Daft Punk’s renowned musical talents have been transferred to the big screen. Thomas Bangalter gives Clash the low-down of the creation of their film Electroma.
When it comes to musicians with a thorough knowledge and appreciation of cinema, Daft Punk (Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo) are a rare breed; their celebrated musical prowess has been continually supplemented by rich visuals and the collaboration of significant filmic talents. Their album covers embrace elegant minimalism, simplistic yet immediately identifiable. Their physical appearance from their second studio album, 2001’s ‘Homework’, onwards has been almost exclusively robotic to the extent that the majority of the fans who enjoyed their celebrated festival sets at Rock Ness and Wireless would never recognise them. And that’s before their music videos are touched upon. They’ve utilized the talents of the likes of Michel Gondry, Spike Jones and Roman Coppola. The results have been suitably staggering, with Gondry’s promo for ‘Around The World’ representing one of the art form’s finest moments of the Nineties.
"It’s more like a visual poem or some sort of music for the eyes.”
The duo followed D.A.F.T., their first compilation of videos, with the feature-length Interstella 5555. An anime based on the ‘Discovery’ album, Interstella 5555 was produced and written by Daft Punk. Having formed their own production company, the duo had the grounding from which to create Daft Punk’s Electroma, the tale of two robots on a quest to achieve virtual humanity. Written and directed by Daft Punk, Bangalter also took on the added responsibility of Electroma’s cinematography. Optically stunning, the film ensues the constructs of dialogue and script to create an individualistic experience that recalls classic Seventies road movies, the counter-culture cinema of Zabriskie Point, the robotic relations of everything from THX 1138 to Spielberg and Kubrick’s A.I.
“It was an opportunity for us to express ourselves a bit more extensively with images,” explains Bangalter. He talks with a studious, considered pacing that suggests that his artistic philosophy has been pre-defined and refined over time. “It was always very important to us to express ourselves with music as well as moving images.”
Electroma isn’t a commercially minded venture. It’s not suited to the multiplex, it’s not even comparable to the type of art cinema that threatens to intrude upon the mainstream. Including robots, explosions and a classic retro Ferrari should’ve made its creation close to impossible for financial reasons alone. Not that Bangalter appears to have been challenged by this issue.
“We really tried to approach it as free as we could, to experiment in the same way we did with music ten or twelve years ago,” he explains. “Being extremely independent, it became an obstacle of an artistic one, which would be making sure that we could make this work and tell this story with images, a little bit of music and no dialogue. In a way, it’s not that accessible, because it’s not in the same rhythm and pace as most contemporary film. It’s more like a visual poem or some sort of music for the eyes.”
Daft Punk’s artistic integrity, so important to their music, has also been vital in their move behind the camera, emphasising that their artistic output is always primarily “selfish” and “self-pleasing.” “It’s a process, as artist, of making sure that you know what you want to express, and what you like and don’t like,” states Bangalter succinctly.
It also helps to be able to call on the likes of producer Paul Hahn, who co-founded Daft Punk’s Daft Arts production company and associate producer Tony Gardner, a renowned special effects artist and prosthetic designer. Responsible for all of the robotic design in Electroma, he has worked on countless high profile movie releases. “We’ve been working with him almost constantly for seven years. He’s part of our network,” says Bangalter with evident respect for the man who has created numerous custom-made robotic masks for Daft Punk. “It was a very natural and fluid involvement for him to be part of our adventure.”
That natural level of involvement was also key to the film’s casting. Eager to find actors with the correct physicality, Peter Hurteau and Michael Reich, both formerly production assistants for Daft Arts and inexperienced actors, were cast the as the silver robot and gold robot respectively. As Bangalter admits, they were, “two really cool kids and we could see that there was a connection.”
“It was always very important to us to express ourselves with music as well as moving images.”
Electroma demanded a specific musical accompaniment, one that couldn’t simply be created from extracts from the Daft Punk catalogue. They instead opted for a selection of works from Chopin to Tellier via Eno rather than providing an original score. “Because we’ve done music, we really focused on doing everything else,” he says, comfortably containing something approaching a chuckle.
With Electroma’s plot so straightforward and even simplistic, there’s an undoubted urge to analyse for a deeper meaning, to search for an unspoken subtext. There isn’t a definitive answer as such, but Bangalter contributes plenty for consideration.
“The only actor in the film is the spectator himself.” It sounds pretentious, exaggerated at the very least, but it all begins to make sense. “There’s a sense of loneliness in the film. We’re playing with a hypnotic state or boredom or loneliness. There are a lot of things that the viewer feels because he’s really alone, but almost part of that environment. It’s about how the viewer reacts in that weird environment that doesn’t have points of reference like a script or dialogue.”
The closest Bangalter provides to a definitive answer is this: “The greater meanings are in the perception of each person.” He provides logical analogies as evidence. “It’s part of a person’s subjective experience of the film, where the viewer fills in the blanks with personal understanding.” He explains that such understanding could be environmental, social or emotional, or could arise from a human relationship.
“It’s almost at the limit of abstraction and that’s what we love,” he concludes with a sense of pride emanating from his voice. “How from a slightly abstract work, very precise feelings about it can emerge.”