No shit, that’s Status Ain’t Hood with the White Stripes and Michel Gondry
I’m going to keep this relatively short because I’m wicked tired, but I’m only now writing this at 2:30 a.m. because I spent fourteen hours today acting in a White Stripes video. The video is for “The Denial Twist”; it was directed by Michel Gondry, and I’m one of seven people who act in the video. The other six are: Conan O’Brien, Jack White, Meg White, and three dwarves.
Last month, I moderated a roundtable discussion for Devil in the Woods with four of the seven directors whose work has been compiled in the Directors’ Label series, a DVD series that collects the work of music video directors. Gondry directed Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, probably my favorite movie of last year other than Before Sunrise, and his videos (Bjork’s “Hyperballad,” Daft Punk’s “Around the World”) are some instant-joy-producing shit. A few weeks after the roundtable, someone in Gondry’s camp called me to ask if I wanted to be in a video. Gondry liked me, I guess, but he mostly wanted to use me because I’m crazy tall (6 ft 11 in). Gondry had this idea of recreating the White Stripes’ performances on Conan O’Brien’s show in 2003, except hyperstylized with stretched-out and scrunched-up sets and special effects. Gondry told me today that the idea for the video, which he’d already had, solidified when I met him. If that’s true, I’m honored, since this video is going to be badass.
The video is all about perspective, putting Jack and Meg in these situations where they’ll look weird and disproportunate, huge or tiny depending on where they are. The whole video is one long camera shot, so all the sets were built in a circle in one big room on a Greenpoint soundstage. The one-shot thing was really impressive, but it meant that everyone had to get their timing down exactly or the whole thing would fall apart.
When I told my brother Jim about the video shoot, he said that I should ask if they need any more tall guys (he’s about 6 ft 6 in). I did, and they ended up casting him. He took a couple of days off his special-ed teachers’ aide job in Baltimore and took the Chinatown bus up. When we showed up this morning drenched from the rain, they told us that I’d be playing tall Conan and he’d be playing the tall version of the hulking, weirdly subsurvient black bodyguard that the band had when they played on the show. To play tall Conan, I had a huge flat hard cardboard photo of Conan’s head strapped to my head (without eyeholes), and the video’s crew made me even taller by taping huge wooden blocks to my shoes. I was supposed to talk to the band and then walk them off the stage without ever looking away from the camera. This seems easy enough, but it basically meant that I had to walk forward while looking backward with a flat piece of cardboard covering my eyes and bigass ungainly clodhopper joints on my feet. This turned out to not be something I could not do. Eventually, Gondry decided to have Conan play himself and have me play the bodyguard (a role that required way less movement), and my brother got axed from the video. Sorry, Jim.
Tomorrow, I’ll write about the funny shit Conan said and my awkward conversations with the dwarves (I didn’t actually call them dwarves to their faces) and the Kanye video Gondry did last week and the greater role that this video and Gondry’s other videos play in the world. Right now, I need to sleep.
Voice review: Keith Harris on the White Stripes’ Get Behind Me Satan