Typically exploring psychological oddities that have peaked his interest, the work of Berlin-based visual artist and filmmaker Matt Lambert demonstrates a rare fluency in the dynamics and currents of the human condition. His latest film, a music video for the song “Habitat” by the operatically inflected electro band Austra, starts with a series of odd couple pairings and places them in a place of seedy, sexually-charged impermanence: a roadside motel. From there Lambert’s eye end deft touch take over, thrusting the watcher into the rooms, into the lives, into the bodies of his subjects. When combined with Austra singer Katie Stelmanis’s piercing vocals, the experience is felt in the gut and sticks with you a while after.
Here, Matt Lambert shares some of his favorite stills from the video and answers a few questions for us. (And be sure to scroll to the end to watch the video.)
The narrative in this film is wonderfully oblique in relation to the song. How did you arrive at the story?
The band and I had been back and forth developing the video together for a few months off and on. It began as a more abstract idea of habitats, cocoons, and intimate nesting spots. The lyrics then motivated feelings of desire and ‘first touch’ within a safe place that I then built from. I’ve also recently been doing a lot of very sexually charged work and was personally into exploring sexuality without overly sexualized imagery—to create something endearing and honest.
The casting of these couples feels very precise, and each elicits a specific emotional response. How did you arrive at the pairings, and how did you cast them?
In general I’ve been interested in the normalization and humanization of relationships and identities that are often presented as taboo. I’ve been doing an ongoing documentary project with male escorts in Berlin and most all of my subjects are introspective, intelligent, adjusted and empowered—very few are victims.
I’m also very into shooting characters in their late teens/early 20s or over 60. There’s a unique energy and truth that comes from someone coming of age and ones who are confident enough to ‘come again’. (There’s also a nod to Bruce LaBruce’s new film ‘Gerontophilia’ in the story between the John and Hustler.)
Most all my productions take place in Berlin where I have weeks to find and develop cast. However, this was the tightest casting process I’ve had in years and really had to go with my gut.
Tell us about your use of color.
Most of the colors were baked into the scenes through re-gelling all the practical lights in our rooms as well as building up the decor of the spaces from scratch. My DP, Bobby Shore, and Production Designer, Zazu Myers, along with their amazing Toronto team played a huge role in the vibrancy and nuance of our spaces. Our colorist back in Berlin, Marcus Badow, did some wonderful work with direction was dictated with what we created in-camera.
How did you first become aware of Austra’s music and why does it speak to you?
Austra are definitely a THING here in Berlin. I discovered them when I moved here 3 years ago and they’ve also been on this short list of bands I’ve wanted to work with. Their music brings the electronic world of Berlin and fuses it with Katie’s heart-melting and haunting operatic voice.
I managed to connect with them about 6 months ago when I was doing a reinterpretation of La Jetée for Arte. Katie offered up a slew of amazing unreleased tracks and I ended up using a few in the film. There was a love scene in particular in ‘La Jetée’ that was elevated so much by their track that I knew I had to collaborate with them further.
Having Katie working in the motel as the maid emphasized the sensation we all have when we realize there are a million lives going on around us–that each of us is sort of small in a way, or less central to the world. Could you comment on that?
When we were scouting motel locations, we were given access to the rooms before housekeeping had touched them. The hotel is place where people go to party, have sex and hide; not really sleep. Each dirty room had a story and I thought about all the narratives housekeeping would uncover each morning. While these scenes were often tragic, there was a strange envy at the decadence and lust that was left over. What does it feel like to be alone whilst there’s so many human connections unfolding through the pieces of drywall around you? What must a lonely housekeeper feel whilst she washes those sheets and waits for the discoveries of the following morning…
Watch the video for “Habitat” here: