Some videos come up quite easily. Others take more effort. The video for the song ¡Viva! by Los Punsetes is of the latter kind.
When Jorge called me to ask me whether I would like to make a video for them, I was thrilled. Seven years had gone by since Tus Amigos and we had lost track of each other a bit.
They sent me a live cut of the song, recorded with a mobile phone in a rehearsal session. It sounded crap. I thought the most interesting thing was the contrast between the celebratory and luminous vibes of the music and the caustic and pessimist lyrics. That was typical of Los Punsetes. But that duality became a giant monster that didn’t let me sleep at night, because I couldn’t find a translation into images to visually represent something like that, something that apparently gave good vibes but in fact gave bad vibes. Weeks went by and I could start feeling pressure from the band: Luis is not saying anything… Not enough has been written about this silent pressure.
When the rope was tight enough, I went to Ikea with my wife one day. We went to have breakfast at the cafeteria. I think it was the first time in my life I had ever done that. It’s the closest thing to a neoliberal representation of hell that you can get to know in life. We sat down at some armchairs that are clearly the Ikea version of the Starbucks armchairs. That is: let’s plagiarise hell, see if we can make it even worse. And there, after thinking for a while how Den Bosch would have painted the Ikea cafeteria, the image of a clown came to mind.
I’ve been thinking for a long time about the magic of those ideas that attack you without notice, a bit like the leopard in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I mean, you’re a monkey, there, doing something, minding your own business, and all of a sudden… bang! Like snorting ayahuasca through the nose, when the shaman blows it to you through a bamboo cane and it explodes directly against the walls of your brain: Bang! A CLOWN.
Another thing is the face you must be pulling when such an idea attacks you. You’ve been waiting for illumination for weeks. And all of a sudden it’s there, slapping you. And then you totally lose conscience of your own existence and probably look like a right fool. You’re there, thoroughly savouring triumph and the arrival of an idea that seems convincing, that makes sense: but, of course, a clown. How easy it seems now. Something that should give good vibes but gives bad vibes… The answer is pretty clear. I’m an arsehole. Thank god there are leopards that jump over us to shout in our faces: a clown, you arsehole, a clown!!!
Well, on that day, in Ikea, I got the idea that Los Punsetes should be clowns and that it would be amazing to dress them and make them up as clowns. That same afternoon I wrote them a message and they all thought it was great (maybe they were so anxious with the deadline that they pretended they loved it to get me to start working).
But then, the worst thing happened. I’m a bit emotional today, I’m sorry. And here’s when I say how deeply I envy photographers and editorial art directors. Should I’ve had to make the cover of the single (something that was made some three or four decades ago) that would have been it: dress them as CLOWNS, paint their faces white… Done! Write ¡Viva!, like this, in cool letters. Excellent, bye!
But hey, in a video SOMETHING SHOULD HAPPEN.
Everybody loved the idea of them dressed as clowns, but what were they meant to do for three minutes? Oh my god, and what do I know?
I clung to the idea of the Apocalypse. It seems an interesting idea to cling to, both in the sense of a revelation and as the end of the world. And the song is quite apocalyptic in itself. So I wrote quite an ambitious script in which two groups of characters confront each other in a series of life or death battles between the Apocalyptic and Integrated forces, as a homage to Umberto Eco, who had to be on the video played by Xabel Ferreiro, who is exactly like Umberto Eco when he was young. This is the kind of ideas us directors cling to when we don’t know too much what the musicians should do for three minutes. The problem is that the first script, apart from being astronomically above our budget, required around three months of preparations. And neither Los Punsetes nor their label (Mushroom Pillow) were keen on waiting for so long.
To make matters even worse, I got two advertorial jobs abroad that made me undertake all the pre-production tasks remotely.
So for all that, I was asked to come up with a simpler solution.
This was the “Integrated” group in the first version of the script, which apart from the five Punsetes included Cat and Fox (the baddies in Pinocchio), the stone of the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, the black cloud of the Zoroastrian tradition, Umberto Eco, Patty Hearst, a person hidden behind a picture and the prophet Ezekiel.
More or less around that time, I travelled to Madrid for a few days, nothing to do with all this, and while I was there I went to have a burger with Jorge Punset and David Rodríguez. And during dinner we started talking about how everything was a piece of shit, a recurrent topic in the Spanish imaginary, and in particular when it comes to the political situation, the collapse of the left and the big disillusion that a party such as Podemos has caused among its voters. I think that it was after such a lovely evening that I decided to turn the whole thing round and make a political video. We need more political videos. Probably because things are going so bad that it’s even hard to take a stance. Now not only the right is embarrassing, but the left is too. Everything is embarrassing. Everything is like a circus and it’s pathetic. A circus should give good vibes and doesn’t, it’s a fucking nightmare. So it all fits in, OK, let’s go on this way.
I then decided to turn these clowns into a representation of the political class. I didn’t want Los Punsetes to play any role, but the protest one they have in the lyrics to their song. That is, the voice of the people complaining about everything being shite. A revolutionary group, calling people to action. The new left that never stops shouting that the rest are the worst and that they will change things. It’s quite bitchy on my behalf, I know, but I think that the metaphor of some clowns considering that the rest of the politicians are clowns is quite clear.
I saved some things from the previous script, such as an antagonist violent force to attack the protagonist group: rats. A symbolic and simple representation of evil, of all the negative things in life.
And there are other two groups that have ended up having a secondary role in the video: Romans, representatives of History (who appear only as corpses and mute witnesses of the action), and idiots, quite useless agents of change that politicians have kidnapped to take advantage of and to get fed with evil. I got the idea of the idiots as a socio-political group of influence directly from this great Umberto Eco quote that was more relevant in the first version of the script:
Two pages of the storyboard, drawn by myself due to the low budget. “When will we get the story?” is the WhatsApp message that appears more often in my chat with Fiona, the producer. I think that I have it 46 times.
Social networks give the right to give their opinion to lots of idiots that before only talked at the bar after a glass of wine, without damaging the community. They were quickly silenced and however now have the same right to talk as a Nobel Prize. It’s the invasion of idiots.
Alexandra Jordana’s first proposal of paints for the basement of the Banco de España. The final results were even better.
A twist of fate wanted that when we were looking for possible localisations for the action of this life or death battle between politics and evil, localiser Jaume Jordana sent us some photographs of the headquarters of the Banco de España in Tarragona, in an almost ruinous state of abandonment. It was practically undeniable the appropriateness of such a localisation as a background. But since I’m a bit thick, Alexandra Jordana, the art director, had to convince me to go and shoot there. Alex, with all her team of libertarian Amazons, painted the secondary rooms in blue, red and white, in reference to the colours of politics (red for the left, blue for the right), the flags of democracy (UK, US and France) and a direct homage to Mister Freedom, the most political and also the maddest William Klein film ever.
Another twist of fate made make up artist Rubén Mármol to locate the original wigs and noses of the Charlie Rivel circus (Jorge is actually wearing Rivel’s own wig and nose). From the beginning, one of my main worries was for the look of the clowns to remind people of the classic clown, not today’s version, between sinister and hobo, seen in action films and clown metal bands. In the same sense, stylist Cristina Quer did an incredible job of designing and making all the outfits, the concept of which was based on the idea that each of the characters was to have an overblown element to get a distorted appearance (one the trousers, another the shirt front, another the tie…).
And after too long a pre-production process, came the toughest thing: the shooting. We took more than ninety shots in one day, at an exhausting rhythm and in a dirty, hostile and cold building, And despite all that, I remember it as a beautiful day, one of those shootings in which the whole team is concentrating on the action and there’s lots of joking around and laughing. In such days you get back your faith in society and in teamwork. Everybody was amazing, and that’s not a usual feeling during the shooting of a music video. I’d like to make a special mention to all the actors that played rats, idiots or romans, most of all my colleagues at O, María Sosa and David Domingo, who left us flabbergasted with their interpretations of tortured rat and unsewn idiot, respectively. And my good friend Kikol Grau, who came to act as a double for Chema and let himself be machine-gunned because Los Punsetes drummer had to catch the last AVE to Madrid.
Some days later, and in my total absence, a small team lead by photography director Dani F. Abelló had to face Luisito, which is the name Fiona had given the lab rat that insistently refused to roam around the walls of the red and blue labyrinth. I think that day was tougher and not as fun. I’m sorry I wasn’t there! And still a couple of days later, five or six people more gathered there to shoot four signs to fill a gap in the video that had been left empty, give the conceptual keys of the script and plagiarise Godard a bit as usual (in this case, Pierrot le Fou).
And not much more… I’d like to thank the team for their great job, in particular the producer, Fiona, who apart from her savoir faire she showed infinite patience with my lack of availability, and post-producer Yukio, who has devoted hours and hours to this and has done an exceptional work with the finalisation of the action scenes.
¡Viva! is a bit of a bad vibes video because of the political and violent theme, but I hope some of the humour with which, thank God, we take this circus around here will be sensed as well. I hope you like it too and hope you find it matches the song.
A kiss to all the Punsetes and thanks with all my heart.