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by dr andrew cousins

More Of An Art/Cinema Fusion Interface

Herlfynn Strumboldt is probably Finland’s most famous export. His music videos have won him a stack of awards including the Golden Semi-Brieve, the MTV Award for Best Use of a Million Dollar Budget and a Silver Tonsil. Next year he starts shooting his first feature, a tense sci-fi thriller entitled Schismoid III. I caught up with him at his office in Los Angeles.
You started off as a fine artist didn’t you? How did you make the transition to directing music videos?

I began as a painter but found that it was a medium that I quickly tired of. Then I began to experiment with video art. I created an video installation piece entitled ‘Lather, Rinse, Repeat’ which depicted an infinite number of women washing their hair with an infinite number of shampoo bottles – backwards. It wasn’t exactly a film - more of an art/cinema fusion interface. Anyway it got a lot of publicity. Particularly when Brian Sewell of the Evening Standard wrote a review in which he said, "I’ve shat things that have more artistic merit then ‘Lather, Rinse, Repeat’. Go and see it only if you want a good laugh." It caused a sensation. There were cues around the block. That’s when I got a call from Freddy Mercury’s agent. He said Freddy had seen the exhibit and really wanted me to direct a video for Queen. I jumped at the chance.

That was the video for ‘Tight Leather Pants’?

Yes it was. Again that created a storm in the press because of it’s so called ‘homoerotic content’ I can’t see it myself. What’s homoerotic about Freddy Mercury having baby oil rubbed into his nipples by a parade of semi-naked young men? I think people try and read far too much into it. Freddy was a real trooper though. He insisted on that scene being re-taken seventy times. He was a real professional.

After that you did a Duran Duran video?

That was for a song entitled "Young, rebellious – yeah!" It was a touch ironic because Simon Le Bon was pushing forty even in 1984. That was the first ever video to feature a large back-lit fan spinning around in the background for absolutely no reason. I just liked the look of it and decided to make a point of using as many shots of it as I could. These days it’s become a film cliché but I’m afraid that I started it.

Was it around this time that you decided to move to America?

It wasn’t too long after. Bands in Britain didn’t have the money to do the sort of things I wanted to do. Bros wanted me to do a video for them so I came up with a concept that involved blowing up a Concorde. I wanted to blow up a full-size aeroplane and they kept saying, "We can’t afford it. Can’t you use a model?" It was very clear that they didn’t understand my vision and so they got somebody else to do the video for them. It would have been good though. They would have been singing, "When will I be famous" while Concorde exploded in the background. They would still be around today if they’d used me.

Of course, you got to blow up a plane when you did the video for Michael Jackson.

That was for ‘I can waste my money just the way I want’ which was the most expensive video ever made at the time. That was great fun to do. We had Michael dangling off the Statue of Liberty on a bungee rope. These days it would be done with blue screen but then we had to do it for real. The insurance alone cost a fortune. As you say I, also got to blow up a 747. I tried to get hold of a Concorde but nobody would let us have one. Did you like the bit where Michael morphed into Pinocchio? That was all done with model animation – there were no computers in those days. He was supposed to morph into Mickey Mouse but Disney got cold feet at the last minute.

Tell us about the promo you made for the Madonna single, ‘Gratuitous Nudity’.

Again the moral minority got on their high horse about that one. Just because the video featured scenes of a black Jesus being horse-whipped by transsexual Spanish prostitutes wearing leather basques some people claimed that it was blasphemous. If they thought that was bad they should have seen the stuff I had to cut out! Actually they can because some of the out takes appeared in a porn film called ‘Bangkok Ladyboys Go Wild’. It should still be available from specialist outlets. The great thing is that all the negative publicity completely backfired because it made Madonna a huge star. I got an invitation to her recent wedding but unfortunately I was shooting a Mariah Carey video at the time and couldn’t go.

You directed a video for the gangsta rapper Knight-Ro which was accused of inciting violence and hatred towards the police.

If you can point to anything in that video which could be accused of doing that I’d like to hear it.

Well the single is called "Kill all the Pigs"…

It’s a bit of a tenuous connection though isn’t it?

. …and features a scene where Knight-Ro strides down an alleyway with an Uzi 9mm in each hand shooting hundreds of policemen dead whilst screaming, "Kill all the Pigs". The sequence ends with him blowing up a police station in the heart of the Bronx.

What people don’t understand is that the violence is supposed to be satirical. He’s actually making a comment about the chronic underfunding of the New York Police Department. Unfortunately most people don’t get what he’s talking about. The man’s a genius.

Your latest project is a science fiction feature film, Schismoid III Can you tell us a bit about it?

It’s the third in the incredibly successful ‘Schismoid’ franchise which features a serial killer stalking the corridors of a gigantic space ship trapped light years from Earth. A lot of people think doing a sequel is a come down but I see it as an enormous challenge. I’m trying to take a slightly different approach to the previous films, which were seen by many as simply an excuse to use as many special effects as possible. The special effects will still be there but there will be a more intelligent subtext as well. For example one of the crew will is English and so he likes to quote from Shakespeare and Dickens at every available opportunity. You see?

There has been some concern that you’re trying to make a two-hour movie with a 180-page script…

It’s not a problem. I’m just going to get the cast to speak very fast.

How is the casting going?

Very well. Normally by the time you get to the third sequel you’re reduced to casting actors who usually only appear in really bad TV movies. But we haven’t had that problem. We’ve got really great actors like Eric Roberts, Jeff Fahey and C. Thomas Howell. We’ve even got David Warner. He won’t do just any old rubbish you know. Have you seen ‘Beastmaster III’? I think it’s among his best work.

Herlfynn Strumboldt, thank you

‘Schismoid III: Revenge of the Schismoid’ should be on general release next year.

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