies for rabbiting on so much. Still a newcomer at this blog thing, so writing is a little turgid, and posts too long, and too many pictures I’m sure. But there’s so much to tell, and so much to say.
Will attempt to be more concise in the future.