Q&A: 'An Artist's Elegy' Director Alex Black

by Hetty Mahlich on 28 April 2021

The director of the SHOWstudio fashion film submission talks Gucci, their creative process and making a film in lockdown.

The director of the SHOWstudio fashion film submission talks Gucci, their creative process and making a film in lockdown.

SHOWstudio's latest fashion film submission was made during isolation in Canada, and explores the circus of ritual and routine - the very thing taken away for many artists during lockdown. Posing the question of what it really means to be a creative mind during a global pandemic, the filmmaker and photographer Alex Black and her partner, the musician and producer Gab Rhome, decided to make a fashion film exploring the pressure to succeed and what we really need to create.

The film was shot in 2020 in Black's family home, a grand house on the outskirts of Montreal, which the pair describe as a 'French country house meets Italian villa'. Set in the leafy suburbs, the neo-classical architecture is the perfect setting for this Hitchcockian short. Filmed on a Super 8mm camera that belonged to the director's grandfather, in An Artist's Elegy our protagonist, played by Rhome is taunted by his own thoughts. Despite being surrounded by a wealth of inspiration and the comfort of a beautiful home, the artist struggles to find a creative routine. Sunlight flickers through the house as the minutes and seconds of the day tick past. We catch glimmers of strange faces, in paintings on the walls and miniature classical nude sculptures on the mantlepiece, as a clock chimes. 'He projects himself into the inanimate objects...Everything that is looking at him is actually him looking at himself. He is confronted with his thoughts of inadequacy and is scared of looking at himself', Rhome explains. The film lays bare how it is often our thoughts that hold us back, not our material surroundings. 'I think there is a lot of mystification around freelance creative roles. You have to form a very strong voice to stand apart from the others but self-doubt can easily creep in if no one confirms your choices along the way. Your worst enemy can be your thoughts', says Black.

In exploring the repetition of the everyday, the pair decided to dress Rhome in one of the more humble looks from Gucci A/W 20. They chose the Italian brand, which has undergone a maximalist revival under Alessandro Michele, for its celebration of the eccentric and creative individual. The artist's Gucci blazer and turtleneck can, however, be seen as a sounding board for any viewer's own feelings of inadequacy.

From the direction, through to the acting, film editing, styling and sound design, The Artist's Elegy provided the ultimate project which got the duo's own creative juices flowing again, with Black building a make-shift home studio to score the film. The film is an act of 'radical self-reliance', it exemplifies Black and Rhome's own inner-strength.

We spoke to the director to find out more.

In reality, fashion films can blur the line between reality and fiction. Every day we dress ourselves to bring forward our character arcs to the public - Alex Black

SHOWstudio: How did you find being creative in a pandemic?

Alex Black: Considering a lot of the creative activities during the pandemic were self-driven, it was challenging to find a sense of urgency in the repetition of time. 

SS: Was this your first time collaborating professionally, and what was the process of working together like?

AB: We've often worked together in the past where I will hire his services to do the scoring of my commissioned fashion films. It's very exciting to spend time together in this capacity where we're both feeling inspired and we're vibing off of each other's ideas. It's also nice to work in a more organic way, not with strict feedback rounds and specific deadlines.

SS: Tell us a bit more about why you selected this particular Gucci look as the costume for the film, there’s an interesting idea you’re presenting here that fashion can stand for the individual but also be something that lots of people can relate to. Why was that important to get across?

AB: The styling is a stand in for the character arc. The more classic / timeless selection of pieces demonstrates our character is someone established. It's also an example of the character's value system by investing in timeless pieces versus something trendy. You can extrapolate from that that their work as an artist is of intellectual value. Additionally, if you can afford a head-to-toe Gucci outfit, you can assume money is not an issue. Therefore, the Gucci look becomes a symbol of limitless possibilities without barriers except for your own capabilities from your personality. This intellectualism, being cerebral, overthinking, can be a crutch if you allow your thought patterns to lean more negative. In reality, fashion films can blur the line between reality and fiction. Every day we dress ourselves to bring forward our character arcs to the public. Fashion films can create character arcs we would like to associate with and provide the tools through fashion to bring ourselves closer to this representation. 

SS: The pandemic has really shone a light on our anxieties as a society surrounding work and the pressure to create. How do you think the pandemic has changed this, for better or for worse?

AB: I can't answer on a societal level nor would it be wise since it's too soon to see lasting effects of the pandemic. But on a personal level, it's been interesting to see the introspection from the forced exit of the rat race. Gab & I have both had the chance to think more deeply on our long term goals without distractions and that has resulted in us being much more selective about the types of projects we want to take on. We've realized time and energy is finite, we don't gain from spending them on projects that don't bring us closer to our longterm goals. 

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