Balancing Good and "Evil"

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Charlie White is a busy man. The 32-year-old photographer-best known for his self-described "characters," symbolic human-like creatures with sometimes grotesque features-has become a director, with no less an ambitious first project than a high-profile video for critically beloved indie pretty-boy rockers Interpol. Already airing in Europe and about to debut in the U.S., the project serves as a prelude to advertising work via Omaha Pictures (previous White ad projects include photographs for 55DSL via KesselsKramer; Axe via BBH, and Nike via Wieden + Kennedy). He also heads USC's Intermedia Arts program, and he's preparing for a New York gallery show of new work next January. "I think about balance a lot," he says.

White's directorial debut, Interpol's "Evil" is a weirdly melancholy meditation on death and loss that features a singing puppet who seems to be half crash-test dummy and half Muppet. A slow-moving story about a car accident and the victims' journey to the hospital, the clip is starkly different from the typical fast-cut video, and its tone and leading "man" fit the haunting vocals of the band's frontman, Paul Banks. While the mournful, injured puppet mouths the words to the song, frantic firefighters, paramedics and doctors hurry to help, and the protagonist reacts with large, expressive eyes, before ending the song standing on a gurney in an emergency room, singing the lyrics while jerking like . . . a puppet. "I was looking to make something that made sense to me," White says. "In that regard, I wasn't looking to make it like a music video, and I wasn't looking to make it unlike a music video. When I was first experiencing the song, which I really like, I said that I want someone to sing the entire song, literally every word, and that was what was planned." Someone, but not someone from the band. While his contact with Interpol was minimal, White understood that the video would allow the group to expand beyond the usual performance-based videos to a more conceptual place; hence "Evil" marks the first Interpol video in which the band doesn't appear.

"I listened to the song and thought about a way of interpreting the mood," says White. "I didn't want to reinforce anything that was set up or understood about the band already. I didn't want to contradict anything, either. So instead of making something dark or moody and superficial, I thought, Why don't I just do something that's all about where that darkness and moodiness comes from? One thing that seemed to work was the potential of loss or misery and not an event that places itself in an order of class or culture. There's something all-encompassing about a car accident. So that's where I started."

Thanks to the often extremely complex production and postproduction of his photographs, the leap to a music video wasn't a big one. "The truth is that it was very different, but there was nothing unfamiliar about the scope or the size of the project," White says. Six puppeteers were responsible for the puppet's body movement, and an engineer controlled its face. The puppet (who White refused to name despite efforts among the crew) had a mouth programmed by an engineer to sing the song's lyrics, while his eyes and brows were controlled remotely so that he could react in real time to the actors. The puppeteers were later removed in postproduction, but besides that, all the action was captured in-camera.

Now that the project is finished, White returns to his students, his art and the development of a character-centered branding project with an American ad agency (details yet to be revealed) that will include film and print elements. For the future, he hopes to continue making innovative music videos. In the meantime, "Evil" is well on its way to the U.S. and the blogosphere. Admittedly flustered by the snap judgements of diehard Interpol fans on such a public stage as the internet-they've been critical and called the clip "so bad it's bad"-one is reminded of his best-known art project, "Understanding Joshua," a meditation on male insecurity. Again, White is taking the negative comments with a balanced perspective. "It's a song that's tightly bound to a vision. I think most people were very flustered on their first viewing. But one of the interesting things is to hear people change their minds after seeing it a few times."

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