Now that the video for Walk like a Panther has escaped from my grubby little paws and is out there roaming the wilds of the internet I thought I would take some time out to explain a few of its finer points.
This whole project started out because of a demo Natalie Sharp recorded using her iPhone and a loop pedal. She’s always maintained that it was only an embryonic idea and never really intended for public consumption but that didn’t do anything to diminish my initial reaction to it. On hearing it for the first time I had what can only be described as a moment of clarity. Okay so alcohol may have played its part in the first instance, it was a Friday night and I was a little worse for wear, but then the morning after when I listened to it properly not only was I struck with the incredible intensity of her voice but I quickly came to the decision that it was high time I bought a camera and became a director.
As I understand it “Walk like a Panther” is a song about an avuncular type who’s giving life advice to another and possibly much younger man. However when it’s switched on its head and sung by a woman it becomes a very different and dare I say it a much more interesting proposition. It’s kind of like the old screenwriting trick where a project has flatlined and no one knows quite how to proceed and then someone walks into the room and says: “Hey, what if we turned this character into a woman?”
The character I wanted to create for the video was that of a former dancer ( hence the dance studio ) who has spent her lifetime searching for an equal and thinks nothing of destroying the men who don’t live up to her incredible standards. The video centres around a day in her life. We see her as she prepares to meet her current suitor; a man whom she hopes will finally be the one to deliver her from solitude. I thought the pain and longing in Natalie’s vocal would lend itself nicely to this type of dramatic persona.
Visually my first touchstone was Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, not one of my favourite films but the central relationship between Matthew and Isabelle seemed like a good starting point. Of course Natalie would be my Isabelle, poised and deadly but with the willowy sadness of a Siren. But who would play my Matthew? The innocent unaware of the woman who would no doubt devour him.
In the end the person we both wanted to play the man was unavailable for the day of the shoot. Finally, and after a lot of worrying on my part that I’d already turned into M. Night Shyamalan, I was forced to step into the breach and appear in the video myself. Because I was already director and cinematographer the role of the man was greatly reduced to only a handful of shots, where I set up the focus before steeping in front of the camera. Obviously a change like this so late in the day had a big impact on the finished piece. Because of this I think it became much more of a character study/portrait rather than the unravelling of the dynamic between two people. It was just one of those things, a darling got killed, although I hope in some way it added to the overall sense of mystery and intrigue.
It’s commonplace for music videos to switch between different looks, outfits and locations but I used this particular convention to mix up the chronology of events and make the viewer wonder if the things they’re observing are past or present, real or imagined. For the record the events happen in this order. She goes to the dance studio. We watch her applying makeup and then performing in front of the mirror. The studio is the one place she feels safe from the prying eyes of men. Later she goes to the hotel room where they first met. She waits wondering if he will even arrive. Tired she lays down on the bed and closes her eyes. The rest is open to interpretation. For the remainder of the video it’s unclear if the man is actually in the room or whether she’s remembering their first encounter.
I should also point out that the Black origami unicorn is a reference to Blade Runner. Most of my work, in the past, has had some sort of oblique reference to The Wizard of Oz. Although in the run up to filming WLAP I found myself watching the Director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven a number of times and so I couldn’t resist paying homage to Mr Scott. I’m very pleased with the shot where I pull focus and the unicorn is swallowed up by the pool of light. The unicorn itself implies that the man has been into her personal space, something she realises in the sequence on the hotel bed. As he clicks his fingers we see her crushing it beneath her foot. Make of that what you will Dr Freud.
Lastly I want to thank Natalie for all of her ideas and energy. Instinctively I think she just knows how to perform, training helps but in my opinion certain talents run far deeper than anything that can be taught. And I don’t just mean grand gestures but those close up contemplative moments when the camera is right in her face. More importantly she came up with things you could never storyboard, the sort of things that directors dream will happen in the moment. I guess you can call that personality. Without question she is a superstar waiting to happen. Possibly a bit too talented for this planet we call Earth.
Walk like a Panther was filmed on location at the London school of Capoeira Heranca and the Renaissance Hotel, St Pancras.
Canon 550D Lense 35mm f/1.4