For the past four years the Newport Beach Film Festival has programmed a Music Video Showcase. This year I saw some entertaining, inspiring, and artistically innovative videos and had the opportunity to interview the directors of a few of them. The first in our series is Mutemath’s ‘Monument’ video.
Mutemath’s ‘Monument’ is a really cool hybrid of music video and documentary. The video introduces us to Charles “LaLa” Evans, a Starkville, Mississippi man who turned his home into a museum dedicated to the love he and his late wife of 59 years and 11 months, Louise, shared. The video integrates footage and photos from LaLa’s collection with original footage shot by the filmmakers.
From the moment LaLa came onscreen with his eternal smile and contagious chuckle it was evident to me that he was a unique soul. The way he lives fully open to joy stayed with me and has inspired me in difficult moments. And the song’s lyrics and jangly joyousness make it hard to believe that the song wasn’t written about this very man. I spoke with the video’s producer Jordan Mattison and director Israel Anthem about the making of the video and the effect its incredible subject has had on audiences.
ZAE (MIP): [Mutemath drummer] Darren King said in the Story Behind the Video that it was the intent of the band to depart a little from the style of music video that they had been doing for a while. And then Jordan described his friend introducing him to LaLa’s Umbrella Grove.
Could you talk a little about how you initially envisioned taking essentially a documentary subject and creating a music video around that subject?
IA: The whole goal for me was to make a documentary and a music video become seamless. LaLa IS the song. It was a coincidence that comes around once in a lifetime. Directing him in these circumstances was a struggle, only because I didn’t want to direct him to be a fabricated version of himself. I wanted to capture him as he is, and I believe we did that 100%.
ZAE (MIP): How do you think film and memory go together? And which, personally, do you hold more dear — a moment captured on film or its memory alone?
IA: The funny thing is, our brain remembers things how it wants to. I’ve had moments change completely in my brain just because that what the brain does, it changes things over time. I have hundreds of home movies, and I feel they can be a reminder of how things actually happened, and our brain compliments those memories with a new perspective, if that makes sense.
ZAE (MIP): Did you ever ask LaLa whether he has difficult days missing his true love? If so, what did he say?
JM: LaLa has the most beautiful disposition I have ever been witness to. When he speaks of Louise and their years together he doesn’t do so in suffering. Instead he remembers Louise and their life together in the most kind, beautiful reminiscent way imaginable. It’s almost as if he is saying, the love of my life is gone but look at how much we lived!
IA: I did. He is just so positive about everything. Of course he misses Louise, but he is happy reminiscing on the years they had together rather than focus on the negative. We could all learn a lot from his perspective on love.
LaLa and Louise’s story is… a real, tangible example of what happens when two people love each other without expectation or boundary.
ZAE (MIP): Can you talk a little about the audience response to this? It certainly brought tears to my eyes as I thought of the people I would create a monument to once they are gone. What are some of the most touching reactions you’ve gotten to the video? Hard to imagine, but has anyone had a negative reaction to it? Have there been different reactions from different generations?
JM: The best reactions are the ones encouraging people about what is possible with love. Too often do we allow our expectations of love and relationships be defined by fantasy. The wonderful thing about LaLa and Louise’s story is that it is a real, tangible example of what happens when two people love each other without expectation or boundary. When someone says the video makes them want to love better – that is the top for me.
IA: Honestly, reaction has been the same across the board. Obviously there has been some negativity from diehard fans, but that is normally responding to the change in the musical direction. From the younger generation, it’s a level of love that is worth reaching for, and for the older generation, it makes them want to love their spouses more. The best reactions are from people who realize they aren’t doing enough for their significant others, or attempting to love enough, honestly he changed my outlook on my relationship. I’ve been in the most amazing relationship for 6 ½ years, and it made me look at myself, “What more can I do? How can I show her more love?”
Of course there is always some negativity in the Internet world, but they are faceless people who can’t handle true happiness and have to piss on it for personal gratification. The positive certainly outweighs the negative.
ZAE (MIP): It’s so rare to see or meet someone like LaLa. What do you think is the secret to his infectious joie de vivre (an inadequate reduction into words of what he possesses and inspires all of us to try and achieve)?
“It is not what you get from what you give. It is what you give from what you get.”
JM: If you are ever fortunate enough to sit down with LaLa for a conversation he will tell you about the Evans Shine Parlor. This was his father’s business and operated during the time of segregation in Mississippi. More so than shining shoes, the parlor operated as a type of educational facility for the youth in Starkville at the time. The shop motto was “It is not what you get from what you give. It is what you give from what you get” and I think that is a huge part of what makes LaLa who he is today.
LaLa’s father and uncles were the ones who pulled the money together for the middle school band to get their first uniforms. LaLa and Louise hosted graduation parties for every graduating high schooler in the county for 25 years at their own cost. They understood, perhaps better than anyone, how far encouragement and pride could go in a young person. He lives to lift others up.
IA: I honestly have no idea how LaLa does it. He is a once in a generation symbol of love. He doesn’t worry about politics or religion, he worries about LOVE. How can we show others happiness? I call it The Gospel Of LaLa, he is the most wonderful example of acceptance.
ZAE (MIP): What has LaLa taught you personally about life and about love?
JM: My perspectives on mourning and loss have completely changed since meeting LaLa. Those times will come for everyone but how we spend now can determine how we come into those things when they do happen.
IA: He’s taught me to be selfless. Like I mentioned earlier, he changed my outlook in my own life. We’re talking about a man that grew up in an intense time socially, yet, he holds no grudges. He doesn’t talk about racism, he talks about progress, and sees the positive in everything. It’s truly beautiful.
I call it The Gospel Of LaLa, he is the most wonderful example of acceptance.
ZAE (MIP): I love the pace of the video. It tells a story as the video unfolds, and it also conveys an infiniteness with the slow dollies and shot selection. Was there a lot of footage that you shot that you didn’t end up using as in a documentary? Or did you storyboard it with a sort of narrative arc in mind?
IA: Pretty much everything you see is what was shot. Obviously, there is a lot more home video footage, but I was able to spend several days with him, and worked with my DP, Andy Duensing, on what we thought would be the most compelling. A lot of his campus was already set up, but my wonderful Production Designer, Lauren Walters, was able to highlight and enhance several areas with him, and I truly love what they did together. He still refuses to take it down, haha.
ZAE (MIP): In some of the behind the scenes footage, there’s a shot of two folding chairs. One says “What is a LaLa?” and the other says “A LaLa Is …” but it’s folded up! I’m dying to know what that chair says. Do either of you remember?
JM: I am 99% sure it says “I don’t know. You tell me”. He has a way of flipping the script on you.
IA: LaLa uses those phrases all the time, they are normally always left incomplete. It normally just ends with “…” if I’m remembering correctly. He refers to himself in the third person a lot.
ZAE (MIP): Finally, this video is so expansive. I am at once watching it as LaLa, thinking about the loved ones I’ve lost or might lose, and simultaneously thinking about who will miss me, and how, when I am gone. How do you personally want loved ones to remember you when you’re gone? And what impression would you like to leave through your work in film?
JM: May the memory be as beautiful as the time spent together in the present.
IA: My family is full of artists. My grandmother was a wonderful woman named Dottie Rambo. She wrote with Elvis, Dolly, Cash, and all the gospel artists, same with my parents, and my just deceased grandfather, Buck Rambo. They are in all the musical halls of fame, stars on the Nashville walk of fame, etc. I always connected with film slightly more than music, but I want to continue the legacy. Failure has never been an option for me, art is all I know. I hope to make them proud and get to EGOT level, as well as make things I love. I want to lay my head on my pillow at night and know I gave 150%, or else, I’m screwed.
Editor’s note: There’s also a wonderful video of LaLa’s reactions to watching the final music video that will make you smile all over again: