Interview with the director of Beautiful Losers, Aaron Rose
Before beautiful losers, before you were producing films for Mtv, How did you begin making films?
I got my film education from watching skateboard videos, pretty much. I grew up doing that, and that’s where a lot of my influences in terms of technique and style came from. A lot of the videos that were being made by kids were actually quite innovative, particularly the early ones, now it’s become quite formulaic.
Were there any in particular you were inspired by?
There was one called future primitive from the early 80s, which was like an art film. Then there was a film called memory screen, alien workshop did in 93 or something. There are so many, that’s what got me into film because I realised how easy it was, it was just kids making those films, not big production companies and studios it was just kids with cameras. The Mtv thing happened randomly because I met a producer one night in a bar, which is kind of hilarious. She wanted to start doing collaborations with artists, she was like, “would you be interested in putting together a series for us?” and that resulted in me producing and directing for them for like three years. I did a project with Tobin Yellend who was our DP in the film, and that was the first time we worked together, that was how I learned about editing and how an avid works and how to shoot film. It was like a mini film school I guess, on the job training.
But they didn’t use your videos for Mtv, is that right?
Ha! Yeah actually I think they were a little bit ahead of their time. The first series we did was called visual mafia, they only ran it at like 1 or 2 in the morning. The second group we did was called Kids in America and that was all like cinema verite style interviews with kids all across the country just talking about music and that launched MTV2, and those ran constantly for like 3 years, we made 40 commercials for them. But the first batch, the artist’s ones, went a little bit over their heads.
Are you still emotionally affected when you watch beautiful losers? Even though you know the subjects personally and have watched this footage over and over.
Yeah, I watched the first 25 minutes the other night at the first BFI screening, and I found myself laughing even though I knew every millisecond, every cut, I was still able to become an audience member. It’s nice that I can do that still.
I think the film helps to define the nineties skate punk generation who appreciated and were inspired by the artist’s involved in the film, how do you think that youth movement was different from those that preceded it?
In the broader sense of things, I don’t think it’s any different. Generations have their own aesthetics, you know what I mean? In the fifties there were beatniks, the sixties had the hippies and the seventies had the punks, the nineties was this. It’s like a generation comes up with it’s own set of symbols and influences and filters that through all aspects of their culture not just their art, music and fashion it also filters into media and advertising, so I think it’s more about that. In terms of aesthetic it’s very different, I mean totally different from the hippy aesthetic but that’s just because it’s a different set of symbols. I think every generation comes up with its own language, lets put it that way. This was our language, the language of that generation. Street culture.
Are there any artists of any kind that are influencing you at the moment?
There’s an animator named Devin Flynn, he is one of the most incredible animators I have ever seen. He does this show called y’all so stupid; it’s all on the internet.
It’s genius. I’ve watched his stuff thousands of times. There are all kinds of contemporary artists like that, I live in LA and I’m very involved in the music scene there, and there’s this new wave coming out of the all ages scene in Los Angeles with really experimental musicians and really young bands. It’s really exciting and has that same feeling of like something new, not just a rehash, the bands don’t just sound like some band from the sixties, they got their own thing.
Have you got any thing planned for the future? I heard rumours of you starting up a school? Is that going to happen?
I hope so, I’m researching it now, If I do a school, I want it to be at a credited university so that people can transfer credits from other schools, so it doesn’t just become this thing that you can’t do anything with. In America the accreditation process is super-complicated, it’s through the government so I was going around blabbing like “I’m opening a school!” then I started talking to people and they’re like “it’s not quite as easy as that, to do it properly.” I could do a private school. But I think it’s still probably in the works, I can see it happening.
Why do you think the whole skate punk culture and art and that whole movement which was very American in origin, took off so well in Europe and England.
There’s pissed off kids everywhere, I don’t think it’s just England; it’s all across the world now. Any city you go to. Even outside the cities, its spread to the suburbs. Everywhere. I think the more media driven our culture becomes… like it’s just like the media is getting bigger and bigger and it’s like this bubble that alienates people even more from feeling like they have a voice in the world and so you see a rise in people trying to express themselves in that way. So yeah, I mean I guess you could say it originated in America but graffiti was around long before the gangs in the seventies in New York. It’s really old, and I think it’s the same kind of thing, it’s global.
Do you like coming to England?
Yeah! London is one of my favourite cities, I haven’t been here in 5 or 6 years so its been nice to come back.
I heard you used to be a mod and you were in a scooter club called 96 tears named after the ? and the mysterians song, is that right?
Yeah still am! Good research!
So did that get you into the whole London culture?
Yeah well as a teenager I was obsessed with it, I ordered all of my clothes from Carnaby Street and I was on the phone with my mom’s credit card. 13 years old, calling the Carnaby cavern ordering suits and stuff! Then I kind of….you know, you get into different stuff, but the mod thing never really left me, then recently when I moved back to LA from New York, I started getting scooters again.
Do you have a lambretta or a vespa?
Both, I have an LD150 from 1957 and a P200 for the racing and shit.
Yeah I got a p200 too
Yeah, me and Barry McGee and a bunch of the guys from beautiful losers are really into scooters. Our club is all those same dudes.
Did that come out of your interest in punk rock then?
Kind of. Here it was all defined groups and subcultures whereas in America, punks, mods, skinheads and Goths, it was all like one thing. There weren’t so many of us, so those subcultures all kind of melded together a lot more.
Your band the Sads did a European tour recently right?
We’re on one right now.
So you’re tying that in with the Beautiful Losers thing? How’s it going in Europe?
Yeah well, we played all weekend at the ICA, we’re going tomorrow to Paris and doing Palais du Tokyo, then we’re going to record in Berlin for a week at studio East. It’s fun!
Other than art and film what’s occupying most of your time right now?
Art isn’t occupying so much of my time right now, I do a magazine with Ed Templeton and Brendan Fowler called ANP quarterly, artist network project. So I’m doing the magazine, playing music, I got a couple of film projects coming on, I’m doing a short documentary that we shoot November 20th, just a 30minute film. I’ve been working on a feature for 5 years now, it’s gonna take some time to pull it all together. There’s a lot of stuff going on. Because of Beautiful Losers, I sometimes get pigeon holed as an art person, but I like all of it, I think it’s all tasty!
Did the BFI film festival screening of Beautiful Losers go down well?
Yeah, good audience. It was cool because, I said this when I introduced the film, it’s the same with The Sads, we come over here and we do better here than we do in America. With the art as well, we were coming to London to do shows. James La Velle from Mo wax was really supportive of us back in 1995, before anyone cared in New York, we were in London doing shows, because something about the British people, or the British scene really took care of us with its forward thinking. They’re like ‘oh that’s interesting, lets bring them over’ so it was kind of nice to show it in London because of all the gratitude, I was like wow, this city embraced us long before our own country.
Thanks a lot for the interview Aaron, have you got anything else you can tell me about your film projects?
I’m very interested in this artist named sister Corita Kent, who was a Catholic nun in the 1960s and was a pop artist in the vein of Andy Warhol. She was in America and was a staunch anti-Vietnam war activist, and she was kicked out of the church for her political views at the time. Her work looks so modern that it could be hanging in this Shoreditch gallery, it looks like a 21 year old kid did it, it’s all neon, insanely contemporary. That documentary I’m working on is about her life. I’ve been working with her foundation; they opened up the archive footage opportunities for me. Mainly interviews, a lot of the people who knew her when she was alive are very old now, so it’s good to talk to these people now before they die so we can get her story. She was kind of quite famous for a minute but then faded out so I wanted to make sure we got something on film to maintain the memory of her. It’s hard to explain visual art with words, but if you saw it you would be like ‘wow! A nun made this?’ because it’s really punk, psychedelic, political! It doesn’t look like a nun made it at all. She is really amazing.
Do you think the way the back story behind an artist’s work affects people’s opinion of it is a good thing?
I think so. I think for the artists I tend to be interested in and associated with, I’m as in love with their story and them as people as I am with the work they create. I see that it all inter-relates in a very dramatic way. Those tend to be the people that I’m drawn to, people that have lives that are as interesting as the work they create.