Collapse Into… Blue

By Marco Portiglia

In March 2011 I went to see the fantastic Collapse Into Now Film Project at the Clocktower Gallery in New York City: a selection of films accompanying each song from the excellent  and critically acclaimed R.E.M. farewell album Collapse Into Now. Each film directed by a different noteworthy artist and filmmaker with his own unique take and viewpoint of the song.

I left the exhibition with just a little disappointment:  The film of Blue (directed by James Franco), my favorite song from the album was not shown: I was told It was still in the working and it would come up at a later time. Almost two years later the film finally surfaced: it was worth the wait!

James Franco perfectly captures the feeling and the spirit of the song:  the grainy, oblique and often out of focus images of a strangely unsettling but always beautiful City Of Angels at night melt fantastically with the track’s somber, wet but still optimistic mood  – “I am not giving up easy, I will not fold, I don’t have much but what I have is gold….20th Century Collapse Into Now” sings R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe in his Kerouac-esque stream-of-conscious poetic verses with a renewed hope for the 20th Century. Peter Buck’s sublime distorted guitars in the background and the fantastic intense vocals of punk icon Patti Smith do the rest.

The almost six minute long film features Franco himself (dressed in drag with a blonde wig and bright red lipstick) and actress Lindsay Lohan posing as a super sexy and melancholic Hollywood muse for the controversial photographer Terry Richardson.

The video is a brilliant look into the darker side of Hollywood, its underground madness and its edgy wandering residents: blurry parties at Hollywood’s most famous hotspots like Chateau Marmont and Roosevelt Hotel are weaved in with an hazy, smoggy and disoriented collage of Los Angeles nighttime scenes. The whole video wants to paint a certain image of L.A. and Lohan presence helps to underscore and define this washed-up Hollywood star vibe that has already settled in long before she appears in the clip.

But the film is also a great tribute and homage to one of the greatest rock bands ever: R.E.M. that on September 2011, after 31 years together “dismantled” as friends. Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Milles and Bill Berry gave us some of the most beautiful songwriting ever produced. Several the references: from the opening and closing part of the video featuring a backward sign The End to the quick billboard shot Has Been in the central part of the video.

I love how this song and this video echoes their whole career: a beautiful but melancholic ending, as it is the color blue… blue blue blue blue blue.