Creating The Visual Landscape
The first time I worked with Neil was on the visuals of ‘Foreverland’. Being a great admirer of his work, it was a real treat - though I did put a lot of pressure on myself! I was torn between wanting to pay tribute to the singer-songwriter as we knew him and creating something completely new.
There was an element of nostalgia running through the album that helped us come up with the visuals. As for a lot of French people, we had a real fascination with his dandyish style - but several of his songs seemed to show, on his side, a fascination with France. I guess the photos we created had all of that - The Divine Comedy having a very special relationship with France, maybe because French people saw themselves in a mirror: the glory of our literature, the French Revolution, our romanticism...
We did a photo shoot with Luna Picoli-Truffaut, a very talented actress and artist, who had something of a "muse" which, I thought, would suit Neil's sort of turn-of-the-century approach to art. Luna and I were both quite awed to work with Neil, but quickly loved his sense of humour! That same year, I directed the music videos for the album. The first one was for ‘Catherine The Great’, for which we had the pleasure of working with another wonderful actress, Elina Löwensohn. I remember Neil being starstruck when he met her: "Anyone who has worked in ‘Seinfeld’ is a star!". The shooting lasted two days, in a stunning castle in Normandy owned by a wonderful Swedish lover of art.
With that video and the next one, ‘How Can You Leave..’, I wanted to address this nostalgia, but with a twist. In both of them, the historical characters (Catherine The Great and Napoleon) are equally beautiful and ridiculous, touching and pathetic. Those contradictions are very present in Neil's work, especially in the way his humour or sense of details break anything too pretty or complacent.
Shooting ‘To The Rescue’ was a totally different journey: I had the privilege to spend several days touring with Neil and the amazing musicians of The Divine Comedy in England and France. There was no crew with me, I was alone with a camera. Sleeping on a tour bus, which can be hell for most musicians, was one of the most exciting experiences of my life! I remember that Neil and his wonderful guitar player Tosh would visit every second-hand record shop of every city we stopped in to buy tons of vinyl. I remember us all watching ‘Reggie Perrin’ in the little lounge at the back of the bus, which was heaven. It was wonderful to be able to just document all of that. I had chosen to shoot in VERY slow motion, which created another nostalgic feel to the video. I also think it's one of Neil's most beautiful songs ever.
When I think of ‘Foreverland’, I see a nostalgia for a lost dream, a golden age that may have never existed. The visuals had to express these "bigger than life" ambitions, no matter whether they concern art or love. They're about something that one knows is lost, but that one is after anyway. A beautiful delusion to which I relate a lot, a most welcomed folie des grandeurs in these gloomy times.
Raphaël Neal, December 2020.