Dan Andres Interview (March 2011)
Fans of Micki’s have often decried that none of her Bangles songs were released as singles (besides the European-only Following single) and that none ever received video clips. This does not mean that no videos were ever filmed, for an unofficial clip for Following was filmed in New York City in 1986 by director Dan Andres. In this interview I discuss the filming process and inspirations for what is a distinctive piece of footage.
RIS = RealInspectorShane
DA: = Dan Andries
RIS: What first raised your interest in becoming a director?
DA: As a kid I loved the movies a lot. Beyond moviegoing, TV programming in the late 60s and early 70s offered lots of Hitchcock films, lots of Westerns including John Ford films, lots of gangster films with Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson and Jimmy Cagney (my favorites). Plus comedies. I became aware of directors sort of as the New Hollywood folks started working. Films like “The Godfather” and even “Clockwork Orange” made a huge impact on the culture and even though I was too young to see them, I worshipped them from afar – reading the books, looking at pictures, reading interviews and reviews. It sort of brought me into the world of what a film director was. Richard Schickel’s “The Men Who Made The Movies” series on PBS that in 1972 and 1973 was also very eye opening. But the thing that really did me in was seeing Sergei Eisenstein’s silent masterpiece “The Battleship Potemkin” on Charles Champlin’s TV series “Film Odyssey” (also on PBS in 1972 and 1973). Something about that film just kind of made the whole business of shooting and editing and telling a film story seem so astonishing and complete and attractive in a way years of Hollywood films didn’t. I think it probably was a combination of its revolutionary content and its aggressive aesthetic. It felt made in such a strong way that made me want to make things too. My father brought a Super 8 camera home from the college he worked at and I started shooting.
RIS: What was your life like at the time?
DA: I was living in NYC in Tribeca. I was an NYU film school grade freelancing at a corporate video outfit on Wall Street and helping friends make their short films and occassional projects for hire. I was enjoying life stretching deep into the night. And I was beginning the process of directing plays, a way to work with actors that was much cheaper than shooting films.
RIS: How did you feel about Following prior to producing a film clip for it?
DA: I don’t remember where that song came from – meaning I can’t remember how the Bangles came across my radar and who hipped me to the music but I was still hovering somewhere around 30, I was single, I was experienced in the realities of how love, romance and sex could play themselves out in people’s lives and I just felt the song. Just felt it. I both knew women who could have sung it or written it or I knew myself and how I might have sung it or written it. I also found the pain of a triangle that was about possessiveness and withholding quite real. Lots of great heartache going on. The texture of the song appealed – it was just a good song for the night, for night alone, for the city.
RIS: What inspired you to move from admiring the song as a listener to making a film-clip for it?
DA: The cameraman Mark Shprintz motivated the whole thing. He and I went to NYU together – undergrad. He said “Dan, you want to be a director, make something. I’ll shoot it.” And he brought a great cheap technology to the project – black and white Super 8mm film shot frame by frame and then transferred to ¾” video (I believe – maybe BetaSP, but maybe ¾” tape). So nothing was shot at 24 frames per second – it was all shot at either 6 or 4 frames per second, or single framed by the cameraman. This means it was really really cheap to make. The film, which normally captured about 3 and a half minutes of action on a roll could capture up to 12 or 15 minutes of action per roll, if not more in some cases. The transfer was cheap, done by a guy uptown who actually was a Woodstock photographer – Elliot Landy. He called his operation Landyvision. It was very very crude and real. Done out of his apartment. That was sort of eye opening – I thought everyone associated with Woodstock and documenting Woodstock were ensconced in a great untouchable financially secure Hall of Fame forever. Not so, of course. He was nice, he did a good job and he didn’t charge a lot. The way it worked was his Super 8mm projector had variable speed control so we did multiple passes at different speeds. This included running it “real time” – 4 frames per second – resulting in action that matched reality but was blurred and sort of pixilated, and then at higher and lower speeds – and freezing the image as well.
RIS: Who were the actors?
DA: The actors were really from a core of people I had met while at film school. Richard Pait auditioned for a student film I shot (and never finished) at NYU. I cast him. Then a relationship developed – he was in another more successful and completed film by another friend – I worked on that film as well, and then Richard and I did theater together and more little film things. Mark had also tapped Richard for other short pieces. The blonde actress was going out with the Mark at the time. Her name was Maud Winchester. She had been in “Birdy,” a theatrically released film based on a William Maxwell novel. It seemed she was doing well as an actress. The other actress was a friend of Maude’s I believe named Joan. Later she did well in theater around the country – she was friends with a fellow student of hers who became a successful theater and TV director. He does episodes of everything now – like “West Wing” and “Oz” and “Six Feet Under.” She did theater with him, for example. I saw her in Chicago years later. So that triangle was our Bangles triangle. And then there was Casey who played the blind man. I think Richard brought Casey into the project. Casey was very very pleasant, this I remember.
RIS: Were the other members of your ‘Bangles triangle + blind man’ also fond of the song?
DA: I can’t recall. I’m going to say sure, they were fond of the song. Why not – it’s a good song.
RIS: What do you recall of the filming?
DA: It was great to shoot all over the NYC train system. We did a lot of shooting at Union Square I believe, taking advantage of the levels it offered and the fact that many trains came through. We also shot far out in Queens, probably, on elevated platforms to get the light, and some of the vistas. You can also see we crossed the Williamsburg Bridge at one point – great footage there. That was a lot of fun. I don’t remember ever having issues with other passengers of the police or transit cops. The camera was really very small. We also shot in the art director’s apartment – his name was Phil Speakes and he was key in helping me visualize it and plan it and make it fly. We did storyboards together, I remember that.
RIS: What did you see as the ‘story’ of the clip?
DA: The story involved sex and voodoo and murder and stuff we never shot. It was all too too much. It was enough what we got from the train shoot and the love making shoot. Those too bright things in the back of the lovemaking scenes were supposed to wolf eyes. Go figure.
RIS: Did you have any filmmaking influences in mind at the time?
DA: When we made this piece? I don’t know. Maybe. Trains – Hitchcock I guess (it’s always kinetic when you’re on a train – no matter what). Faces? I don’t know – I mean I always see Bergman when I see faces, I guess I see others – like Cassavetes, when we stare a lot. It’s an odd little drama dream played out on a train – Maya Deren maybe in the dislocation of it all – in the talisman and in the faces and the light and the stares up. There is a lot of sublimated eroticism there. Maybe not sublimated – movie eroticism – people acting in ways that carry other situations and meanings in them in a forum/stage that they don’t normally happen in – or aren’t noted. I mean is it a lesbian piece? Is it a piece about oral sex? I don’t know. It’s dreamy and slightly off. Who does that? Plus the black and white urban jerky texture. Silent cinema? Probably not. When I see the clouds and the women’s gestures performed on the outdoor platforms I think of Dreyer’s “Joan of Arc.” Falconetti’s face is the ultimate film face of a woman suffering and carrying greater nobility at the same time. So safe bets – Hitchcock, Deren, Dreyer. Maybe.
RIS: Was there any extra symbolism intended?
DA: There was a meaning to the tooth thing that Joan pulls from the blind man’s cup – it was supposed to be a sort of talisman, and a reminder of the crime the two had committed – which I thought was a killing but might have been a blinding. There was some stab at something about sight and seeing and gazes and the sunglasses of the blind man. I guess the only crime they really committed was loving each other and then leaving each other. I don’t know if I can really explain that one. The stalker chick was supposed to be intense, intensely sensual and dark and a draw, a lure, that somehow freaked the protagonist out. He wanted out and got out. And found blondie. And then all the stalking on the trains. And the stalker chick won something, some kind of commitment or attention she needed.
RIS: Did you have any concerns during the film-making process?
DA: Another friend, Joe Hayes, who Mark had met and who had done a lot of university theater on Long Island and worked with Michael Jackson’s video director from the 80s as a choreographer (though not for Michael), pushed me to edit it as well, and encouraged me to move forward when I had a lot of fear and doubt about “making something good.” I’m kind of over that now, but I wasn’t then. I also wonder about my marvelous actors and what I was going for. I wanted scrawny edgy non-conformist urban sex criminals. They’re all too well fed and well behaved as people I believe to pull that off. That being said, they performed very well – they fulfilled the roles as we all created them together, and they gave something real, real that we all made. And that’s the value of that. All my “dreams” are unseen by the viewer and don’t intrude on the experience of enjoying it for what it is, which is I think good. And that was another lesson for me.
RIS: How was the final process of editing/cutting?
DA: We cut it at night (perfect) at a corporate video place I was working – very after hours. That was down on Wall Street – Drexel Burnham Lambert the junk bond kings. They had a production company called Broad Street Productions. We did it there. It took a while to move from shoot to edit. I wanted to shoot more but it was crazy to do that. Mark finally pushed me to cut. We did at least three different edits. I saw them all recently on a 3/4″ work reel I still own. It’s fascinating to watch the edits move into the realization that texture and mood alone were not going to cut it – story was the driver, and compression was key. One edit ran a good minute and a half past the end of the music. Ultimately we extended the music but I still made the story start much earlier. I also, once the core of the story was there, was able to integrate the really rich footage that doesn’t focus on the actors but captures movement, environment, place – the texture of location. It must have taken a while. I am sure at some point Richard came by to see an edit and we spent some time making a short version for his reel as an actor – can’t recall whether that was before or after the longer edit was finished.
RIS: I understand it was never officially ‘released’, but what happened to the piece after it was completed?
DA: It existed on a lot of VHS tapes, on some ¾” tapes, maybe on a BetaSP I can’t remember. It was strictly a homemade unauthorized reel building kind of piece. It was a sort of way to sell skills – for all of us. […]
The piece helped me get work as a Karaoke video director for Pioneer Laserdisc. That was a similar deal – take a pop song, cast it, shoot it and they’d show it as video accompaniment to the singalong words on the screen at the Karaoke bars, which were popular. The difference was it was legal and legit and had distribution. It was odd and fun and had a little money in it. It increased the share the wealth and resources and creativity aspect among all of us – the circle widened considerably after that. And a theater company or two also emerged from that. Some of the Karaoke guys went on to MTV. I did not.
RIS: Do you have any other memories of the time and place to share?
DA: The East Village had spaces like the Gas Station on Avenue A I think around 5th Street which was this great combination of sculpture garden, bar and party center and hangout. There were a few corner bar overlooking Tompkins Square which would soon be filled with homeless squatters, and the place had an energy of thrift shops and second hand clothing and magic and gentrification and oddness and a kind of out there do it yourself anarchic pornography. There was a gallery where I think Tony Fitzpatrick showed and maybe even at one point Basquiat and the plate smasher/filmmaker Julian Schnabel. It was scrappy and intriguing and messy and to me, very real. I guess if you owned some of that property you wouldn’t agree. I remember there were no banks or ATMs over there, there were no bus shelters, there was very little sign the rest of the city could even deal with the East Village, and that was nice if you wanted to feel OK leaving a lot of things behind, which I wanted to do.
RIS: How much of a role did your Following clip have in your karaoke work, and was there a different feel to the clips you later created?
DA: Yes I think that was the only piece I needed to get the work – it came through a friend, a really fantastic woman who owned a CP-16 and she had a line to the Karaoke folks – and she shared the wealth, as we say. She saw that and said “Huh – do you want to do that for money?”
Of course the “for money” part meant that there was way less time, control, footage, etc. So nothing was ever as rich as that piece was.
RIS: Where did you go from there?
DA: I am currently a writer/producer for public television in Chicago. It’s producer because there are no directors in our stable – so a producer is really a director in sheep’s clothing. Chicago is my hometown and I’m back there now. Been here since the early 90s. I was the series producer on a weekly show about the arts for 5 years and have done a number of documentaries on the arts, local history, history of ethnic groups, docs relating to identity politics, all kinds of good stuff.