As Saam Farahmand debuts his new short Drama with NOWNESS, the filmmaker tells us the story behind a visceral 2008 film he made with the renegade British designer
“It was made at a time when platforms did not exist, and there was no forum for it,” says British filmmaker Saam Farahmand of his 2008 film Ghost, made in collaboration with the late fashion designer Lee McQueen. Originally shown at Milan Fashion Week to celebrate McQueen’s collaboration with sportswear brand Puma – stretched across a narrow, 22-metre long screen, resulting in its unique aspect ratio – the film depicts a male and female fighter in battle, and has remained largely hidden in the decade since.
“Lee saw my early videos and wanted to talk to me about us making something together,” Farahmand says of how his relationship with the designer began. “It was a new thing for him, making a film with a sequence structure, and he was hugely excited. We had incredible conversations… An idea about shadow boxing spiralled out into a bigger conversation about violence. I was interested in where our perception limited woman’s relationship with brutality.”
As with much of McQueen’s work, the film delivers a visceral jolt – not least for the depictions of raw violence between man and woman. Set to a booming orchestral score, the fighters’ movements, slowed down, come to resemble those of a contemporary dancer, or characters in a video game. “A violent symbiosis, to the point of absurdity,” is how Farahmand himself defines the short. “It’s like conflicting ideologies getting off on hurting each other, as if in a Road Runner cartoon. I designed the ‘ghosting’ effect to amplify the sense that the characters were duelling spirits. It was a new effect that hadn’t been seen before, Lee loved it and decided we should name the piece after it.”
McQueen would remain involved throughout the process. “He would show me Renaissance imagery and send me war sounds. The long, thin 22-metre screen we showed it on in Italy was another of his ideas – that’s how it got the bizarre aspect ratio,” Farahmand explains. “He was beyond supportive and gave me Trino [Verkade] and his A-team to facilitate whatever I needed to make it work. I spoke with [McQueen’s music director] John Gosling who worked with me on Ghost, and it’s still one of the things we are most proud of... It feels like it’s been hidden away until now.”
Today, NOWNESS debuts Farahmand’s latest short, Drama – his only collaboration with a fashion designer since, and a continuation of a career-long exploration of gender and film. “Something I attempt to do is create conditions where the male gaze is hijacked, and stared out, where elevated femininity mutates,” he says of Drama, which sees a group of female drummers, dressed in the work of Irish designer Simone Rocha, unite to create a ferocious, discordant wall of noise. “Their stares begin as part of their attempt to connect, but evolve into defiance against my control.”
Watch Drama, Saam Farahmand’s latest film, on Nowness now.