(PJ Harvey, 1992)
(PJ Harvey, 1992)
'50 Ft Queenie'
(PJ Harvey, 1993)
(PJ Harvey, 1993)
'Down By The Water'
(PJ Harvey, 1994)
(PJ Harvey, 1995)
'Send His Love To Me'
(PJ Harvey, 1995)
(M People, 1995)
'Is That All There Is?'
(PJ Harvey, 1996)
'That Was My Veil'
(PJ Harvey, 1996)
(Robert Miles, 1996)
'U Love U'
'A Perfect Day Elise'
(PJ Harvey, 1998)
(PJ Harvey, 1998)
(Sven Väth, 1998)
One of her most striking videos, and one of her favourites too, was
for PJ Harvey's 'Man-Size' in 1993: a black-and-white static shot of
Polly Harvey sitting on a stool and pulling faces, looking like a teenage
girl dancing in front of her mirror. "A really anti-pop video", as Maria
describes it. Polly is so obviously enjoying herself that her enthusiasm
is contagious to the viewers. "On that day she was a particularly fantastic
performer. I knew I couldn't cut anything that was as good, so I let
it run as a performance piece. I love the bit when she starts wiggling
her tits, I know she's feeling slightly unsure in that she looks around
the room at the other people in the crew but she just carries on. It
was like a dream, really."
Watching Polly improvising so freely, you
get the impression that she must have had complete trust in the person
holding the camera. She probably wouldn't appear so relaxed if she had
done it with someone she didn't know so well. Polly and Maria have known
each other for about ten years now and during that time Maria has directed
all of PJ Harvey's twelve videos (two of which will probably never be
released) and taken most of her photographs. Polly was 18 when they
met and she had not released any records yet, although she was
already making music. At the time she was doing the same foundation
course Maria had done five years earlier and they shared an interest
in artwork. It was Polly who first asked Maria to get involved in a
video project in 1992. The song was called 'Dress', it was Polly's first
single as well as Maria's first video.
Maria admits she is more satisfied with her early artwork, possibly
because she is more distanced from it. She thinks it reflects her original
ambition much better (doing what had never been done before). Apart
from 'Man-Size', she names '50Ft Queenie', 'Down By The Water' and the
Robert Miles video as her other favourite works. '50Ft Queenie' has
many common points with 'Man-Size', especially their ironic, playful
dimension. 'Rid of Me' (from which these two songs are taken) has often
been described as Polly Harvey's most violent and raw-sounding album,
and the two videos just happen to be the funniest. '50Ft Queenie' features
a radiant Polly wearing a fake leopard-skin coat and plastic sunglasses,
as well as band members Rob Ellis and Steve Vaughan. The scenery consists
of a white wall on which one single sentence is painted, the song's
opening line : "Hey I'm one big queen". Once again, what prevails here
is the impression that both Polly and Maria are having a lot of fun.
On 'Down By The Water', Maria enjoyed the opportunity to shoot underwater,
which she had never done before. It was also a big step in the sense
that there was more money to make the video, as well a bigger crew.
Everything was very different from the early videos which were made
specifically from the photo sessions involving only Polly and Maria.
Although Maria seems quite proud of the result, this video is also linked
to some less pleasant memories. She had done a photo session with Polly
for the cover of 1995 album 'To Bring You My Love' but the management
company decided that none of it was fit for use. As Maria was too busy
to make new photos, they simply decided to take stills off the video.
"That made me cross in a way because it's my video that I'm making and
another photographer comes along and takes their pictures (...) and
I wouldn't have done it like that."
Another frustrating experience was the making of a video for 'Is That
All There Is?' (taken from the 1996 album Polly Harvey recorded with
John Parish, 'Dance Hall At Louse Point'). They never planned to release
the song and the video was only meant to promote Julian Schnabel's film
Basquiat. The video was shot in an old ballroom outside of London,
a perfect setting according to Maria ("I could have lived there", she
says). Besides, they were allowed to use clips from the film and ended
up with a video featuring David Bowie and Dennis Hopper among others.
But for some reason, Julian Schnabel decided that he did not like the
result. He phoned MTV in America and threatened to sue them if they
ever played the video. As far as we know, 'Is That All There Is?' has
never been shown as a whole on TV. Earlier this year, Maria shot a video
for PJ Harvey's 'Angelene' that was basically made of stills, but it
seems that this one will not be released either.
When she comments on her own work, Maria turns out to be rather critical
of what she has done. She admits there are some videos she finds "awful"
but will not name them. Some others left her slightly dissatisfied,
which is inevitable in a way. "Maybe I can only like the early stuff
because I'm so distanced from it, maybe in a few years I'll really like
the stuff I've just done. You always look at how you could have done
it better." One example is the lovely black and white video she made
for 'Send His Love To Me'. This was the first time she had ever done
anything on location, in the middle of the desert, and she feels she
could have taken advantage of the place a bit more, by shooting from
different angles instead of keeping the camera at the same distance
from Polly all the time. "The thing is it nearly killed Polly. Just
imagine the heat, the crew made sure they were totally covered up and
she was out there with her bare head and black hair and the sun beating
down on it (...). I just really felt like I nearly killed her." Maria
jokingly says Polly must have taken her revenge by playing some kind
of voodoo trick, like sticking pins in a waxdoll, as she got ill as
well after the end of the shooting.
When you happen to mention Reeling with PJ Harvey, her documentary
about the 1993 tour, Maria suddenly sounds a bit uneasy. "I think I
kind of totally blew it", she admits. Reeling consists of backstage
tour footage mixed with live performances (Maria left the latter to
another director as she felt she could not do that herself). Hearing
her criticising her own work is weird to anyone who has ever seen and
enjoyed Reeling. "I had no plans, I just decided to shoot everything.
I don't think I was produced properly, I wasn't given any boundaries
(...). There are a few scenes that I'm proud of but I do leave shots
running too long." Well, these are the very reasons why Reeling has
gained a cult status among PJ Harvey fans. One good thing about Reeling
is that it's completely unpredictable: you can never tell what will
come next. And just because Maria directs it in such a spontaneous way,
she manages to capture life, almost by accident, in the same way as
'Man-Size' did. Reeling is Maria's vision of Polly, the vision of
someone who knows her well. It goes against all the (often inaccurate)
imagery created by the media: when you see Polly Harvey dressing up
or practising her singing, you get the feeling that this is closer to
the real Polly than anything you might read in the press. Had Reeling
been more structured, it might have failed to reach the same striking
effect. Besides, anyone who has seen the cover of the '4-Track Demos'
album can't help enjoying the photo session scene in the hotel room.
Apart from the aforementioned Robert Miles, Maria has worked with a
number of bands and artists such as Subcircus, M People, Echobelly,
Sleeper, Sven Všth and David McAlmont. She also had the opportunity
to collaborate with Giant Sand frontman Howe Gelb. Maria took pictures
which will be used for Giant Sand's next album and says she really enjoyed
the experience. Earlier this year, she also worked on a project with
long-time friend and collaborator John Parish. Some of Maria's early
pictures were of his band Automatic Dlamini, which once involved Polly
Harvey and friends such as Rob Ellis and Jeremy Hogg. In 1998, John
wrote the soundtrack to a Flemish film called Rosie, by first-time
director Patrice Toye, and decided to perform it live with video projections
in the background. Which was not that easy to organize, since there
was little money. The four shows were to take place in Amsterdam, Antwerp,
Bruges and Portsmouth.
"John basically got four friends together and
said 'I've got no money but can you make me something?'" Maria, Michelle
Henning, Rebecca Goddard and Ben Shillabeer chose four pieces each and
did their best to make up for the lack of money. Which, in a way, forced
them to become more creative. They filmed off a TV and found out that
using different TV screens created a different effect. Maria found one
particular trick with the shutter on the video camera to obtain a white
line moving through the screen, something like a photocopy light. "I
was interested in doing something and having all those restrictions, she
explains. In some ways it's nice sometimes to do that because when you're
given money, you just think 'This is gonna be no good' and you're really
worried about it. It's nice to think 'We didn't have any alternative,
this is how it had to be'".
The projections consisted of images from the film with English subtitles,
repeated again and again, most of them featuring young actress Aranka
Coppens as Rosie. They contributed to creating a hypnotic effect that
added up to the music. The result was truly puzzling to those who had
not seen the film, giving you hints of what it was all about without
providing any real clue. At the end of the show, you found yourself
desperately wanting to see the film as a whole.
Film-making is another
activity that Maria has been interested in for ages, among others. There
are a number of areas she would like to move into, things like fashion
photography (something she has a real passion for), art pieces, exhibitions.
(Talking of exhibitions, she says she always gets excited on seeing
people wearing PJ Harvey T-shirts - "It's like having an exhibition
on the street, when I see people wearing these T-shirts I always want
to run up to them and say 'Hey, that's mine'!). But the one thing she
has always dreamt of is to direct a film. It seems that she has already
had some offers. She would be interested in doing something visually
very strong, but in the same time finds it important not to show off
your palette with no particular reason. Maria refers to La Haine
(by French director Mathieu Kassovitz) as one of her favourite films
ever - a film with a strong visual identity and a very clever way to
carry a message, as well as a deeply emotional one. Maria says she was so
affected by the death of one of the characters in the final scene that
she couldn't talk of it immediately after seeing the film ("It was the
first time I'd ever mourned for a character in a film"). But she is
aware that directing something longer than three minutes involves aspects
she has never had to deal with, such as writing a film script and working
with actors - something she would definitely relish, nevertheless. By
the way, Maria says she would love to work with people who are interested
in writing and would like to have their ideas adapted for the screen
(if anyone feels like taking part in such a project, please don't hesitate
to contact us and we will let her know - this is a serious offer). Film-making
also involves a different kind of pressure. All these things that make
the project even more frightening - and possibly more exciting too.
Which is basically the best way to move one step forward. Sometimes
it's good to push yourself out of the comfort zone.
Endless thanks to Maria for being such a friendly collaborator
and for never being cross whenever our phone calls disturbed her - and
to Michelle Henning who kindly let us use the picture.