We Couldn’t Get Closer Than This: The videos of The Cure and Tim Pope

For this post I want to take a look at a creative relationship between a band and a director that is a hugely significant one in the history of the pop video, as well as being a big part of my life when I was a teenager. The Cure were always one of the more interesting and inventive groups of the 80’s and indeed were one of the first ‘alternative’ bands to really crossover in to the mainstream. During their heyday they were an ever-present part of the pop scene in the UK and beyond and a large part of their success was due to the fact that their videos were real events.

They were one of the first British bands to really harness the power of MTV and realised that far from being a distraction or a superfluity the video could genuinely add something to the song when done correctly. Their collaboration with Tim Pope spanned the entirety of their most prominent years and what I want to do today is take a look at three in particular that for me capture perfectly how well an audio/visual collaboration can work when the right creative partnership is formed.

Let’s Go To Bed (1982):

This was the first of the videos to be spawned by this partnership and even though they would go on to do better things together I think it is a perfect example of what Pope brought to table. Despite featuring only one room and two people the visuals never rest, and the director squeezes so much out of such relatively simple elements, not least the clever but striking use of seemingly ordinary props. Of course, all of this is helped by the fact that in Robert Smith he had a frontman to work with who perfectly understood how to perform to a camera, and in all three of these videos Smith’s unique charisma really shines through. In this he plays up to the camera and most importantly seems to be genuinely enjoying himself. A lot of pop videos feature bands looking like they’d rather be anywhere else than shooting a bloody video, but not Bob. He clearly loves it, as you would expect from a man for whom the visual element of his band always really mattered. The hair alone is testament to that! With this video and song The Cure began to move away from their ‘depressing bedsit goth’ period and in to something altogether more playful and fun. This is 1982 and most bands are still wrestling with the whole concept of videos being crucial to what they did, whereas here The Cure showed that they fully grasped the creative possibilities on offer, leaving most of their rivals behind.

Lovecats (1983):

One of their signature songs and their biggest hit to date, reaching number 7 in the UK charts, this jazz-inflected feline strut of a track needed a suitably styled video to complement it. Pope really came up with the goods providing a deceptively simple film full of arresting moments, making great creative use of lighting and shadows (and cats, of course!) to present something that fully complements and enhances the song without ever getting in the way of it. The feline-strut of that famous bassline drives the rhythm of the video as it does the song, and once again Pope never allows the eye to settle on one image for too long, keeping the viewer constantly entertained and enthralled. Once again, Smith is the real star and those eyes – wide, engaging and lined with black – seem to fill the screen at times. More than anything, this is just great fun and the energy of the song and the video work in perfect unison. By now The Cure were becoming a consummate pop act, and with this song more than any up to this point they placed themselves at the forefront of the music scene in the UK. Put simply, no-one else looked or sounded quite like them.

Lullaby (1988):

Ok, so fast forward a few years to the other end of the 80’s, and by now The Cure were beginning to make inroads in to the US market and becoming a truly globally famous act. With their ‘Disintegration’ album, considered by many (including myself) to be their finest work, they had really come of age. At this point they were still a great pop band, but had also fully harnessed their gothic side, making records that contained plenty of light and shade, usually at the same time. Lullaby – a compellingly atmospheric song about childhood nightmares and the overactive power of a young imagination – was maybe their finest single to date, and for it Pope provided the perfect visual foil, artfully capturing the requisite sense of creeping claustrophobia and nocturnal dread. By this time every new Cure video was an eagerly anticipated event, and I can remember clearly seeing this on Top Of The Pops for the first time and being wowed by how complete a package the audio and visual were. When Smith sings ‘the spiderman is having you for dinner tonight’ you can almost believe that he will do just that! By the time he sings ‘and I feel like I’m being eaten by a thousand million shivering furry holes’ you are completely immersed in the sense of paranoia and fright being created. And again, as with all three of these videos, there isn’t any need to resort to lazy technical gimmicks or post-production effects. It is all achieved through great camera work, wonderful use of lighting, props and scenery and Smith’s enchanting central performance.

We here at MVD like to poke fun at the pop video, as our regular readers will know, and the 1980’s was a period when plenty of ludicrous, poorly conceived and laughable promos were made. Quite simply, a lot of bands just didn’t grasp how powerful a tool the video could be when done in the right way. This was an age where the form was still in its infancy, and when MTV was still something more people talked about than actually watched. However, for me The Cure were one of two British bands (the other being Duran Duran – expect a post on their videos sometime soon) who more than most fully understood just how visual pop music was becoming in the MTV age, and how if you had great songs to begin with (they were, besides anything else, a fantastic band) then putting some time and consideration in to the visual presentation meant you could create something of genuine artistic worth, as opposed to a forgettable ‘band performance’ type promo.

These videos, and the others from this period of the band’s history, are stylish, striking and beautifully crafted. More than anything else they are great fun, and stand up today as high watermarks in the history of the video through the sheer power of their individuality. A huge creative force in music at the time, The Cure often seem to be unfairly overlooked when people reappraise the 80’s these days. It’s a shame, because musically and visually they were often streets ahead of the competition. Watching them again will hopefully remind you (if you needed reminding) of just what a vital and original band they really were. And also, just how great Robert Smith’s hair was…

 

Lego my video

OK, I admit it: I am the one that chucked The Cure over a cliff in a wardrobe.

The main part of the video was committed to celluloid in a large, wet floored hanger in London—in fact one of the largest spaces I can remember ever filming in. Weird, given the fact that we were literally doing the claustrophobia of the cupboard’s interior.

The exterior bit was filmed at Beachy Head, a beauty spot in the UK’s west Sussex, where the snowy white rocks fall away to the ocean, 162 metres below. A frocked priest even drives this stretch of coastline in a Landrover vehicle to talk people out of committing suicide here, for which it has become synonymous, and there are on average sadly over three attempts a week.

Little did I know that I was shooting something I would be talking about thirty years later. To me, this was just another in a string of videos I made for the group. All in all, I probably did 37 Cure videos. I say “probably” because I honestly don’t know—let’s just leave that to the experts. Ask the average Goth in the street “how many videos did Tim Pope shoot for The Cure?’ and he or she will tell you, with precise dates, the meaning of the video and most of all about what haircut Robert sported that day. See, these videos seem to ‘run deep’ with people, indeed. I often, still to this day, get people contacting me to ask if their university thesis might be about our videos. I of course made, and do make, videos for many other artists, of which I am exceedingly proud: Neil Young, Bryan Ferry, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The The, Talk Talk, Paul Weller. More recently, Fatboy Slim, Amanda Palmer, The Kaiser Chiefs, others. But still it is generally The Cure ones that people want to come back to, especially as the fans seem particularly fervent and loyal.

Often on a cab ride, when it comes in the conversation to the part about what your job is, I will portray myself as a plumber, or private detective, or fireman. Anything, but to talk about ‘that’ video. However hard I try, though, it always seems to come back to: “Oh, you did the wardrobe video! I love that video! It’s my favorite from the eighties!” I guess it’s going to be etched on my gravestone: “Tim Pope. Yeah, he did the wardrobe video.” Still, mustn’t grumble, eh? Like they say, “better to be remembered for something.” There were others that (amongst the guesstimated canon of 37) have gone in deep to people’s psyches, seemingly penetrating their inner beings like syrup tentacles. “Lovecats” for The Cure saw Robert dance in circles about a room, talking about “cagey tigers,” while he sent the audience giddy with his cat-like choreography—oh, and I punched him on the nose with a stuffed cat.

“Love Song” saw him and band—Simon, Porl, Boris, Roger—in a cave of penises; shocking even to me when I saw the film back in the harsh light of the editing suite: “Oh God, I’ve gone too far this time!” “Inbetween Days”, where I placed the (very expensive) camera in a shopping basket attached to a piece of rope, so we could give the effect of Robert chucking the camera away, and then catching it again. “Lullaby”—and here we come to the point of why I am writing this now—where Robert (to quote the lyric) “feels like” he’s “being eaten by a thousand million shivering furry holes” (One of the best lines of any pop song, ever, surely?). What was I to do with the video?

Famously, Robert was shocked to see my interpretation of a spider’s mouth—go check the video for yourself and tell me if you think what ‘eats’ him resembles any part of the female anatomy. In other parts of the video, where he is bed-bound, he spent a day inside a spiderweb made from glue like candy floss and doubtless had colorful, solvent-based dreams that night. The byproduct of the glue was that it pulled out half of his hair when he tried to remove it from his face. Which, when you are a RS, is, I guess, bad news—bad news if you are anyone, really.

These videos are all part of my misspent youth—the equivalence of the “naughty things” others got up to behind bicycle sheds. Mine just happened to be a little more, erm, public. I am used to seeing piss-takes, versions, ripoffs, of my work with The Cure, but I was particularly taken with the intriguing version of “Lullaby” in, wait for it, Lego.

Yes, like most people, I have built many a building or airplane from this iconic stuff, but never a video. See it here on Dangerous Minds for the first time. Part of me wants to know why someone would go to all this trouble? To replicate an entire video, frame by frame, cut by cut, shot by shot—wow! My congratulations to the person who made it, credited on the end title card as “Lucas Tuzar.” Lucas says something, in further words, about it being “for Nicola Tuzar’s birthday” and a few others “all of them are big The Cure fans”. I don’t know if he means “big” in terms of their physical size, or he is referencing their passion for the group. Probably the latter, I would guess.

So, there you have it: one of my videos now made in Lego. Thank you, Lucas!

You can see more of my videos at my website www.timpope.tv, or you can get my Twitter feed @timpopedirector.

© Tim Pope & www. dangerousminds.net

Touring with The Cure

So, I just spent a few pre-South America days with The Cure and we filmed everything. Rehearsals and everything. They sounded really great and I think Reeves Gabrels is a really good bonus for the band. Boy, they are playing together tighter than a cat’s arse. It would be foolish of me to release details of the set – anyway, by this time next week we shall be on to our second concert in São Paulo when all shall be revealed. Robert has announced that the set will be a good three and a half hours long, which means that by the time I get back to the UK at the end of April I will have spent well over 24 hours filming the band playing live. And that is not counting the documentary footage that we shall be shooting in addition. My Pope-eyed cameras will have access to everything: backstage, on the coaches, at the late night parties. People are going to get a really great glimpse of what it’s like to hang out with the band and the ways that things come together for them creatively and musically with RS at the helm. Well, most of all, the last time I really got to hang out with the band was 1997 and this is a lovely way for us to all become reacquainted. After all, they are some of my most longstanding “muckers” in the biz and that’s a beautiful thing.

Immagine

Yesterday was an absolute bonkers day. Having been promised a fair amount of ‘thong’ on Coplanar beach, I found myself standing there with Jules, my producer, and Flemming, my cameraman, in the pissing down rain. Next it was to the hat shop in downtown Rio to get fitted up for… well, ‘that’ I shall keep a surprise! Let’s just say I expect later today to be sporting something fairly eye catching in the head department. Doubtless, pictures will accompany my hat announcements. (Or are they pronouncements?) Then it was to the favelas of Rio, where we had to pass through a huge police presence to get in and to be honest where everybody seemed genuinely very nice. Perhaps it did help that we were being guided by my friend Alex who lives in Brazil anyway. I loved listening to the noise of TV sets and babies crying and the smells of food being cooked were ‘gnaaaaar’. After a couple more detours it was off to the HSBC arena to see the band sound check and to get acquainted with my lovely Brazilian film crew. Looking forward to tonight – the first of eight of The Cure’s LatAm gigs. Filming loads more stuff today before the concert, up to visit Jesus, then… oh Christ, it’s late… must get going… meantime, I see the first sun is popping out from behind the clouds, as I look out from my hotel window. Note to myself: make sure the hat fits.

Immagine

Well, seeing this is my ‘first tour,’ it might as well be with The Cure. I have filmed many concerts in my life – Neil Young, Iggy Pop, David Bowie (a few times), The The, ‘The Cure In Orange’ – but never quite anything like this and certainly never to this scale. I think we are going to have an exciting and amazing and insightful film at the end of it, filled with Cure music. The whole thing is fascinating to me and I am filming every second of it. The Cure themselves are being amazingly generous about allowing access with the cameras. We are capturing very intimate moments: what happens when a band comes off-stage, etc. Where do they go? What do they say? See the film when all this is finished and find out!!!! So far a few personal highlights for me have been… Well, first, the concerts themselves. The band are playing REALLY WELL I think. A mixture of ‘tight’ and still ‘loose enough’ to feel as if the songs were just written. (For me, I have many personal connections with the songs, as I made the videos!) As I am traveling with the band, some of the police escorts have been fun and recorded by me personally for you in 3D!!!! Meeting the fans has been lovely and so many of them have been very warm and welcoming to me in every town – which I did not expect. I have had an awful amount of photos taken with people I don’t know. Possibly my least favorite moment so far was at the Asunción press conference, where I found myself suddenly (and unexpectedly) in the glare of the cameras and lights, when someone asked me what my favorite trees were in Paraguay. Well, the good news was that I had been out filming some trees that day. The band of course enjoyed thoroughly the moment of me being thrust into the spotlight and Robert captured it in 3D with a malevolent grin on his face I noticed later on the film I saw. My coy blushes will probably be very enjoyable in 3D. Anyway, must go… I am off today to film a slightly rainy Buenos Aires. Will be catching up with some more fans later and perhaps chatting with them on camera, etc. See attached the photo of Flemming, my cameraman, filming the press conference… and getting in all the shots of the other cameramen.

Immagine

Today Santiago, Chile, tomorrow Lima, Peru. Excellent concert from The Cure last night. The audience loved them. It was very special. You could feel the atmosphere from early on. Me? I spent the evening inside a little caravan at the side of the stage, behind the speakers. The picture shows you what I see during the show. We are five concerts into filming, with another 3 more to go. Been very nice saying hello to the fans and everywhere I go I just hear people shouting “Teem, Teem.” I loved seeing the Andes sneaking over the top of the stadium yesterday. Quite beautiful. A perfectly random update, but, hey.

Immagine

OK, so the final push begins and we are on the home straight now with the tour. This time next week we will all be back home. It’s been a fun if not slightly hectic journey. Feels like everything is a bit of a blur to me. It’s been great meeting the fans and talking with them on camera. Quite humbling, actually. I know the band think this, too. We have loads of amazing footage ‘in the can’ – the gigs themselves, talking with people, atmospheric ‘other stuff.’ Some of the stuff at the gigs that my roving cameraman Flemming has shot is quite sublime. There is a shot of a woman at Santiago and she’s standing right near the back of the arena with the band in the far background. So beautiful. People keep saying to me, ‘When will we be seeing all this?’ Really hard to say. All I know is it’s going to take a hell of a time to look through everything and then edit everything together to tell the story of the tour and then to mix the sound, etc. Meantime, yesterday we said goodbye to Lima, Peru, next stop Bogota, Colombia…

Immagine

How lovely to be home again and to hear the peaceful sounds of the English countryside after my mad adventure with The Cure in South America. What an adventure it was, though. Amazing concerts; the warmth of the fans; the different towns. Oh, did I mention the police escorts everywhere? My favorite one for sheer freneticism and exuberance was perhaps Asunción, Paraguay. Though Mexico might be a close second. The bikes seemed to dart in between our vans like dragonflies, missing our vehicles by millimeters. Anyway, we lived to tell the tale. Like I say, I thought The Cure were on top form and Robert’s voice just seems to get better and stronger. The part where he sings “again and again” in ‘A Forest’ gets me every time. It’s like a whack to the plate of the chest. I would try and synchronize the movement of my camera crane to fit his vocal, getting it to pull away in a whoosh. Sometimes it worked, sometimes less so. We filmed 8 concerts and it was pretty difficult sometimes because of my lack of Spanish/Portuguese. We caught the essence of the concerts, despite this. They’re all there currently in some digital limbo land, ready and ripe for me to spend quite some time reaping them and manipulating them into a whole. Over a hundred hours of concert footage alone. Can’t wait to get started. And we also shot loads of extra footage: the fans talking about their passion for the music, the 5.9 earthquake in Mexico City, the sound checks and rehearsals, ‘with the band’ on their trips to and from the shows. So far I don’t even dare to think about how much good material we do have. Just what the fans wanted to see, it will be. I do not know at all how long it will take to put together. Watch this space for updates and I do appreciate that people are very interested to see what we shot, but PLEASE BE PATIENT and I can assure you there will be something… eventually.

March/April 2013

© Tim Pope