Absolute banger this week from London-based filmmaker and photographer Phoebe Arnstein. As well as spending her days taking rather uncompromisingly beautiful photographs of her loved-ones, Phoebe has spent the last few years as a professional camerawoman, operating enormous machinery and creating videos for the likes of Jamie Isaac, South London Ordnance and Gang Colours among others. She kindly took time out from behind a lens of some sort to tell us about her favourite ever music video, and it’s an absolutely summery, 90s corker. Here she is…
Phoebe Arnstein: Massive Attack: Unfinished Sympathy, directed by Baillie Walsh
Spilling out from the gaps between the buildings that line West Pico Boulevard, the hot Californian sun leaks onto Shara Nelson’s face and she momentarily closes her eyes to feel the heat on her skin. For me this is a totally enchanting and cinematic moment and it paints this highly emotional track so beautifully.
The way the camera finds Nelson walking down the street, almost by accident, humbles her performance and we are invited to join this moment with her as she walks forward with liberated strides, eyes skyward and totally unaware of her surroundings. We are given fleeting opportunities to engage with the colourful stream of bikers, kids and street dwellers that fall away behind her before our focus quickly returns to Nelson. The gangsters loitering on the street corner at the start of the film perform the only action directly to camera. I love the way the camera physically leaves them behind by swinging up high on a crane arm. It is a curiously disjointed action in comparison with the graceful movements of both Nelson and the camera.
Despite being made to feel totally immersed on the street, the film demonstrates intricate execution in terms of its choreography and Steadicam work (operated by Dan Kneece). It was shot on an Arriflex III camera and precision speed control was used so that the duration of the video fit exactly onto a 400 ft. roll of 35mm film. Kneece describes how they managed this: "The shot started out with me on a Shotmaker Arm which yanked me up in the air, then back down where I leapt off running and stayed that way for six blocks. LA blocks! At the end of the take I sat on the tailgate of a pickup truck and they drove me back to one. I made it through six takes before I was totally exhausted and could do no more.”
It is a special moment in filmmaking where a particular shot asks for the crew to clear the scene and the Steadicam operator and the artist perform alone during the take. I love the thought of Nelson marching along the West Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, the activity of those around her alive in the evening sun, with Kneece running alongside her, capturing a unique take on film every time. After stopping to let her walk past, the camera allows Nelson to walk out of sight. Through this directorial decision she becomes just another person on the street and we watch her walk away as quietly as she arrived.