Oct 022014


In real life, masks are terrifying. The people who wear them are up to no good. Actually, I don’t know these people, so who knows what they’re up to. But there they are, keeping something from the rest of us. They hide, but they’re not very good at hiding. Underneath, I wonder, are they laughing or crying? In my films, characters wear cheap masks to forget things, to laugh and cry, and to access a better self. It’s dreamy. It’s private. For a moment, they have everything.


There are few masks in my recent work, but I think the idea of multiple selves, or a hidden other self is almost always present.


I once heard a story about these people, they were upset – one grabbed the face of the other and said: It’s not a mask! I don’t know why I’m telling you this, but I wonder how they feel about each other now, or if they even remember that it happened. It’s the kind of story where the person telling it says: Don’t put this in a movie.

Cam Archer makes films and videos in Santa Cruz, California. He’s currently developing his first feature-length documentary, 1981.

(Images by Cam Archer: second down, a still from Shit Year; third down, a still from Wild Tigers I Have Known)

Aug 282014

I talk to Cam Archer pretty regularly, and like to think I know what he’s up to (collaborating on screenplays with Amy Belk, working on shorts he describes in detail over the phone, picturing how to make a documentary as the possibilities take shape in his mind, riding his bike, swimming in the ocean, teaching, etc.), so seeing this short yesterday, a piece I had no idea he’d worked on, was a useful reminder how little you ultimately know the people you believe you do. That was an interesting place to be watching Rickie Lee Jones and Her Horse, which pays such close attention and tries to listen so openly to its subject. I was curious how he got to a place he could observe so free from the kinds of assumptions this shows me I make routinely…

– Brian Pera

When did you film this?

This was shot in 2012 just outside of Los Angeles on 16mm color reversal film. The stock has since been discontinued, so the look is already history. I thought maybe the footage would be used in a larger piece, but then I recently discovered that it worked by itself.

How did you describe to Rickie what you wanted to do?

I had just started a new project, my first documentary, which I knew was concerned with my creative process, or my relationship to images. I was having new feelings about making images and I started to wonder if they were doing me any good. I wanted to step away from my instincts, my tendency to control images, and capture something wild. I knew there was something special between her and Ella and I wanted to see if I had the ability to be patient and collect it. Rickie understood this and invited me to the ranch where Ella resides.


How long did you spend with her to collect this material?

We spent a few hours together. We shot, then I asked her some things based on what I’d seen. I left my voice in the piece because I didn’t feel like pretending that I wasn’t there, or that I didn’t have something to do with what was being captured. I had no intention of making the piece into some specific thing, so it left everything open, casual. Rickie was excited to do something she hadn’t really done before.

How long have you and Rickie known each other and what about her made you want to see her this way?

I met Rickie through David Tibet (CURRENT 93) in 2007. I approached her about playing Sissy Spacek’s neighbor in this film I was trying to get made at the time called PULL. The project never came together, but I knew after meeting Rickie for the film that I wanted to work with her regardless. She has this ability of sounding simultaneously wise and exhausted about everything. I love it. I’ve only ever felt one of those things. I’ve always admired Rickie’s music, but I didn’t want to try and make a music video because it seemed too easy. In 2010, I had Rickie narrate my film SHIT YEAR, a lot of which she improvised, brilliantly. I’d seen Rickie taking care of Ella during one of our recording sessions for the film and it was a relationship I had no idea if I would be any good at, which interested me, and years later led to this film. I wanted to understand what she got out of it, but I also wanted to give a sense of what it might be like to have a casual conversation with her about something she’s not known for, or something she hadn’t had any intention of documenting.


What went into the sound design? I know you go out and record things. What kind of ambiance were you hoping for?

Lately, I’ve been working a lot by myself, and using a lot of natural recordings. I used to create a lot of sounds, but now I just wait for them. The sounds in this piece are probably from all over California. It’s mellow, isn’t it? The wind almost sounds like it’s patiently reminding itself how to sound like wind. I like that.

The tone of the short is so nice, like you’re privy to her inner thoughts. It feels really intimate and quiet and lucid and it makes me wonder how you feel about the noise we’re living in right now. There’s such an intentional pace, and I guess that patience feels like a peaceful but emphatic resistance to me.

It is a quiet piece. I spend a lot of time alone. I walk, I bike, I swim… Even when you’re exercising, concentrating on some physical task, your mind goes to this quiet, helpful place. The piece feels a little like that. I try to keep away from the noise. It all looks the same to me anyway.