In Pop Shop, we support the dying art of physical shopping by visiting independent record and book stores with some of our favorite actors, writers, directors, and musicians.
The shopper: Moby’s music has always been inherently cinematic, and his music has appeared in countless films and television series. A longtime supporter of independent film, Moby launched Mobygratis in 2007, a site offering free music licenses to independent filmmakers, not-for-profit projects, and students for use in feature films, videos, and shorts. A filmmaker himself, Moby directed the music video for “A Case For Shame” from his 11th studio album, Innocents. In the Moby-directed video for “The Perfect Life,” Moby and The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne wander around L.A. in mariachi suits, a sort of Three Amigos/Alejandro Jodorowsky mash-up. To get more insight into Moby’s love of film, we traveled to Amoeba Music in Los Angeles and headed straight for its extensive movie section.
The A.V. Club: What led you to this DVD?
Moby: When I was at college, I ended up at a school called SUNY Purchase, outside of Manhattan. It was one of the last schools in the country to have an experimental film department. I went there to study philosophy, but most of my friends were in the world of experimental film. Somehow, a friend of mine got a copy of—and this is back in 1985 or ’86—Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. We saw the movie, and we were just in awe. We would have these dance parties, and at every party, the last song of the night was a [Melvin Van Peebles] song called “Lilly Done The Zampoughi [Everytime I Pulled Her Coattail].” It’s so amazing, that after a few years at college we had every last lyric and nuance memorized. Seeing that movie, and being obsessed with the soundtrack, got me interested in him. I think Melvin moved to France? Apparently he moved to France and got what I still maintain is the best tattoo of all time, a dotted line around his neck. This is all apocrypha, because this is pre-Internet. My friends and I had heard that he moved to France, got this crazy dotted-line tattoo around his neck because he felt like the United States didn’t respect creative expression and freedom.
AVC: He got the “X” for Baadasssss! So you haven’t seen Mario Van Peebles’ Baadasssss!?
Moby: I haven’t, which is one of the reasons why I pulled it.
Pink Flamingos (1972)
Moby: When I was 16 years old, I was at a bar on St. Mark’s in New York called Aztec. This would have been 1981 or ’82, back when the East Village was a no-man’s land. Because the drinking age was 18, and it was a lawless area, anyone could drink. So my friends and I, at age 16 or 17, went into Aztec and we thought we were so cool, because we were in the nastiest, dirtiest bar, back when the East Village was filled with drug addicts and criminals. We felt really tough, and we ordered pitchers of beer and got really drunk. At about 2 in the morning, someone put on a video of Pink Flamingos.
AVC: A grainy VHS version?
Moby: Yeah, an old VHS of Pink Flamingos, and we were watching it and it got to the scene at the end where Divine eats dog shit, and suddenly we felt like scared 16-year-olds from the suburbs. We all just wanted to go home. I’ve gone back in adulthood and watched it, and it’s such an amazing, obscure independent film from a time when there was no guarantee of an audience. I love, not just the movie itself, but trying to imagine the backstory of John Waters, Divine, and all the weirdos making this movie without any idea that anyone would see it, or if there was any distribution for it.
AVC: It was literally for love of the game.
Moby: Yeah. It’s so dark and lighthearted at the same time. I’ve since had the opportunity to work with John Waters a few times. I did some music for a movie he did a few years ago—Cecil B. Demented. We sort of became friends and have had dinner a few times. He sends me the best Christmas presents every year. My favorite was one year he sent me this custom, crystal ornament for the tree that had a giant rubber cockroach inside of it. So I picked this movie because it’s amazing, and also as an homage to John Waters, who is one of my true American heroes.
The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976)
Moby: When I was growing up in Connecticut, there was a movie theater near me called the Sonos Cinema. It was this weird art cinema, and my friends and I went there every weekend. It didn’t matter what they were playing. There’d be a Tarkovsky film festival, and we’d be like, “We don’t know who that is, but we’ll go and watch three and a half hours of Andrei Rublev!” That’s also where I discovered Ken Russell. I’d been a Bowie fan since I was like 8 years old. My Mom was part of the Columbia Record Club, where you would send a penny and they’d give you 10 records. She got “Changes,” and I remember being 8 or 9 listening to it and falling in love with it. Since then, [Bowie] and I have become friends and gone on tour and have barbecues together. I saw The Man Who Fell To Earth, and it’s an amazing movie, for a bunch of reasons: the low budget, sci-fi aspect of it, the alienation, the aesthetics, and also the dissipation of this alien who becomes this drug-addicted alcoholic. I picked this because I stopped drinking about five years ago. One of my biggest regrets—and really one of my only regrets of being a drunk for so long—is that 7 or 8 years ago I was at David Bowie’s apartment. We were hanging out, and he went in his closet and pulled out the hat, the fedora that he wore in Man Who Fell To Earth. He wrote an inscription on the brim—“To Moby, Love David”—and he gave it to me. About five years ago before I stopped drinking, I had invited 20 or 30 people from Mars Bar, which is now gone, back to my apartment. I was showing off the hat, and in the morning it was gone. That is my biggest regret from drinking, that I invited a bunch of degenerate, crack-smoking strangers back to my apartment and one of them stole the David Bowie hat from The Man Who Fell To Earth. I still love the movie, but it makes me wince.
Inland Empire (2006)
AVC: This is an interesting choice.
Moby: The first thing I saw of [David Lynch's] was “The Grandmother,” the student film that he made. At the Sonos Cinema, they were having a short-film festival and that was one of them. This was pre-Eraserhead, so it’s even darker and weirder than Eraserhead. I saw and fell in love with Eraserhead and “The Grandmother,” and every single thing he’s done has been phenomenal. He invented his own language, but borrowed these fantastic, twisted elements from the American, visual vernacular and made it his own. We’ve since become friends, and we’ve done a lot of weird things together. We spent Christmas together a couple years ago. It’s interesting, because he’s nothing like his movies. The movies he makes are so dark, and in person he’s like the happiest, nicest guy in the world. Inland Empire came out, and he hadn’t made a movie for a few years before that. I loved Mulholland Drive, and I went to see this at the IFC Cinema in New York, which doesn’t exist anymore because nothing exists in New York anymore. I saw it and loved it. The fact that it’s such an unconventional narrative, or a conventional narrative that becomes unconventional. These fractured plotlines, these characters who become different characters. It made three-act, conventional narrative cinema seem so adolescent. I was like, “Why do we need to be spoon-fed these conventional three acts?” Whether it’s Spider-Man or some indie film, it’s the same three acts, the same resolution and the same beats. Inland Empire made me feel like, “Oh, that’s right. Movies don’t need to be that conventional.” I loved it for that. I ended up seeing it four times in the theater. I kept dragging people to the theater, and I found it very hard to find someone who loved it as much as I did.
AVC: It’s a tough film.
Moby: I think it’s flawless. From start to finish, out of all the movies here, it’s my favorite, but I also think, from start to finish, it’s perfect. The girls singing and dancing, that’s maybe the only minor imperfection in it. I think he was a little biased because he ended up getting married to one of them. I DJ’d at their wedding. It was very sweet. People asked me, “What do you play at David Lynch’s wedding?” I was like, “Well, his family was there, so I played ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and Beyoncé.” That’s what his family wanted to hear. Toward the end of the night, he and I were DJ-ing together…
AVC: And then it got weird…
Moby: And then it got really weird, but I just think Inland Empire is such an unspeakably perfect movie.
AVC: Do you ever compose music while watching a film?
Moby: Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of directors, and I’ve licensed a lot of my music to movies, and I started this weird website a few years ago called Mobygratis.com, and it gives free music to independent filmmakers, film students, and non-profits. As far as writing music inspired by movies? It’s one of those questions where I wish my answer was yes, because unfortunately it’s not. I wish I could say, “Oh, yeah this song was inspired by this.” No, they’re just inspired by the weird, inbred movies in my head.
Altered States (1980)
Moby: I think the first Ken Russell movie I saw was The Devils. Chronologically I get confused, because Altered States was a big conventional movie. I’m 47, so I saw it in the theater when I was like 15. I just loved it. I loved how psychedelic and surreal it was, and this idea of ayahuasca ceremonies and flotation tanks and transmogrification. It was a big-budget, blockbuster movie. Then I saw some of his other movies like The Devils and The Lair Of The White Worm. Lair Of The White Worm is interesting for a whole bunch of reasons, but was also one of Hugh Grant’s first movies. I became a lifelong, obsessive fan of Ken Russell.
Altered States made me want to get into a flotation tank, and I got in one, floated around, and didn’t have any trippy experience where I became a proto-human. The thread to all of these movies is experimental filmmaking. Even in the case of Altered States, it had a big budget and a big audience but was still deeply experimental. The subject matter was experimental and challenging. The way it was shot, there’s one scene where she’s holding him together as an embryo. These are all of my cinematic heroes, who are all idiosyncratic and deeply experimental, and I wonder who is doing that now. There are of course great filmmakers now, but unfortunately I feel like a lot of indie filmmakers have a really straight narrative. Really conventional and suburban.
AVC: Speaking of unconventional, Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales…
Moby: When Southland Tales came out, I was so happy to work on it because I thought it was so remarkably similar to Harmony Korine; these weird, dystopian, symbiotic movies, that take pop culture and present it back to itself in a really weird, distorted way, which is why I loved Spring Breakers so much. The first 20 minutes of Spring Breakers could have been the whole movie. With Southland Tales, I was so happy to work on it and when I saw the finished version I was like, “This is great!” He was really challenging people. It’s not perfect, it had flaws, but he was trying to do something interesting. It came out and got slaughtered by the critics. At the very least, couldn’t the critical establishment applaud him for trying to do something different? Sure, it had a lot of shortcomings, but can’t you pat someone on the back and say, “You spent a lot of time making a movie that’s very unconventional. Good for you.” It was really depressing to me to see the way he was savaged for that. A lot of the same critics would then give glowing reviews to the most banal crap.
AVC: Your song “Memory Gospel” at the end of Southland Tales is an amazing marriage of music and image.
Moby: Of all the ways in which I’ve licensed my music to movies, that’s one of my favorites. When Richard showed me the final scene, I kept waiting for it to cut. He uses a six-minute cue, and I almost wanted to say to him, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I’m used to licensing music to a movie where they use five or 10 seconds. Michael Mann, when I licensed music to Heat, it was the same thing. He had a song of mine that ran for about six minutes. I was in the theater watching, waiting for it to end. I saw Trance, Danny Boyle’s last movie, and I knew I had a song in the movie. I went to see it, and I was expecting 10 seconds, and he uses four and a half minutes of the song when Rosario Dawson gets naked. I’m sitting in the theater, waiting for them to cut out.