Diane Martel

by Sway Benns

You Mean to Tell Me My Fly’s Been Down this Entire Time?
Social dance has spanned many iterations of our culture, with choreographic documentation emerging in the 15th century. One such 20th century touch point, seen in R.E.M.’s “Shiny Happy People,” commences with choreography that takes cues from historical dances, utilizing ground bass; the group performing a series of simple movements in unison, R.E.M. enacting an abstract improvisation in the foreground. The result: an organic unity, wholly and exuberantly sardonic. “Shiny happy people holding hands” is lifted from a communist propaganda poster. Nearer to our collective conscious—though closer to those avant-garde Italian court dances of the 15th century—the equally deadpan “Blurred Lines” video (from newly inaugurated Top 40 radio overlord Robin Thicke). Scene: a young model cavorts around half-nude as rapper T.I. performs the now widely .gif’d hairbrush dance. At the helm—this time as the video’s director—the same choreographer from “Shiny Happy People,” Diane Martel, architect of many such documentations embedded into our culture. It’s not hard for one to imagine, when civilization goes dark and the perverse fantasy inherits the Earth, a faint glimmer of glib hope echoing, to the tune of another one of Martel’s visual creations: “And we can’t stop / And we won’t stop.”

The Greek derived preposition “meta” (meaning “after” or “beyond”) has ties to the mathematical, philosophical, and sociological communities. How does the idea of “meta” present itself in your work? In some parts of the Bangerz Tour, we refer to “Show Biz” in an absurd yet artful way. I suppose, that is self-referential, and thus “meta.” The show has a few tones—one is sentimental, Miley created a number where the fans kiss each other on kiss cam which plays on a giant IMAG screen [inside] a horrible engagement ring with a 2-bit glint. It’s really beautiful some nights. The other tone is quite tongue-in-cheek—within the video content and the costumes we have a good amount of screwball iconography. There is Abe Lincoln. Miley rides a Kenny Powers Jet Ski and turns into a skeleton. We have candy porn shot with an iPhone on dirty paper and then excruciatingly created in 3-D. There is a gold-plated Atlas with the world on his shoulder, a dancing chicken, [and] a two-man gingham horse. We use cheap silver Mylar on the C-stage for decoration. There is a moment in “My Darlin'” where a CG Karl Lagerfeld pulses on a critical beat. There is a ridiculous loop of these running cartoon characters made by artist Ben Jones and the folks at ADHD, an unbelievable, inane loop that I love. As long as it doesn’t disturb the flow and it blends in musically it’s nice. I think it makes kids accept freakish visuals that normally would turn them off. I’m happy when kids scream for a dancing chicken. It’s liberating. I might be going from being jaded to being a big hippy. Everything is very well considered. I worked with some fine artists on the content and I’m quite proud of it.

Balanchine once said, “God creates, I do not create. I assemble and I steal everywhere to do it—from what I see, from what the dancers can do, from what others do...” With that in mind, how do you commit your own acts of theft? As of late, a great deal of my ideas are original. It took a year and a half of disciplined work to get to this place where I’m not pillaging through Google Image Search for ideas. I focus and keep fluid and [keep] myself inspired. If anything, this period of work is inspired by some performance artists I’ve loved like Tom Murrin, The Alien Comic. In my team, Lisa Katnic—the wardrobe designer and host of HBO’s [Sex//Now]—comes up with some great stuff, we also go at each other to find the right ideas for wardrobe. I just worked with Ben Jones and Geoffrey Lillemon as collaborators, and we were on point in the writer’s room. Geoffrey Lillemon and I have a directing team now, because of this project. We are called CGPP. By the way, I love Balanchine. I have a photo of George and Igor Stravinsky in my home.

Your Wikipedia page lists eight director credits for Mariah Carey videos. What’s your favorite Mariah lyric? We were once very close friends and I loved her like a sister, we haven’t spoken in 14 years so I’ve forgotten every lyric.

Your uncle was acclaimed American theatre producer Joseph Papp, and you’ve noted attendance at his performances from a young age. Describe a staging of Papp’s that left an imprint. Why do you think that particular piece resonated so strongly? Several musicals directed by the wonderful Wilfred Leach made great impressions: A Much Ado…with Sam Waterston and Kathleen Widdoes; also,
a production of The Threepenny Opera starring Raul Julia. These were colorful, beautifully designed, whimsical, chock-full of character. Campy, titillating, and emotional.Broad-yet-brilliant.

Your concept for Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” video was supposed to be a “giant selfie.” In your opinion, what is the crux of the selfie as a modern day phenomenon? Hold on, I hear Miley singing a Bob Dylan song in her soundcheck. I’ll be right back […] I’m back. The good thing about the selfie gen is that girls have more freedom to fuck with the idea of being attractive—it’s more attractive to be unique, to mock male gaze constructs (of glamour and sexuality), and everyone is a subject now. That’s fun, right? Kids who grew up online have a different code than people who didn’t. They know a lot more about kids than kids who had to work harder to find information in the generations before them. They are now able to learn from each other and the past in a very immediate way, and they are having a good time.

What does misogyny mean to you? Someone is misogynist if they have the desire to see women as subordinates or submissives. Or if they dislike/hate women.

Miley Cyrus was once quoted as saying she asked you to drown her in “new movies and books and art.” What did you suggest? I got Miley some photography books for her 21st birthday–Guy Bourdin, Gaultier, Araki, Weinberger, Cindy Sherman, Thierry Mugler, Georges Lepape, Danny Lyon, Juergen Teller, Newton, Cauchetier. I also got her a few beautiful books about Dada and Surrealism.