Back when Electroma was released, it was a futuristic retro film that flipped the traditional structure on its head. The result took many viewers by surprise - of the happy and really, really annoyed variety, but props to the Parisian duo for making something for then, now and those looking for a break from the norm.
Fast forward, VHS-style and with its quantum entanglement of formulas, Daft Punk’s journey across the desert for Electroma has reset its status to cult. We’ve pulled the interview out of the archive for those wishing to go off-the-beaten path with their creative outlets that flip and break tradition.
The original story was first published in BLAG Vol. 2 Nø 9 print edition in 2008
Interview by Sally A. Edwards
Photography by Daft Arts Ltd
Daft Punk’s Dream To Take Blockbuster Cinema And Turn It On Its Head
Daft Punk: Creative enigmas, disguised in robots.
Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter never like to do the same thing twice when it comes to the releases of Daft Punk. Collectively, they have a great eye for detail and a great ear for music. Having been inspired by working with some heavyweight directors in the music world, they’ve now made and released their debut film, ‘Electroma’. The sounds of the film include a mix of classics, classical, the rhythmic footsteps of the robots and the engine rolling of their ‘86 Ferrari 412 with its ‘Human’ personalised number plate. The sights of the film are artistic, calm and behold much enviable blue sky.
We were thrilled to be invited to interview Guyman, so took the opportunity to discover what ‘Electroma’ is all about. How the film became, its story and the crew’s reaction to the pair’s unique approach. Together with how they wanted to take blockbuster cinema and turn it on its head by having the audience participate in the story. We also learnt the two most radical reactions to the film. Keep reading, you may be enlightened and surprised.
We’re linked to Guyman via a crackly mobile line while he’s on tour in the US. The first thing we wanted to discover is simply, how ‘Electroma’ came about?
“I think it was maybe an idea we had unconsciously,” starts a very shy sounding Guyman. “There was never a time when we decided to make a movie, but what we knew – with Thomas, since we met when we were teenagers – we were really big movie fans even before we started making music together. So when we did our first album and we had the chance to work with great directors like Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Roman Coppola and all these people – it was our first step in learning what video clips and movies were all about. So on the second album we worked on a Japanese Manga [film, ‘Interstella 5555: The 5tory of The 5ecret 5tar System’] with Leiji Matsumoto and Kazuhisa Takenouchi in Tokyo and we wrote the scripts. Then on the last album, ‘Even After All’ we directed all the videos of the album and it was the same year we started working on ‘Electroma’. It was maybe 10 years for us to get in touch with cinema, the movie world and to learn and see how it was going. Finally ‘Electroma’ came and when we had learnt enough, well, maybe not enough, but a little bit and when we felt like it was a good idea we wanted to try to do a movie like that.”
Can you tell us the story in a nutshell please? I know you’ve probably been asked that a hundred times or more...
“No, no, we’ve never been asked a hundred times to tell the story, because it is really fun and really basic. It’s mainly two robots that are on a quest to become human and so it’s like a road movie where these two robots travel and stuff happens to them – but it’s really much less of a bigger scenario and rather a more slow and meditative movie which is really focused on the cinematography, the photography and it’s really more experimental than just a narrative.”
I wondered what individual roles you took on in the writing of the story and the making of the film.
“We wrote the movie together and for the making we had Thomas being the DOP, the director of photography. He was holding the camera and I was behind the monitor checking the frames.”
It was shot with 35mm, is that right?
Is it right, I read that Thomas bought a load of magazines from the 70’s to read up on how to shoot and use the camera?
“Yeah, Thomas spent a long time working out how to shoot. Trying to learn, the same with music, you know. When you get into the technical part, when you love music, or cinema and you want to do what you like and have been looking at. He’s been really learning a lot over the past two years.”
The film has beautiful lighting, was it shot at a particular time of day?
“It was shot at all times of the day in the desert outside of Los Angeles. It took 11 days to shoot the whole movie; it was really fast. It meant we only slept for like three hours for all the shooting days and the sun was rising when we were on set in the desert and then you’re there until the night comes for 11 days. So we couldn’t let one second get away, we were really shooting all day long.”
I wanted to talk to you about the choice of no dialogue and no narration. Was that intentional to get the audience to really think much harder than with a general film, because you’re normally guided along so much more aren’t you?
“Yeah. There were a lot of challenges with the movie, I think no dialogue, no Daft Punk music in the movie was a big challenge too. But having no dialogue, we really wanted to do this kind of weird experimental movie, really different from the music we do, or the videos, or the visual projects we did before. One thing is we always try to renew ourselves and not do the same thing twice. We always do something different with every project and having no dialogue was really a challenge. So by putting these two robots that we are known for and [setting] the movie [in] a lot of deserted landscapes isn’t really emotional – you don’t get much emotion out of that, but the challenge was to get emotion out of that. So having no dialogue [made it a difficult task] but with the music we put on and the way we shot it, we managed to have it.
“If we had dialogue I guess it would have been more easy, but we wanted the movie to be that way, no dialogue and really just being more close to a painting, you know to surrealism rather than just a big, action, blockbuster movie.”
Can you tell us about some of your experiences on set?
“It was 11 days of shooting non-stop with really little sleep. So it was really funny, because the main thing about the movie is that it’s really experimental; maybe weird with no dialogue and really not too much music either, just really special 60’s and 70’s tracks that are sometimes obscure, but the shooting of the movie was really hectic, really fast and really funny. When you see a robot like that in the desert, not moving for one minute. For us it was really dynamic behind the camera and I do remember the shoot of this movie was really about having fun. All the people had fun, because the way we did this was not the conventional way for an American, or Californian crew who are really used to shooting commercials and movies everyday. For them it was funny to see us run with the camera and shoot this angle, and like two minutes after that, shoot another angle, and it was a little bit messy. It looks on screen really still and really calm and full of thought, but in reality it was really a party, and dynamic, and messy at the same time. So for 11 days it was like that; from waking up really early and going to bed late and having a really good time.”
Brilliant. What do you want people to take away from their experience of seeing the film?
“We don’t have a message in this movie. We don’t want people to understand one thing or another, more than with a regular blockbuster where you are more passive, you are really eating what they have on the screen, you’re fed with the music. In ‘Electroma’, we wanted people to participate more with the movie by having no dialogue. It gives much time to think about it. The questions are long sometimes and the emotion comes through at the same time, and I think that we wanted the audience to project their own interpretation on the screen. When [friends and acquaintances] came out from seeing it, they [would] ask us questions and they have their own interpretations, everybody’s got a different feeling. I don’t know? Like when you see ‘Die Hard’ everybody feels the same, you know? What we’re happy about with this movie is that everybody can feel the same, but also interpret the movie in different ways and can be sad, or maybe more meditative, or whatever, but it’s not the same reaction from all the people that see the movie. That’s maybe more unusual than what you’re supposed to get when you see a blockbuster movie that is the usual routine of everybody that goes to the cinema.”
What are the two most radical reactions you’ve had from the film?
“Oh! The most radical was the screening of the film in Cannes at the festival. So the first ever screening of ‘Electroma’ there was like, I don’t know, maybe 10 or 15 or 20 people left cinema in the first ten minutes, but I understand that also. So that’s no problem, but that’s one radical reaction and maybe another one, I know even some friends they cried when they saw the movie at the end.”
“Haha! I know! I know it’s a strange reaction also, but it’s the opposite to leaving the room, I think. I know some people who have not really cried, but have shed a tear. Like really sensitive people found the emotion of two robots in the desert also. That’s funny too, you know?”