The Froggy beatmasters
put the synths aside and pick up the camera.
BY A.D. AMOROSI
With its space-age headgear and its throbbing robotica, you
wouldn’t think we’d be discussing Daft Punk’s feature film debut, Electroma, in the same breath as we
would dusty ‘60s fare as Easy Rider or clunky glam musicales like The Rocky
Horror Picture Show.
French electronic maestros Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and
Thomas Bangalter – friends since childhood – might’ve been expected to create
something stark, sleek and chicly dark. But with its deserted vision of mythic
Americana and its accompanying tale of a robot duo (not them, but rather actors
Peter Hurteau and Michael Reich) attempting physicality, theirs is a beautiful
bright and righteous epic; one immensely picturesque and sun-dappled in its
cinematography yet not without its noirish lonely-planet-boy symbolism.
Touches of Pinocchio,
Close Encounters, The
Wizard of Oz and THX-1138 figure
into Daft Punk’s desert dwelling cinematic landscape, literally and
thematically, one influenced primarily by American film fare since the pair
started hanging together since age 12.
“And Phantom of the Paradise – I think that was my very favorite,” says Guy-Manuel
de Homem-Christo, of Brian DePalma’s 1974 hammy-glam-drama. Currently at home
in Paris during an extended break from D-Punking, de Homem-Christo stifles his
own giggle while I chuckle at the thought of Paul Williams wringing inspiration
over a generation of electronic beat makers. “You laugh. But I’m serious. I was
13 and it was the one movie I’ve most seen again and again. Thomas too. There were
a lot of horror films, but Phantom of the
Paradise was my favorite movie for a long time. I know a lot of people have
remarked, at least in France,
that they see a little bit of Phantom in our film. In America;
not so much. People don’t really know it there.”
It’s funny to think of Daft Punk as growing up together;
boys running through the Parisian streets, checking out punk rock records and
digging American movies. Actually, it was movies first for the duo. All of their
young lives had been about – not to sound corny and go for the easy kill of
using their first album’s name here – discovery.
“I think all of our teenager-hood was about discovering our likes. Luckily we
were able to get that done and out of our system and now we can make a living
out of it.”
Going from teasing each other about glam rock references and
men wearing makeup to making a living from one’s love leads me to ask de
Homem-Christo who did what first within Daft Punk’s musical and cinematic
technologies. Apparently, it was Bangalter who first picked up the instruments,
sequencers and samplers when they were young adults. Later, he grabbed a 35 mm
film camera and several hundred
issues of American Cinematographer magazine
before shooting Electroma across two
weeks in outré California
locations. “Thomas spent a lot of time learning the techniques of film
making,” says de Homem-Christo. “Same with music. He’s much more of the tech
guy than I am. We did everything together. But I have more distance.”
That’s the yin/yang of Daft Punk apparently; one gets up
close, personal and gets his hands dirty, the other one see all aspects with a
hint of objectivity. Both write. “I’m more critical of everything we do,” de
Homem-Christo adds. “We’re two halves of one solid combination. There’s balance
there – completeness between us, yeah.”
Q: If you both held the camera it would just be messy. You can see what
Thomas doesn’t see and hear what he doesn’t hear at this distance.
When everybody is doing the same thing at once – playing the same thing,
whether it’s two or ten – there is chaos. When you can exchange points of views
and tell the differences, it’s better.
That doesn’t mean their yin and yang is about cleanliness
and order. That’d be, according to de Homem-Christo, too robotic. “It’s not
that orderly,” he laughs. “Order is too cold. Whether it is Electroma or the music – many mistakes
go into the work that makes it what it is.” Their wrongs make a right of random
happenings and the Daft Punk vibe comes from that.
Together, they chose the mythic American outback for the
stunning ambience and dry décor of Electroma,
its landscapes, its characters and their forlorn finale. With every sequence,
Daft Punk wanted more questions than answers, more minimalism than richness and
more anonymity than definition.
“We wanted it to look nameless and independent of everything
in America, hence our
calling our town “Independence.”
We paid attention to get the most minimalist locations as there’s such an incredible
diversity of landscapes within a few hours ride. “
The bigness of America makes Daft Punk feel really
small. They wanted to portray that in Electroma.
Not that they’re dwarfed or intimidated by anything they do
or the music they make. They’re more than mere inspiration to every
electro-muzik maker and beat driver that plays out now. And Daft Punk stood toe
to toe with loudmouth Kanye West during the MC/producer’s appropriation of Daft
Punk’s own robo-appropriated music for West’s “Stronger” (to say nothing of
Kanye’s 2007 Grammy performance that Daft Punk were a part of).
“We thought what he did really resonated with what we were
doing,” says de Homem-Christo, of West’s pulsating “Stronger.” “What he made of
our song was exciting. He went in the right direction. Then when we did the
Grammy four minute show was truly a collaboration from the start. We really did
it all hand in hand. I’ve not seen his new live show but I’m sure it’s great.
He’s not only a general. He’s a good listener.”
West’s tackling of the D-Punk herk-and-jerk has helped the
already big-selling duo become more popular. Not that they’re taking advantage
of it with new Daft Punk recordings. The two may be readying a mega-deluxe Electroma package for DVD release. But
other than that they’re taking a minute’s break from being Daft Punk.
“We’ve always done what we wanted to do with zero regard to
what everyone thought,” says de Homem-Christo. “No matter what we’ve done – music,
videos, robots, tours Electroma we
like it to have a timeless feel and to be universal. ” That’s why it’s
thrilling to Daft Punk to have their Electroma as a highlight of midnight movies across the world – because like The Rocky Horror Picture Show the duo
loved as kids in France,
it gave the little-seen-upon-release flick a life beyond its own. “It’d be
great to have that life,” says de Homem-Christo of everything Daft Punk does.
“Two hundred years from now, we hope you’ll get it… like Mozart – or Taxi Driver.”