Died Young, Stayed Pretty

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Credit: Poster by TANXXX
Canadian photographer and director Eileen Yaghoobian is getting rave reviews north of the border for her new documentary, Died Young, Stayed Pretty, about the North American underground poster art community. The Vancouver-based director, who participated in the 2008 Lincoln Center Directors Lab, shot the film for three years while traveling across America after being inspired by posters made for bands she liked. One primary source of inspiration was GigPosters.com, and the film's featured artists -- including Print Mafia, Rob Jones, Methane Studios, the Ames Bros and more -- have created work for bands like Arcade Fire, the White Stripes, Radiohead and the Melvins, among many lesser-known others. Funded almost completely out of her own pocket, the film premiered at the 2008 Montreal World Film Festival and is in the process of determining a U.S. release.

We spoke to Yaghoobian about her inspiration for the film, her non-traditional edit style and more.

What was the initial spark that inspired you to make this movie?
I just love the way these artists use imagery to represent the bands. I always thought it was funny, clever and smart. These guys just create their own world and I found a really great, dark humor in the whole thing – teddy bears with their arms chopped off or a polar bear fucking a baby – just crazy stuff. For example, there's a Turbonegro poster that has Elvis as a gay sailor. I just think it's funny and that's what really drove me. A lot of the styles throw back to a golden era of Americana, with cut and paste guys using classic industrial magazine images of the 1920s, 30s and 40s and repurposing it for a band's gig. I just thought it was really interesting stuff.

A lot of the Canadian reviews point to how you focus less on showing the artwork and more on the artists and their community.
Yes, absolutely. What really drives the film for me, in addition to this community of artists, is the cultural dialogue that lives in the posters. I shot the film on location from 2004 to 2007, from Texas to Minneapolis, Seattle to Providence, Calgary to Montreal and during that time a lot was happening in America and the world, between the war and Katrina and all that. So all that stuff comes out in the imagery and posters they're making at the time. Some might ask what politics has to do with band posters but if you know the bands, it's all there in the lyrics and the music. And the film itself is contemporary, in that I don't have any throwbacks to history or posters from the 60s, I'm just looking at it as it is now.

Credit: Poster by Guy Burwell
You edited/filmed it in a deliberately non-traditional way for a documentary, and described the process as though you were "cut and pasting a poster." Can you talk a bit about that decision and why it works for this subject?
I was just looking to cut it like a poster and try to convey the energy rock and roll has. I have enough footage to make three separate documentaries. I initially thought I'd do more of a traditional doc but the material drove how it was cut and I just felt I had to serve the subject and be true to what rock posters are. Some critics wanted more narration and historical context but that's not what I was going for. The context is contemporary, it's in the dialogue and structure of the film.

Filming for four years on your own dime. Obviously there must be many to choose from, but what were some of the biggest challenges you faced as a director?
Well, just cutting it down from 250 hours of footage was a big one. My first cut was about five hours long. At first it was cut like me going from town to town, sort of like vignettes in that Jim Jarmusch movie Coffee and Cigarettes. But after I saw that I realized that's not how it should be, so I went back and re-cut and restructured it completely.

For the first three years all the financing was out of my pocket, but I did get a small Canada Council grant to cut the film. My background's in photography so I spent a lot of time considering the frame and composition. But through the whole process I always thought of scenes from my favorite films and imitated them, but it's so jumbled in there the viewer probably can't tell. I just didn't want a typical head shot type of film.

Visit the film's official site to watch the trailer, find listings for future screenings and other info.
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