Mike Mills is an artist, filmmaker, photographer, musician, handsome gentleman and multi-disciplinary imagination vessel. His recent film Beginners arrives on the heels of decades of nimble, idiosyncratic and hella special work like his other films Thumbsucker and Paperboys (among others) and his music videos for Yoko Ono and Air, as well as album covers for Sonic Youth, Beastie Boys and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. If you saw him in that seminal documentary of outsider art, Beautiful Losers, you probably remember what an eloquent voice he has on behalf of his craft, and on behalf of being human. That voice, carried over into his film, print and other work, is what moves us so deeply.
Mike has created a pair of limited edition printed posters for Commune — the group of people who helped design Ace Hotel & Swim Club, and old friends of Ace; you can see some behind-the-scene shots of Mike working on the posters on their blog here. The prints are centered on civil disobedience, and we had a chance to ask the man in question about what counts as disobedience and why color is a power tool.
You are civilly disobedient in much of your work — both via civil disobedience and by being civil while being disobedient. Is art a friendly way to disobey? Does being friendly make change more possible in the world?
Who was it that said if you’re going to break some laws you should dress nicely as to not be detected. I think that’s a powerful metaphor. I think the art world is actually too open for disobedience to be very impactful, that’s partly why I prefer to work in the design context or the entertainment world — while there is less room for subversion, I feel that what you can get away with in that context just has more traction in terms of making the world a bit more open. And lastly, yes, I love courtesy, friendliness, empathy and manners and I think all those qualities can be lethally subversive.
You’ve designed books, scarves, advertisements, music videos, fabrics and probably a bunch of stuff no one but you has ever seen. How do all the mediums you’ve used inform one another? When you’re designing or imagining, do you have a specific medium in mind? How does this change when you’re working on a commission or for a specific brand or project?
I very often just have ‘interests’ or maybe they’re obsessions and things on my heart and mind that are churning, churning, churning, and they come out in whatever opportunity is in front of me (a shirt, part of a script, a record cover, etc.). And yes, something I do in an art show can totally help me figure out a problem I’m having with a script, or something I learn doing a record cover can teach me about how I want to film something. I think I took my Bauhaus book I got in high school way too seriously and I thought this was how it was going to be in the future, everyone was gonna have multidiscplinary artistic lives, and that most of those ‘discplines’ were little lies made up by cultural institutions and schools anyways.
Color and you seem to have a great relationship. You have a way with gold foil. And Beginners has some beautiful full-screen color blocks. Is it California-born blood that brings out all this color? What does it mean to you? Can bright colors be sad? Can gold be depressing?
To be honest, I don’t totally know where all that came from. My father was, in addition to an art historian, a flag designer and did really amazing work that was always around the house. My mother loved minimalist art and color-field paintings, and I do carry that with me. I often feel a simple field of color says so much, is gorgeously open-ended and inviting, and, like music, works on a much more interesting and powerful subconscious level. And let’s face it, color is cheap — you get a lot of bang for your buck with a field of color and I really admire and respect that simple power.
What’s it like to make a movie about relationships when you’re in a relationship with someone who makes movies about relationships? Do you find yourselves in there sometimes, or is it a kind of therapeutic fiction (knowing that fiction is a great form of truth-telling)?
"24 Hours at Ace" — a gallery show of instant analog photography on Ace Hotel x Impossible Project film — migrates from Ace Hotel New York to The Impossible Project Space Tokyo, June 22-July 8, 2012. The exhibit features works by friends of Ace Hotel and The Impossible Project including Andie Acosta, Chloe Aftel, Elijah Wood, Adam Goldberg, Nicole Held, Araks Yeramyan, Jeremy Kost, Anne Bowerman, Michael Nevin, Steve Olson, Dave Ortiz, Devon Turnbull, Pat Sansone and work captured by influencers in Japan curated by The Impossible Project Space Tokyo. If you’re in the neighborhood, come see us.
We’ll present a follow-up gallery show at Ace Hotel New York in fall 2012 featuring photos submitted by fans of Ace and Impossible to our online gallery. Stay tuned.
We’re back with year two of Afterfest — the official Palm Springs Film Festival’s Shortfest afterparty with DJs, late night food, R-rated bingo and trivia, plus nice deals on rooms with food, beverage and Feel Good Spa credits. To kick things off, we had a chance to sit down with the festival’s film curator, Kathleen McInnis and get caught up on this year’s selection.
Last year’s ShortFest saw several entries from filmmakers who didn’t take the traditional path through film school. Are the novices still trending or leveling off? What does it all mean?
We always have a large number of films from emerging filmmakers, whether they take the film school route or not, because the short film format is so perfect to use in perfecting your visual storytelling voice. I think that is one of the more dynamic aspects of ShortFest — these collective emerging cinematic voices are fresh, visually stimulating, emotionally demanding in a way we haven’t experienced before.
Is it only a matter of time before social media finds a way to bring short film medium back to “the masses” à la Fatty Arbuckle?
Ah, the dream — to have audiences at large and worldwide re-embrace the short form not only as art but absolutely as valid entertainment. The short form theatrical venue so well established in the teens and early ‘20’s took nearly 70 years to crumble, but once gone is hard to get back. Theater owners realized more income from an extra feature screening crammed into the space left by taking out short form (not to mention adding in advertising to the space formerly occupied by cartoons and short films) and so were loath to give that up. Certainly, we’ve seen social networking sites and for-profit film sites on the internet trying to occupy that market share, but for me I still believe that we can create a valid and exciting cinema experience by adding back in the short form to the front of the featured film. I hope arthouse theaters far and wide embrace the idea as a way to bring another level of cinema experience to their audience — an experience that can’t be recreated on a laptop or in a dorm room.
Nollywood is the third largest producer of movies now. Where’s the next “_ollywood” going to be?
Wow, that’s like trying to forecast the weather — everyone has opinions and charts and numbers, but at the end of the day it’s still a bit of luck and happenstance. Some would say New Zealand is already it (Zollywood?), with the mega-productions of The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings series, etc. But historically, once a location is “shot out” film production simply moves on and finds a new geographic look somewhere else. Nigeria’s huge output of film and video, I think, is really a response to a dearth of product throughout a large landscape. India’s vast production of Bollywood films stays strong because of the dedicated audiences found not just in India now but throughout the world. And Hollywood’s domination of film screens worldwide is still a result of the demand for visual popcorn by those with money and time but not a lot of sophisticated taste (i.e. kids). When looking at the emerging voices coming from the East (SE Asia, Singapore, China-including Hong Kong, Indonesia, etc) I see new stories told with sophisticated storytelling and well trained craft. It feels quite fresh, so perhaps that’s where we’ll ultimately find the next “_ollywood”.
Does your personal mental highlight reel have a soundtrack?
I never thought of it until you asked but then I started to listen and sure enough, it does! Music from Blade Runner, The Mission, Lawrence of Arabia, The Big Chill, Babel, Santitos, Amadeus, Wicker Park, Garden State, Footloose (original), Dirty Dancing, Happy Feet, Clay Pigeons and One False Move dominate my play list. And, to be honest, I kind of expect a full orchestra to bust out at any given moment throughout my day!