Vincent Moon woke up especially for me and then hung up on me not once, but twice. While he claims it was by accident both times, it had to make me wonder if perhaps I’m just not very good at taking a hint. Either way, it was an honour to speak to (and be hung up on by) the eccentric French filmographer who made La Blogothèque’s Take Away Shows so famous and revolutionised the nature of the music video. His spontaneous approach to the medium was quite unheard of when Moon (whose real name is Mathieu Saura) first began making films in 2006. Since then, the Montreal-born, part-Parisian, part-nomad has worked with everyone from Bon Iver to Arcade Fire, Fleet Foxes and Beirut. There are now over two hundred Take Away Shows (Les Concerts à Emporter) to be found on the internet, whether it be Sufjan Stevens singing on a rooftop, or Bon Iver’s amazing vocals in an old building in Montmartre. For Moon, spontaneity is the language of life.
Rosie Dalton: Hey Vincent, how are you?
Vincent Moon: I’m good, I’m good. Thanks for calling because I woke up for you, okay [Laughs]. This is very early for me.
I’m really sorry. Is it very early where you are?
No, it’s not that early really, it’s eight o’clock or something… I am in Hong Kong. Where are you?
I’m in Sydney.
You’re in Sydney, okay great.
Have you been to Australia before?
No, never. I’m excited, I’m going to spend an amazing month, and go everywhere.
What are you particularly excited about?
Well, I love the energy of Australian people and I love Australian culture. And yeah, that’s it [laughs].
So what I really want to know is why Vincent Moon? I am curious as to why you chose this as your pseudonym.
Oh, wow. [He pauses here and deviates]. You know, it’s really nice, while I am talking to you I am sitting here drinking my coffee and watching Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong. Have you been to Hong Kong?
No, I’ve never been before.
Oh, Hong Kong is a gorgeous city; one of those beautiful cities. I love the location of the city, and it also has a great energy. It’s a bit like New York, in my opinion. So, I’ve been using the name Vincent Moon for quite a while now actually. I think the name itself comes from a novel by Jorge Luis Borges, it’s called The Form of the Sword. Vincent Moon is very complex and actually a very evil character. And, I don’t know, when I started to make photos when I was 18, I felt like I had to hide myself behind someone else’s name, behind someone who was very evil.
You don’t think of yourself as evil though do you?
I hated myself very much at the time, you know, that’s how bad it was. The relationship I had with myself was really complex and it was sort of like a way for me to cover myself and who I really am. And you know, after so many years, I think it’s actually very meaningful to have created a relationship with this particular personality. I believe that at some point in your life nowadays, you just sort of project yourself into someone else, into this other person who is going to represent you for the social world until the end. And I have worked around this name for so long that it was like two personalities converged at some point. And hopefully, Vincent Moon is not that evil anymore [laughs], but I don’t know.
Do your friends call you Vincent?
No! Well, it depends. It depends on the person and on the situation, on the moment. I don’t call myself Vincent, usually.
Can you tell me how you begun with ‘Les Concerts á Emporter’ [fumbled attempt at French] — did I pronounce that correctly?
Yes, very good. Well, it was a very long time ago, I don’t really remember. I mean, I have no memory at all, but I will do my best, with a coffee in my hand. I started this project with a friend of mine who had already launched this website, La Blogothèque. Nobody was really making videos for the internet at the time because there wasn’t the same connection we have today and then suddenly – it was like six years ago now – there was the possibility for making videos and he said to me “would you like to do a video project for my website?” and I said “Yeah, sure”. At the time I was doing some little music videos that were very lo-fi and I was unhappy with the whole music video approach then. You know, short films to promote a particular single, it was very unappealing to me because I come from a culture of going out and watching music. Every night in Paris, when I was living in Paris, I would go and see a live show and so I wanted to transfer that energy of watching a band live into film and convey the same type of energy… hopefully.
Why is improvisation so important to you?
Oh, I’d really like to answer this question. When I started to make my films in the way I was making them — well, still make them actually — I never learned how to make those films properly, you know? In terms of film school tradition – ‘this is how we make a film; not that way’ – I never understood that shit. They will tell you that you have to prepare, you have to write the script and shit like that. Even for documentary, it’s like that because they want to make it work in a certain type of economy. I am a huge fan of improvised music in general and I was obsessed with this idea of an improvised approach to making film and how I could reach that state. I wanted to be there in the moment, where I don’t know what is going to happen in the next second and am going to have to react to it. So I try to make films in this way and it appears to me that this is the purest form of cinema. The narrative aspect of the film is written down, in a way, as soon as you film. You press record, the music goes on and there’s your story. Why would I write anything down beforehand? Spontaneity is so important to me and every aspect of my life really depends on it. I’m getting more and more spontaneous and that is the beautiful thing about being a human being, just being in the moment. I don’t prepare my films because I don’t know how to do it [Laughs]. I have no idea because it’s just boring for me, I don’t like it. I just go to a place, I meet someone and we make something; this is it, it’s life. That’s what I call life and I think it’s the best way to approach cinema.
Do you have a favourite video that you’ve ever made?
No. It is not possible, I have made so many. I love a lot of them, I hate a lot of them but a favourite one? Nah. It always changes, it depends on my mood.
How is what you are doing now different to your Take Away Shows?
Well for a few years now I have been travelling around the world as a nomad and finding musicians to work with along the way. There is nobody telling me to do particular shows, so I choose to work with people I like. I really care about music, I love it.
How do you find shooting longer films, like La Faute des Fleurs?
It takes more time and it’s often not as rewarding… I prefer to make short films. [He diverts]. Oh shit, what is that?! I’m sorry, something is trying to get in my room. Anyway, sorry. I like to make lots of portraits of artists all over the world, that is what I love to do.
Your photography is also very beautiful, do you prefer taking photos or making films?
[Silence. I've been hung up on. I call back].
I lost you, I don’t know what happened.
I think what happened was that I stepped on the cord and as soon as I stepped on the cord, the communication was gone. But now it’s back, okay.
Don’t be sorry.
I was just saying that your photography is also very beautiful, do you prefer taking photos or making films?
It’s very simple: I started making photos and then as soon as I started making film, I was like: ‘fuck making photos! I’m not making photos anymore, that’s it’. I love the photography medium very much, and I really come from a photography background — when I say that I mean that I love so much making photos. I especially love the language of the image. At the same time, though, as soon as I started to work with video and cinema, I discovered a language that was much more complex and there was way more to explore.
[Silence. I’ve been hung up on again. I call back, but this time with much less assurance].
Are you trying to get rid of me?
No! It’s not my fault, it’s the cord’s fault.
Okay. I was going to ask you who you admire in the world of cinema?
I used to watch hundreds of films. For years, I was watching all the films possible. I think that nowadays, compared to even, like, ten years ago, people have incredible access to so many things, in general, because of the internet and stuff like that. And I think this is fantastic. At least, the good result of such access via the internet and YouTube and stuff, is that you can watch so many films online. That’s what I’ve been doing, watching hundreds and hundreds of films. In the world of cinema these days, though, I don’t really watch that many films anymore. There are people I respect of course but I’m not that interested in cinema, actually. The medium does not inspire me so much now, probably because I have been watching too many films.
Thank you so much for talking to me.
Thanks. It’s my pleasure. Is that cool?
That’s great, thank you.
Okay, cool, I will see you in Australia. Ciao.
Vincent Moon is currently in Australia for Sydney Festival.
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