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Kristoffer Borgli and the symbolism of stuffed animals

Why does some art get under your skin? Why do certain pieces leave you with a distinct feeling of dread?

Seeing Kristoffer Borgli’s clip for Casiokids’ “Det Haster!” for the first time a couple of weeks ago, when Motionographer made it a Quickie, I was left with that dark sensation, and I started to think about the details that got me there.

Borgli quickly establishes the premise, which is that there’s a cult whose members each have their own plush toy to treat like a person. It would have been easy to turn this into a joke, but the video is anything but hammy, as we quickly see that relationships with the dolls are a source of great emotional disturbance.

Maybe it’s so easy to understand right away what’s happening because it’s so intuitive an idea that a stuffed animal would be the object of obsession. It’s just too easy to read emotions and character into them. After all, they’re designed for it, exploiting the fact that us humans are prone to anthropomorphizing just about anything. (As Scott McCloud points out in his graphic novel about graphic novels, Understanding Comics, all you really need is three dots in any arrangement approaching a triangular formation to make a “face.”)

But it’s not just the dolls that creepify the video, it’s also the actual expressions of the actors, especially in two scenes that show just how easy it is to communicate eerie insanity just through the face. In the first, which happens around 0:55, a woman is smiling broadly in a photo that she’s taking with her prized Alf doll. The scene would be unnerving in any event, since she’s treating the doll like it’s a close friend or a celebrity, but what cinches it is the way her face switches in an instant from that smile to a vacant look of desolation, in a creepy twist on the empty smiles of domestic photography.

We’re also introduced to a young man who seems to have a conversational relationship with his Furby — again an idea that is disturbing but somehow plausible. At about 2:40, after he has just dragged a limp, apparently lifeless body into the room, the camera zooms in on him and we can see more of that maniacal flickering of affect as he gets a look on his face that’s somewhere between excitement and disgust.

Is this what it means to be crazy? To find that what you enjoy and what horrifies you are the same thing?

Here’s what Borgli, who is based in Oslo, Norway, had to say:

on choosing the plush toys

It was actually hard to find the right symbol for the film. At first it was all going to be mushrooms. When the idea of stuffed animals emerged, it was of course much better. It’s a symbol even out of context.

on the symbolism of the stuffed animals

First of all, it’s not just about religion. The stuffed animals are a symbol of the conditions you have grown up under, your beliefs and knowledge. Of course, religion is a part of this. The idea came after some discussions with my friends that eventually led me to reading Christopher Hitchens and Steven Pinker. Somehow it translated into images when listening to this song.

on the “Norwave of music videos”

A good friend of mine, Emil Trier, does fantastic documentary-like music videos about youth culture with a special style of filming. I deliberately stole some of his stuff, because it suited the concept (with hints of documentary it felt more real and grounded), and also because I had a talk with another friend saying we all should copy each other so it will be looked at as a wave of filmmaking, the Norwave of music videos. But most of all, just for fun.

on not making it ridiculous

This is always a discussion I have with myself when I make videos: “Is it too pretentious?” vs. “Is it too ridiculous?” I think I have a bigger fright about being pretentious, but I have huge respect for the films that manage to be serious and good. But with Casiokids it has to be on some level of absurd and fun, just to match the sound. So, after coming up with the concept, I thought everything needed to be taken really really serious, because it was never going to be pretentious — I was home safe with the concept, so now I had to make sure it didn’t become too ridiculous. All the acting and the way we shot it needed to be graveyard-serious. I don’t think I’ve ever hit perfect on that scale, but this felt good after seeing it done, so I’m happy.

Credits:

Director: Kristoffer Borgli
DoP: Håvard Byrkjeland
Editor: Mikael Svartdahl
Executive Producer: Magne Lyngner
Producer: Mari Grundnes Paus
Production company: Bacon OSL
Flame: Daniel De Vue, Ivar Rystad
1st AD: Kamil Grzybowski
Lighting: Daniel Matthew Atkinson, Kim Skogstad
Assistant: Magnus Ersland
Grading: Sofie Borup, Bacon X

Posted on 12 November 2011 |

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