Director Lisa Gunning on the Goldfrapp: Tales of Us music-video film series

Alison Goldfrapp in Goldfrapp: Tales of Us.
Alison Goldfrapp in Goldfrapp: Tales of Us.

As Goldfrapp, singer Alison Goldfrapp and musician/composer Will Gregory have created a discography of breathy, synthesizer-heavy songs that carry an inherent cinematic feeling. For the duo's sixth album, Tales of Us, Goldfrapp collaborated with Alison Goldfrapp's real-life partner, film director Lisa Gunning, to build a series of music videos, each with narratives of their own connected by the music. The series will be shown tonight, March 24, at the Sie FilmCenter, along with the screening of a Goldfrapp concert filmed live earlier this month. In advance of this one-night-only event, Gunning talked with Westword about how the project came together.

See also: Ozomatli's Raul Pacheco on collaboration, creativity and Dreaming Sin Fronteras

Westword: How did you come to make these films with Goldfrapp?

Lisa Gunning: I'm a movie editor and I was doing a film about psychopaths and I was on my way to a test screening in San Francisco and Alison (Goldfrapp) -- who is my partner in life -- had given me demos of a few of the songs from the album. I was listening to "Stranger," which is a love song, and I thought it would be interesting to do something a little bit sinister for it. This was all inspired by the psychopaths that were going around in my head at the time. When I came home, I wrote this all down and wrote a script -- it was sort of a lesbian serial-killer story on the beach -- and I presented it to Alison. She loved it and so did the record company.

We had a meeting and sat around talking about how cinematic the songs are. The (record company) had a budget for one little film but by the end of the meeting we sort of had expanded the whole idea from one song and film to five songs and five films and this cinema presentation -- the whole thing kind of escalated totally out of control. (Laughs.) But the budget didn't. So we were kind of left in this scary position of thinking, oh my god, this is a very ambitious idea. But I decided to go as far as we possibly could with the money we have and the favors I have and the ideas I have and they just kind of let me do it...I just did it. (Laughs.)

The record company was particularly supportive of any kind of creative pursuit, especially with their artists. They have been open-minded and not controlling at all when it comes to these videos. Alison is also very inspired by film, and it just made sense that we should all work together and try to make something good.

Is this the first time that you've worked with music and film in this way?

No, I directed a few little videos before, especially for Goldfrapp. Alison and I have been partners for eight years and over the years I have kind of helped her do things. We went on a tour of South America and I went along with them because I didn't happen to be working. I had my iPhone and I did a little documentary video for this song called "Yellow Halo" and it got 500,000 hits on YouTube. I really enjoyed doing it because it was very accessible, since I could just whip my phone out of my pocket and film whatever happened to be happening at the time.

So I had done things like that. And obviously with my work as a movie editor, I am very interested in music. I work closely with music as I'm constructing scenes and stories and I'm really heavily involved with the composer during that process. I'm sort of indelibly linked to music in my work, generally.  

It is an interesting collaboration because it's more than just a music video, but it's not quite like a feature-length endeavor or scoring a film.

I wasn't really interested in doing a pop video and neither was Allison, really. I'm obsessed with narratives and stories, and obviously, that's my first port of call -- to make a story make sense, whether it's in an abstract way or a dreamlike way. I really tried to impose narrative on each of these films and make them into these little stories and mean something, elevate the songs.

Why did you choose to use both color and black-and-white formats for these films?

When I was trying to create a dreamscape with the "Drew" video, I was thinking about how when you take color out of something, things become slightly less real than when you have full color. You start seeing things in a kind of memory way. That song was all about memory, so that worked best with black and white.

With "Annabel," which is about a little boy, that one I felt like his life was monochrome until he was accepted by his mother and at that point, I wanted to bring the color in as another way of kind of making it so that he was seeing the world slightly differently and positively after he was accepted. I used black and white calculatingly, so I could bring in the color and it would have a narrative meaning.

I think "Annabel" -- as the story of a girl trapped in the body of a boy -- is the most successful one, to me. Alison was very obsessed with this book called Annabel and the song was inspired by it. The author is a brilliant lady called Kathleen Winter and I, of course, had to ask her permission to make the little film because it was so inspired by her book. She was so welcoming and generous with her enthusiasm for it and the song, I managed to acquire the option on that book and I'm developing it into a feature film. It's a long road, but that's in the works. I don't know how long it will take, but I am dedicated to that.

Goldfrapp: Tales of Us screens at 7 p.m. tonight, March 24, at the Sie FilmCenter. Tickets are $10 to $12; for more information or to purchase tickets, call 303-595-3456 or visit the Denver FilmCenter's website.

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