The Drop: Florence + the Machine, The Odyssey
Updated: Nov 8, 2018
Florence and the Machine has released ‘The Odyssey’ directed by Vincent Haycock via the band’s website and the visuals are striking. The 47-minute film strings together video clips released in 2015 of songs from the band’s album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, including “What Kind of Man,” “St. Jude,” “Delilah,” “Ship to Wreck,” and “Queen of Peace.”
How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, is the most personal record that Florence Welch has ever made. The album documents the breakup of a relationship – the heartbreak, and the emotional purgatory that comes with it. Most people would find it hard to channel this experience into their art – but Welch did it not once, but twice.
“I was talking to Vince about the record and the relationship breakup I was going through,” said singer Florence Welch. The film invokes a dual sense of richness and austerity that reflects the central themes of How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. “The highs and the lows of love and performance, how out of control I felt, the purgatory of heartbreak, and how I was trying to change and trying to be free,” Welch said.
“The film is titled ‘The Odyssey’ because it follows Welch’s cinematic journey through the storm of heartbreak,” said Haycock. “Like the layers of Dante’s purgatory, each song or chapter represents a battle that Florence traversed…that embodied each song or story.” The pair began working on the project a year and a half prior to release at the Chateau Marmont, according to Welch.
Together they created a seven–part film that acts as a visual counterpart to How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful’s music. The Odyssey connects the music videos that accompany the album, uniting the sequences (shot in Los Angeles, Mexico, Scotland and Welch’s own house in south London) into one cohesive storyline. It’s a way to piece together what Welch half-jokingly describes in a north London bar today as “a bit of a car crash of a year”. And so, the film starts with a literal car crash before delving deeper into the album’s themes, telling the story through surreal imagery, contemporary dance, and references to biblical epics and romantic artists.
“The Odyssey” helped me realize that no one is defined by any one thing, and that it is okay to go through hardships in life and struggle for the meaning of things. Humans, just like life, are complex, vulnerable, yes – even stupid sometimes. But humans are also endearing, learners, lovers, and beautiful creatures. This world is big enough for us all. That’s all that truly matters.
Watch the full film here, and read more about Welch and Haycock’s creative process below. Where did the initial idea for the film come from? Florence Welch: From the very beginning, we said that it would start with this idea of a quiet, chaotic world, and then end on stage. It was always a descent into madness. And you go further and further and deeper and deeper, and then come out (of it at the end). So we kind of had an endpoint when we started. Vincent Haycock: Yeah, the beginning and end would be the Florence that everybody knows – the singer, the performer. So we start there, a storm would come, and then we’d end back on stage. Florence Welch: It was almost like the car crash transported me into this other dimension, where I had to face all these things that were happening. The idea was of going to a show, and then a car crash happens – which is kind of symbolic of a bit of a car crash of a year – and then you just re-enter that world. But you’re totally imagining that year in a kind of magical realism. The film is quite intense at the beginning, but it starts to calm a bit towards the end. Did you find the film matching the rhythm of the year? Florence Welch: When I made ‘What Kind of Man’, I was still pretty tangled. It wasn’t hard to act that out. Vincent Haycock: It follows the structure of the music – the highs and lows of a storm. We were creating a storm. ‘St Jude’ is actually written about the storm, and that’s the slowest, calmest song on the album. Florence Welch: That was written in the middle of an actual storm. So it was interesting (having) those storm references coming up again and again. And then everywhere we played, a storm would hit! Honestly. And things that happened in the videos started to actually happen in real life – there was a big electrical storm when we played in Chicago. But it honestly felt really fitting, because as we were making it, it really resolved a lot of things.
“(‘St Jude’) was written in the middle of an actual storm... everywhere we played, a storm would hit! Honestly. And things that happened in the videos started to actually happen in real life – there was a big electrical storm when we played in Chicago.” — Florence Welch Did you have all these locations and images in your head, or was it something that came afterwards? Florence Welch: Some of them were based on real places and real times. Vincent Haycock: Florence told me all about the real experiences that she went through writing the album, like how ‘What Kind of Man’, ‘St Jude’, and ‘Delilah’ were all referencing (real events). Florence does a great job of taking her personal life and creating this fantasy. She’s not saying ‘I’m broken-hearted,’ but if you read a lot of the lyrics, it’s so closely related to her real life. So when she told me what they really mean, the subtext, it was easy to make visuals. How far back does your creative partnership go? Vincent Haycock: (It started with the video for) Calvin (Harris)’s ‘Sweet Nothing’. Florence Welch: I just turned up at this working man’s club, and he was like, ‘OK, you’re gonna be a stripper. You’re gonna be in drag.’ I was like, ‘I’m up for it.’ And how did you know you wanted to work together on this, and not with other directors? Florence Welch: Vince had an idea for ‘Lover to Lover’, the last single from Ceremonials. The whole atmosphere of Ceremonials had been quite austere and grand. Towards the end, that started to feel a bit heavy. I wanted something incredibly raw and natural (for How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful), saying goodbye to that era and that album. Vince had this idea of a couple having a relationship in a house, and then a really simple drama that goes on. I knew he was the right person to work with. We just got together and decided we’d do the whole thing. Vincent Haycock: It became a personal exploration between us. We didn’t stop until we’d made it all. Florence Welch: I don’t think we’d have been able to make something without that personal understanding. Vincent Haycock: I don’t think either of us would’ve been comfortable, but because we understood each other, it allowed us to explore things we don’t (usually) get to explore in music videos. Florence Welch: There has to be trust. If you’re signing up to do something that might take forever, you’ve got to know you’re working with someone you want to keep working with.
Did you have all these locations and images in your head, or was it something that came afterwards? Florence Welch: Some of them were based on real places and real times. Vincent Haycock: Florence told me all about the real experiences that she went through writing the album, like how ‘What Kind of Man’, ‘St Jude’, and ‘Delilah’ were all referencing (real events). Florence does a great job of taking her personal life and creating this fantasy. She’s not saying ‘I’m broken-hearted,’ but if you read a lot of the lyrics, it’s so closely related to her real life. So when she told me what they really mean, the subtext, it was easy to make visuals.
At the end of the video, Florence is led onto a stage with the curtain closed. You can hear a crowd cheering. She sings repeatedly, “I’m the same/I’m the same/I’m trying to change.” Curtain opens.
This is the Florence we get, sufferings, overcomings, self-realization and all. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
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