Sound And Vision: Jeremy Blake & Theresa Duncan
In the article series Sound and Vision we take a look at music videos from notable directors. This week we take a different direction, looking into the stories of artists Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan.
The Sound and Vision this week is slightly different, as the two selected people discussed are not necessarily known as filmmakers, even though there will be a cinematic connection that will be quite clear by the end of the article.
In July 2007 visual artist Jeremy Blake walked into the sea never to return, a week after his girlfriend, game developer Theresa Duncan also took her own life. Vanity Fair published a big retrospective article about how and why two artists, ostensibly in the prime of their life, made such a heartbreaking decision. The Golden Suicides, the article, reads as a sort of true crime story, where the increasingly paranoid Blake and Duncan, stuck in a co-dependent relationship with each other, feed each other's paranoia to a breaking point.
In hindsight, there are telling signs in there that the situation might be slightly more nuanced. Blake and Duncan were convinced they were being hounded by scientologists, after they decided not to partake in the cult. The thing is, we now know that the practices as described in the article, that do sound fairly paranoid, are in fact the sort of tactics used by scientologists, who call themselves 'squirrel busters'. This knowledge makes Blake and Duncan seem less paranoid, even if they did run in conspiracist circles that might have fueled their fear, instead of lessening it.
Blake was introduced to scientology by Beck (who still is part of the church), when he made the cover for his album Sea Change, and the music video for Round the Bend (which is the pick for the Sound and Vision this week). Beck was also ostensibly involved in a feature film Theresa Duncan was working on, although he denies this in the Vanity Fair piece. Around the same time, Blake also did the animated sequences for Paul Thomas Anderson's Punch-drunk Love.
Paul Thomas Anderson (who was the subject of the Sound and Vision last edition) himself worked with known scientologist Tom Cruise for Magnolia, and finished The Master a few years after Blake and Duncan's death. It is hard not to see the film, which is itself a coded critique of Scientology and a history of how the church came to be, as a reckoning with the forces of Scientology in Hollywood. In my opinion The Master can be easily read as a mournful film, a bittersweet film about the responsibilities Hollywood People might have in making this cult powerful, while also a film about a lost friendship and the spectre of death that hangs over everything. I don't think it's farfetched to connect the film to PTA's own relationship to powerful scientologists and his collaboration with Blake.
The Golden Suicides itself was opted for adaptation into a film by Brett Easton Ellis, himself not a stranger to writing about LA cults and conspiracies and people trapped in a downward spiral to self-destructive behaviour. It was originally going to be directed by Gus van Sant, who has tackled themes of death and mourning and romantic entanglements going haywire many times before. Later, it was to be directed by Gaspar Noé, who would have also been a great fit for a film that might have tackled Hollywood excess, paranoia and two people who are going to self-destruct. He even met with Ryan Gosling and Naomi Watts for the roles. The film never came to be, and is since languishing in Hollywood limbo.
Still, the Vanity Fair piece is an engrossing yet harrowing read all of it's own, one I can not recommend enough. And I also would recommend the music video pick of the week, which showed the promise of Blake as a visual artist, whose blossoming career was snuffed in its prime by the untimely death of him and Duncan. May they rest in peace.