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29th August 2018
Tortured artists
Title of film: Jordan Raf, Scales of St. Michael
Director: Kristoffer Borgli
Production Company: Furlined
It’s difficult to tell between the facts and the fiction in Kristoffer Borgli’s films. He’s a master at appropriating the real experiences and personalities of his friends and his own life and turning them into visual essays that heighten the absurdity of modern culture.   Kristoffer’s latest short film, A Place We Call Reality, and music video for Jordan Raf, Scales of Saint Michael, both satirise and play on the contemporary self-help movement for spiritual guidance and meaning in life. And then some.  In the video, Jordan Raf is pissed on, stabbed with a syringe, pulverised, and generally abused, humiliated and tortured by his body-building, emotionless assailant. The resultant film is both simultaneously compelling and completely unwatchable. 

How much of the narrative is based on your own story? 

That depends on what you’re referring to: the short film or the music video. One has its footing in the observable reality (the short) and the other floats in the non-physical world of ideas (the music video). A big portion of the short film was a true diary of my life and gradually took on a life of its own, it’s about half truth and half imagined.

And to what extent did the music video evolve out of the short film?

There’s a direct causality there, working off an energy of inspiration that emerged out of the short film, wanting to keep exploring some themes but in a different way. 

We’ve tried to find the lyrics for Scales of St Michael. But no luck. St Michael apparently defeated Satan but it sure doesn’t look like the theme here. Please tell us how the script came about – was it driven by the lyrics?

I remember telling Jordan I found the scenes and the actions to be fitting the lyrics perfectly when we were on set, and he asked me what I thought he was singing and turned out I was completely wrong. The idea came out of wanting to do something simple and physical, like the Monty Python “silly walks” skit.

What was the nature of your collaboration with Jordan Raf? Please tell us how you won him over in the first place but more so how you convinced him to play himself and undergo outrageously gruelling physical abuse?  (If I remember correctly doesn’t the protagonist in your feature film Drib also undergo a messed-up beating for real?)

We first became friends, so it wasn’t like asking a complete stranger to be tortured on camera. Consensual BDSM if you may. 

The shoot was obviously not a breeze –  how did you resolve the main challenges of the production?

It was actually just fun, I had so much fun, I was laughing so much. I’m speaking for everyone involved.

Please tell us about your relationship with Frank Yang who first appeared in your short film and is now the dyed-blonde body-building ab-obsessed tyrant in Raf’s video.  And by evolving this character what are you saying about our contemporary ideas of masculinity?

My relationship to Frank started with an appreciation of his video work online. I started watching his videos about two years ago and reached out to him when I was making A Place We Call Reality. He came to LA and immediately became a huge part of that film and my life.

As to “contemporary ideas of masculinity” I’m not sure if I’m saying much. As you can see in my film DRIB too I’ve had a little obsession with body building for a while. I don’t know where that came from, but I’ve let it guide me. It’s interesting to the eye, my head always sees “production value” whether it’s locations or sunlight or faces or bodies. It’s like when I was a skater in my teens I would see the city landscape as obstacles, always counting the steps when I walked stairs, always looking at the height of handrails — now my head thinks cinema. 

Apart from the lyrics, what were the messages you wanted to play with in the short film and subsequently in the music video?

The short film comes from a very real place, where questions about the meaning of having a career, of creating art, of consciousness and existence itself was rendered into a film experience that borrowed from modern platforms such as the vlog and podcast, and ultimately ending up in a confusing space between absurdism and satire. To misquote Wittgenstein via David Foster Wallace: “the most serious and profound problems and questions can only be discussed in the form of jokes”. 

The music video is more dream like, I’m not really trying to tackle experienced phenomenon, but I let my connection to the non physical world of ideas guide me and I was given enough images and ideas to build something. I never tried to intellectualise it but I did end up thinking that the peeing could be seen political, the lobsters could have something to do with Jordan Peterson, and the whole video could be read as having an addiction to things that hurt you. 

What are you currently working on and what’s playing on your mind now?

I’m five days away from my deadline for a feature film script, so thanks for this interview, yet another good reason for me not to do what I’m supposed to! 🙂

Jordan Raf, Scales of St. Michael Written and Directed by: Kristoffer Borgli Co-written by: Jordan Raf Production Company: Furlined DoP: Ben Mullen 1st AC: Elliot Barnes Featuring: Frank Yang Stylist: Keely Murphy Editor: Kristoffer Borgli Colorist: Ben Mullen Line Producer: Scooter Doll A Place We Call Reality Written & Directed by Kristoffer Borgli Co-Written by Frank Yang Cinematography by Ben Mullen Additional Camerawork by Robbie Barnett, Bjarne Bare, Frank Yang, Kristoffer Borgli Main Theme by Turns (Forevermore, pt.III)