Italian-Canadian director Floria Sigismondi tells FACT the stories behind some of her greatest music videos, from work with Marilyn Manson and David Bowie to Rihanna and Björk.
Floria Sigismondi has directed some of the most captivatingly offbeat music videos of the last 20 years. After early work with Canadian rockers like The Tea Party and Our Lady Peace, Sigismondi directed iconic clips like Marilyn Manson’s ‘The Beautiful People’ and Tricky’s ‘Makes Me Wanna Die’. Since, she has worked with a wide range of artists, including David Bowie, Sigur Rós, Fiona Apple and Leonard Cohen, as well as pop phenoms like Christina Aguilera and Pink.
Her work bringing music to life isn’t just relegated to videos, either: she directed The Runaways, which premiered in 2010, with Kristen Stewart (starring as Joan Jett) and Dakota Fanning, who gave a tour-de-force performance as the band’s lead singer Cherie Currie. Most recently, Sigismondi directed two episodes of the Emmy-winning series The Handmaid’s Tale, based on Margaret Atwood’s titular dystopian novel, as well as music videos for Alice Glass and Perfume Genius.
Sigismondi is a pioneer, as well. Before Björk became enmeshed in the VR world, she led the charge for interactive music videos and enlisted Sigimondi to direct the clip for ‘I’ve Seen It All’ from Selmasongs, the soundtrack for Dancer in the Dark. She also directed one of the first-ever IMAX music videos, Rihanna’s ‘Sledgehammer’, which was shown in IMAX theaters across the States in 2016.
As part of Red Bull Music Academy Festival Los Angeles, Sigismondi will give insight to her process and share some behind-the-scenes stories tonight at Cammilleri Hall at the Brain and and Creativity Institute (tickets available here). Before the event, she spoke to FACT about the inspiration behind some of her best work, including Manson’s ‘Tourniquet’ and David Bowie’s Tilda Swinton-starring video for ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’.
“This period marks a creative growth in my life as an artist. When I learned to trust myself and my offbeat ideas. Working on the video was the first time I had put myself through sleep deprivation – some type of deep meditation without knowing it – and manifesting ideas out of that state. It was shocking to see that so many people responded to that imagery like they did. I’m sure there was a lot of different things at work there – the song, the lyrics, his image – coupled with the video, but I do believe that in a way we all have the same rooted fears and dreams – part of that ‘collective unconscious’. It was a magical experience for me seeing the imaged ideas manifest into physical form. I was hooked!”
(Westbury Road, 2016)
“This video was shot at such a fever pitch pace. We were in the middle of the remains of an ancient volcanic field, chasing the sun, shooting for only nine hours. It was the first music video to shoot on IMAX, so it was quite exciting. I saw Rihanna’s character in the video as a mystical being channeling her alien powers, manipulating the environment around her – the sand, the rocks and then the stars – conjuring up the energy and the light, ultimately embodying the power to transform herself into the universe itself.”
‘I’ve Seen It All’
(One Little Indian, 2000)
“I found [this early foray into interactive video] quite limiting actually. I was experimenting in the most rudimentary way. I shot Polaroid, chopped them up in the computer and then it was programmed to interact with the cursor. It was quite simple, but it was a start to something much more sophisticated.”
“I couldn’t find anyone to play the girl so I stepped up to the plate. It was much simpler that way.”
‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’
“After not releasing music for over 10 years, David Bowie called me out of the blue and was very cryptic. He wanted to fly me to New York, where he would tell me what he was up to. There he played me ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’. I was so thrilled he was writing and recording and wanted to share his music with the world again. Very few people knew about it. I felt like I was about to be a part of a very a special moment in his career.”
Listen to the RBMA broadcast of their conversation with Floria Sigismondi below at 8pm PST.
Claire Lobenfeld is on Twitter.