The Game of Things is Cristian Straub’s latest short fashion film. It portrays clothing from Hamburg based fashion label Ethel Vaughn and was produced in conjunction with fashion film house Riese Farbaute and Metrosafari Locations. Director of Photography was Jakob Süß. The film starred Lea Vukovics from Mega Model Agency and Hendrik Landschoof. Make-up and hair was by Sarah Kemnitz.
The designer Katrin Weber founded the label Ethel Vaughn in the summer of 2010. Her clothing for men and for women is sold on the Ethel Vaughn website and at the Auntie Pop Studio in Hamburg. The line comes self-described as ‘urban avant-garde‘ with a strong emphasis on redefining everyday casual classics and flattering the figure. Color and comfort are key, as is the use of multiple fabrics and forms. You’ll find tartan wool ponchos as well as delicate lace, delicate stripes as well as blocks of colors and bold prints. According to Weber the line is ‘for strong, sensual women and spirited casual men‘, for anyone who loves beautifully made classic clothing reworked with ‘extroverted accents’. Her varied interests mean she draws her inspiration from many different sources. She also believes this approach to be the best way to meet the challenges presented by the constantly moving world that is fashion.
The movie is as strong and punchy as the brand. Its overall feel is ‘heavily inspired by the cinema of the late 60s & early 70s (like Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now” or Polanski’s “The Tenant”).’ The Game of Things embraces the aesthetics of that period as well as the way movie directors in that era were brave enough to take the world of making movies in new directions.
This point is clearly very important to Straub. He says his film for Ethel Vaughn ‘is a reaction to his ennui with the direction fashion film has taken: ”… and adds… ‘By now you can boil it [the current direction of fashion films] down to the formula “tits meet tricks”. Boring. I get that some spots are about nice visuals and I do like that. But I also want to see more craft. Like stories, emotions, interesting characters… And we need more brands like Ethel Vaughn, who do not think in terms like “how often is my product seen”, but understand that creating a remarkable piece of art which intrigues and touches people can have a much greater and more lasting value for their brand in the long term”.
The premise of The Game of Things is that a woman remembers different parts of a relationship with a guy she has broken up with, while going through piles of what used to be ‘their’ things. The woman burns these things and as she does so a masked man appears. In entering the second half of the movie, the pace picks up, the make-up, clothing and settings change, images from the subconscious dominate represented by the appearance of a group of masked men. These men ‘are part of the pair’s subconscious. Like Jungian archetypes or bad demons, if you want. They stand for the bad feelings and thoughts which were responsible for the break-up, and who come back, when both of them are entering what I would call a “meta-state” of their love relationship in the second half. I could go on and on about that… so I better stop here ;).’
The make-up in the second half of the film is quite elaborate. Straub says of this ‘I had some moods which I passed to Sarah Kemnitz [mua], who was responsible for make-up. I wanted to break the natural style of the first part with some colorful and abstract make-up in the second. Once again, a big part of my inspiration came from the location. The guys from Metrosafari Locations came up with some really incredible spots, like the one which looks like a desert. The location inspired me to use as make-up something vaguely similar to the war markings of Native American tribes. I also wanted to have a psychedelic element, to represent the associative and subconscious elements which was important for the second half of the film.’
The film’s score is as involved as the make-up. Straub explains… ‘The score consists mainly by tracks from Aqsak Maboul and Second Layer, both bands from the late 70s/early 80s that I quite adore. There’s is also some exclusive composition by Pablo Paolo Kilian. I’m a very audio-oriented director and it took me a really long time to find and to decide on what was best for the film. I wanted to have an eery and cinematic atmosphere in the beginning with some uplifting and energetic music for the second part. I think this worked out quite well.’
When called on the fact that The Game of Things contains only female nudity yet Straub claims he is moving on from the ‘tits meets tricks’ formula, Straub had this to say… ‘Don’t get me wrong - I’m not a prude! I just think nudity in a “sexy bunny” kind of way can get very tired. If anything, I did have a lot of tricks (like special effects) in some of my other fashion films… I worked in this film with nudity because it felt right for the story. It’s about getting rid of everything you have and shared with a loved person. So having Lea [Vukovics, the actress] nude after she burned everything in the bonfire made sense to me. Juts stripped down to an elementary state of being. If you watch the night scene again, you’ll see it’s all about purity. Not about “being sexy” or showing tits. Again, I could have shown her nude in the bathing scene, but there I preferred her to be fully dressed. Strange, huh?’
As always, the film really came into its own during the editing process. Straub comments… ‘Since I also edit my films, it wasn’t too hard to get to the core of it really fast. The first rough cut took me two or three days. The fine tuning, on the other hand, was quite time-intensive. Every cut you see (and there are a lot!) was checked and trimmed again and again. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to editing. It’s all about rhythm and flow. In the end, it has to be like a monolith, one indestructible piece. This project was quite difficult regarding that aspect, because I had so many ideas and we filmed on so many locations and had so many changes - of pace, styling, locations, light situations… So it took a little while to find the right balance between all that. But no, I didn’t left out any relevant scenes, just small stuff which wasn’t relevant. I’d say over 90 percent of what we filmed you can see in the final cut.’
Of the initial scene in the bath, Straub admits… ‘That’s probably the only scene that ended up in some other spot than intended. It should have been in-between the bonfire and the nude scene and then the night. But it didn’t work out. Mainly because the voice over was so much stronger when put in the beginning. Initially, the idea was that the fire and the smoke it emitted (from the stuff she burned!) make her go a little crazy. Like when you’re taking drugs in the wrong mood or something. So she lies there in the bath, fully dressed and rouged, contemplating their relationship (symbolized by the little boat with the little guys in it). How the composition came about in my head, I can’t tell you. Probably dreamt it.’
Director - Cristian Straub
Clothing designer - Katrin Weber for Ethel Vaughn
Production - Riese Farbaute & Metrosafari Locations
Production Manager - Nic Diedrich
Director of Photography - Jakob Süß
Camera Assistant - Paul Spengemann
Foley, sound design & mixing - Pablo Paolo Kilian
Hair & Make-up - Sarah Kemnitz
Props - Inga Braun
Actors - Lea Vukovics from Mega Model Agency and Hendrik Landschoof
Dog - Lizzy