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My Dear MelancholyGaspar Noe/Cannes Film Festival
The My Dear Melancholy era notable for being a time when The Weeknd was in proximity to a lot of serious directors. While he’s had a foot in Hollywood for awhile, 2017 through 2019 he was actively engaging with filmmakers like the Safdies Brothers, Gaspar Noe, and Claire Denis, amongst others. While he had been actively courting the Safdies since Good Time was released, he attended the 2018 Cannes Film Festival where he crossed paths Noe, whose film Climax took home a number awards at Cannes. Noe’s Enter the Void had previously served as an inspiration for Kiss Land, and for MDM (and later After Hours) seem to call back to Noe’s other films, like Irreversible and Love, which are both twisted depictions of heartbreak. On the other hand, Climax is about a French dance troupe who accidentally take LSD, and according to Noe is not a “message” movie. It is an audacious psychedelic technical exercise, with numerous long takes and highly choreographed set pieces. The idea for Noe, who had previously captured the feeling of drugs in previous films, was to do the opposite, and present the objectively reality of drugs, watching people high from a sober perspective.
Noe is a rather strong advocate of film, and the opening scene of Climax features VHS boxes of a number of films that have influenced his filmmaking. Two of note are Schizophrenia, otherwise known as Angst, one of Noe’s favorite films which The Weeknd name checked to the Safdies, and Possession, which would go on to be an influence on After Hours (more on this later). He is also said to have sat next to Benicio Del Toro at Cannes, which means he likely caught some of the Un Certain Regard section, where Del Toro served as a jury member. Outside of that section, there were a few other films of interest such as The House That Jack Built from Lars Von Trier (The Weeknd has previously expressed affection for Von Trier’s Antichrist), Mandy from Pastos Costamos, and music video director Romain Gavras’s The World Is Yours, as well as a restoration of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which Noe has referred to as the film that got him into filmmaking.
Later in 2018, The Weeknd continued his globetrotting with a tour of Asia. He once claimed in an interview that whenever visiting a foreign country he only watches films from there. I’ve previously written about the influence of Asian cinema on Kiss Land, and there’s not enough work from the MDM era to glean anything cinematically adjacent to this, but now would be a good time to mention that the "Call Out My Name" video was heavily inspired by the work of famed Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto. The Asian tour poster seems to be a reference to Ichi the Killer, which leads us to Takashi Miike. Though he is notoriously prolific across a number of genres, his most popular works internationally are genre melding blends of horror, comedy and crime, most notably Audition, Ichi the Killer and Gozu. Another film worth mentioning is Perfect Blue, Satoshi Kon’s masterwork about a pop star’s mysterious stalker that The Weeknd posted about on Instagram before. Bloody and haunting, the film was a major influence on Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream. In Interviews he has also mentioned a number of Korean films, such as The Wailing, I Saw the Devil and Oldboy. While Wong Kar Wai was previously mentioned as an influence on Beauty Behind the Madness, also worth mentioning is the work of John Woo, specifically A Better Tomorrow, well known for the shot of smoking a cigar off money, and Infernal Affairs, Andrew Lau’s crime classic which served has the basis for Scorsese’s The Departed.
After HoursMartin Scorsese
While After Hours more so than any other Weeknd album is bursting at the seams with cinematic references, the influence of Martin Scorsese stands above all. Similar to The Weeknd’s body of work, many Scorsese’s are explorations of violence and masculinity, investigating them from a perspective that depending on who you ask (and how they’re feeling) glamorizes, condemns or just simply presents the reality of characters on the fringes of society.
While there are direct references to a number of prominent Scorsese films, what’s interesting is that his influence also reverberates in other films/filmmakers that influence After Hours. Todd Phillips’s Joker is in effect an homage to Scorsese’s loner-centric New York films, and the Safdie Brothers have been putting their own millennial spin on the type of 70s gritty thriller that Scorsese trafficked in (Scorsese was also a producer on Uncut Gems). Specific Scorsese works will be discussed more in depth in the requisite sections, but it is worth mentioning upfront what a prominent role that Scorsese plays in the nucleus of After Hours.
With After Hours, The Weeknd departs from the slicker sounds and influences that permeated Starboy and returns to the cinematic grittiness of Beauty Behind the Madness. While urban horror is a theme that permeates throughout The Weeknd as a project overall, there is a thorough line to be drawn here that follows a number of 70s and 80s cinematic and aesthetic references. For one thing, while the initial bandaged nose was a reference to Chinatown (previously, The Weeknd has a Kiss Land demo titled "Roman Polanski"), the full bandaged face that is so prominently featured throughout the After Hours era is a classic cinematic visual trope that was especially prominent throughout 60s and 80s, though it saw a slight re-emergence in the 2010s. The fully bandaged face is often used to remake someone in the image of another, usually against their will (The Skin I Live In, Eyes Without Face), or as a case of mistaken identity and doppelgängers (Good Night Mommy, Scalpel), themes present throughout much of After Hours. The "Too Late" video acknowledges these references, but instead presents the bandages on two Los Angeles models recovering from plastic surgery, in a nod to a famous Steven Meisel’s photoshoot for Vogue Italia.
The “masks” people wear is another horror trope that is featured prominently on After Hours, and this is best seen in the red suit character. One important reference in the film is to Brian De Palma’s Dressed To Kill, where a serial killer is targeting the patients of a psychiatrist (any more on this film will veer towards spoiler territory). The Weeknd is on the record as saying Jim Carrey’s The Mask as being a large influence on the Red Suit character, it being one of the first film’s he watched in theaters. One of the more complex references would be to Joker. While it sort of an in-joke that the character of the Joker is commonly overanalyzed and misinterpreted, referencing Todd Phillips’s Joker is more nuanced because it is in essence a full on homage to Martin Scorsese’s New York films, most notably Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, which focus on eccentric loners, and can both be seen as cautionary tale of urban isolation, a theme explored perhaps in songs like "Faith." The King of Comedy revolves around a would be obsessive stand up Rupert Pupkin haggling his way to perform on late night TV, with The Weeknd’s talk show appearances being a prominent part of the early After Hours marketing, most notably in the “short film”. This idea of isolated and compressed urbanites recurs throughout After Hours and it’s films.
The idea of urban repression is in the subway scene of the After Hours short film. The entire film itself is something of a reference to the subway scene to Possession (another Gaspar Noe favorite), mimicking the (also subway set) scene in which Isabelle Adjani’s Anna convulses on the subway due to a miscarriage, as well as Jacob’s Ladder, a 90s cult classic horror film starring Tim Robbins as a Vietnam vet (like Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle) who is experiencing demonic hallucinations, encountering them in the subway and later at a party he attends, splitting the scene into two.
As always, The Weeknd once again grounds After Hours with a strong sense of place, this time setting the album against a nocturnal odyssey through Las Vegas. One of the most prominent films is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s book. This is directly referenced in the "Heartless" video, which sees The Weeknd and Metro Boomin in the Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro roles as they tumble through a Las Vegas casino. The Weeknd has gone on the record to state that the famous red suit character was influenced by Sammy Davis Jr.’s character in the film Poor Devil. However, similar red suit has also been sported by a number of Vegas characters, most notably Richard Pryor and Robert De Niro’s Sam Rothstein in Martin Scorsese’s Casino. With the red suit, The Weeknd seems to be playing with the idea of a devil-ish other, another side of his personality that emerges in Las Vegas.
While the city lights are the oft discussed part of part of Las Vegas, it should be noted that similar to Beauty Behind the Madness, the desert that surrounds Las Vegas is just as important to the juxtaposition of its beauty. The "Until I Bleed Out" video ends/"Snowchild" video in the desert, similar to the confrontation between Robert De Niro’s and Joe Pesci’s showdown in the desert in Casino, as well as Joe Pesci's death in Goodfellas. The idea of a hedonistic desert playground also bears semblance to Westworld, both the film and the TV show. The desert seems to represent some sort of freedom to The Weeknd, as the "Snowchild" video portrays the desert as a pensive location for reflection, as well as the "In Your Eyes" video showing the girl prominently dancing with the dismembered head out in the open, in reference to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, another prominent desert film.
New York/The Safdies
Despite it’s Las Vegas setting, After Hours also takes a good amount from films set in New York, most notably Martin Scorsese’s 1983 film After Hours. Besides the title, After Hours is similarly about a twisting and turning nighttime odyssey. The film stars Griffin Dunne as Paul, a working class stiff who heads downtown to rendezvous with a woman he met at a diner earlier that night. Of course, things don’t turn out the way they should, chaos ensues, and Paul is set on a dangerous trek back uptown. Like the film, the album After Hours is set off by a woman (though the album takes more stock in romantic endeavors), seems to be set over a single night (or at least a condensed period of time), and involves similar chaos and misadventures (sirens at night at the end of Faith). Tonally, After Hours the film is more comedic perhaps than After Hours the album, however The Weeknd is on the record as having said that "Heartless" and "Blinding Lights" placement on the album is intended to be somewhat comedic, reflecting exaggerated machismo and ecstasy, respectively (to comedic effect).
Another of the most prominent filmmakers of After Hours are the Safdies, who featured The Weeknd in Uncut Gems. They also served as a link to Oneohtrix Point Never, who scored their last two films and later worked After Hours. I believe there are three major film tropes (not genres) that inspired After Hours, all of which the Safdies’s have engaged with. There is the one-long-night films, in which a character spends one-long-night on the run from whatever chaos and forces may be that they left in their path. This can be seen in the Good Time, as well as After Hours (the movie). Then, there is the descent-into-madness type, where a character slowly loses grip with reality and ends up in over their head (something like Scarface or Breaking Bad, but for our purposes Jacob’s Ladder can be categorized here as well), which the Safdies did with Uncut Gems. Lastly, but maybe most importantly, the Safdies also explored toxic romance (more on this later) in their less seen film Heaven Knows What, about two heroin addicts and the destructiveness their love brings out in each other, an idea that recurs throughout After Hours on songs like "Until I Bleed Out" and "Nothing Compares." A recurring song throughout Heaven Knows What is Isao Tomita’s synth version of Debussy’s "Claire De Lune", which is featured in some episodes of Memento Mori and bears some resemblance to the start of "Alone Again".
While love and lust and the ups and downs with it have been a formative part of The Weeknd’s ideology and themes, I don’t think it would be remiss to say that After Hours is perhaps his most outwardly romantic album. Despite this, one of the major arcs of the album is toxicity that comes with it, which a number of already mentioned films deal with. While "In Your Eyes" is one of the more romantic and accessible songs on the album, a re-assessment of it Ala Sting’s “Every Breathe You Take” could frame it as lonely obsessing, such as Travis Bickle’s infatuation with Jodie Foster’s teenage prostitute Iris, Joker's fixation on Murray Franklin, Rupert Pupkin’s obsession with Jerry Langford. Casino also deals with toxic romance, another prominent theme in After Hours, best seen in the love triangle that forms between Sam, his partner Nicky and his wife Ginger, played by Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone respectively.
In almost all of the After Hours’s video content, The Weeknd seems to constantly meet his demise at the hands of women. Another interesting reference that may be something of a reach is to Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson’s film about Reynolds Woodcock, a couture dressmaker loosely based on Cristobal Balenciaga and his muse Alma, played by Daniel Day Lewis and Vicky Krieps, respectively. The film delves into their dysfunctional relationship, with Woodcock berating her and Alma poisoning his tea to keep him dependent on her. One of the highpoint of the film is a New Years Eve Party that bears strong resemblance to the "Until I Bleed Out" video. While the balloons may just be a callback to his earlier work, there is something about the color grading/temperature and the production design of the "Until I Bleed Out" video (as well as parts of the "Blinding Lights" video) that made me immediately think of Phantom Thread. A similar relationship is seen in the German horror film Der Fan, which The Weeknd has mentioned in a recent interview. In Der Fan, a young girl Simone spends her days obsessing over popstar R, until she finally encounters him outside his studio. The film is similar to the aforementioned Takashi Miike’s Audition in its exploration of obsession and idealization. In the film, an older man puts up a fake casting call to search for the perfect girlfriend. While Audition explores these themes from an Eastern perspective of societal pressure, Der Fan explores it through a Western lens of pop idolization and idealization. Both films deal with the idea that despite outward appearances, the perfect partner does not exist, and anyone that claims to be (or has the expectations put on them) is not who they seem.
One film he has spoken at length about is Trouble Everyday, Claire Denis’s arthouse vampire movie. The film stars Vincent Gallo as Shane, a scientist who travels to Paris under the guise of his honeymoon to track down core, a woman who he was once obsessed with who has now become a vampire. Core is locked up in a basement but sometimes sneaks out to seduce and consume unwilling victims. This seems to be where some of the bloody face stuff comes from, but I believe it’s influence is a little more conceptual. To me, a good companion film to Trouble Everyday is American Psycho, which seems to also have been a thematic influence on After Hours. Both films concern idealized version of masculinity and femininity, both very sexual and physical, but hostile as well. American Psycho ends with Patrick Bateman confessing to the killing of a prostitute, but no one believe him. Trouble Everyday ends with Shane killing Core, but Shane is unable to arouse himself after that except through violence. Koji Wakamatsu, a former Yakuza turned prominent extreme Japanese filmmaker (and a major influence on Gaspar Noe) is quoted as saying “For me, violence, the body and sex are an integral part of life.” Despite being hollow, idealized impressions of the self, a vampire and as a banker (cold, seductive bloodsuckers = monsters), Patrick Bateman and Core represent the Frankenstein-ian relationship between sexuality and violence, which I believe is the main theme of After Hours. Truly, we hurt the ones we love.
PostscriptTo cap things off, I would just like to illuminate some key takeaways. As a filmmaker myself, this has been an extremely helpful exercise in understanding other artists process and ideas.
Steeped in the history of the medium…
It’s clear that The Weeknd is not your typical “I’m influenced by cinema” artist but an extremely legit film buff with serious credentials. The Weeknd’s film taste leans towards 70s-00s genre works, mostly horror, drama and thriller, and is well versed in the classics but also has the nose to sniff out deeper cuts and obscurities. The mantra of “good artists borrow, great artists steal” works even better if not many people know where you’re stealing from! What is impressive to me is that he is not just versed in “mainstream” obscurities, but also serious deep cuts. Films like Possession and Phantom of the Paradise may not stick out to the average person on the street but are well known in most film circles. Films like Inland Empire and New Rose Hotel (Der Fan was especially impressive to me, it is one of my favorite films) however are not as well known and it is very impressive to me that he can come across films like that, and really get enough out of it to bring into his own work.
…is able to interpolate contemporary/mainstream films…
This perhaps is one of the most impressive aspects of his integration of film into The Weeknd’s work. It is very easy for film buffs to get lost within their own obscure taste, living in a world where everyone is an idiot for not knowing who Shinya Tsukamoto. Trilogy and Kiss Land had a lot of contemporary obscurities, like Stalker, David Lynch etc., well known but they still existed as artifacts, not of the time we live in. However, perhaps picking something from his work on Fifty Shades of Grey, of late he has kept his finger on the zeitgeist and anticipated/integrated what the filmmakers of today are doing, such as his work on Black Panther and Game of Thrones, general appreciation of Tarantino, the works of Nicolas Winding Refn in Starboy, and his use of the Joker and Uncut Gems on After Hours, both of which came out just a few months before the album. It feels Jackson-esque, and I believe this is one thing that will help him further in his quest for pop stardom.
…while also being fully in tune to the works of modern transgressive auteurs…
In addition to keeping up with the mainstream is in touch with, The Weeknd also makes it a point to seek out and learn from the cutting edge filmmakers of today. While the Safdies were always going to blow up, I don’t doubt that a Weeknd co-sign accelerated their rise. Gaspar Noe is one thing, Enter the Void and Irreversible exist as masterpieces of the mainstream obscurities I’ve been mentioning, but he really truly tries to understand the heart of Noe’s work, even going so far back as to understand Noe’s influences (I sincerely hope he is tuned in to the work of Koji Wakamatsu). But most of all, to be a fan of Claire Denis is one thing, but to seek her out and make her an offer that she ACCEPTED is absolutely astounding to me. Just spitballing but it would be like if Michael Jackson shot a music video with Rainer Werner Fassbinder (who I’d bet good money that The Weeknd was put on to by Noe). We can only PRAY that one day we will be blessed with a David Lynch Weeknd video.
…and that just about does it. Hope you enjoyed this and thanks for being patient with me. I got quite busy after the first two and had my own projects/work going that kept me occupied. As we’re still technically in the After Hours era, I also wanted to wait until a few more videos and interviews came out to aid me in my research.
I also wanted to find enough time to make the Letterboxd for this. I personally don’t love Letterboxd culture, I find the popular culture surrounding the site a bit snobbish and exclusive, but I’ve gotten a number of requests for one and you gotta give the people what they want. Throughout the list are a few films that he hasn’t mentioned but are some of my personal favorites and I believe Weeknd fans will like, I encourage you to accidentally stumble upon things on it. Don't overthink, just pick something and watch!
If you’d like to follow me further, you can find me on Instagram here, where I post about film reviews Letterboxd style. I prefer Instagram so that more average people see it instead of an echo chamber of film snobs. I am also a filmmaker myself, I just recently wrapped this short film and am currently in the process of putting together my next project.
The main reason I did this however, besides a general appreciation of The Weeknd’s work, was to put more people on to the beautiful art form that is cinema. One thing I learned from Scorsese is that one must be an advocate and truly champion your medium. I hope that this encourages to check out more interesting movies than they wouldn’t normally come across, and I hope this will inspire more people to create more as well, whether it be to write, make films, music, anything. If even one person picks up a pencil, a camera or a keyboard because of these posts, I will be satisfied.
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