A VISUAL COMPANION
In a world where most people express themselves with 140 characters or less, does it make sense to write something that will actually take time to read? Maybe not, but since this story started long before the internet became our window on the world, I’ll do it anyway.
The first two records I bought in my life were Public Enemy’s It takes a nation of Millions to hold us back and the Beastie Boys’Licensed to Ill. It was 1989, I was about 12 years old and had never heard a Rap album before. I remember playing those two records for months, especially Licensed to Ill. What had hit millions around the world got me too and I was immediately hooked. By 1990, the same friend (thank you forever, Moe!) who turned me to Rap in the first place, told me that the Beastie Boys had released a new album, and that it was nothing like the first one. He was kind of disappointed and sold it to me for ten bucks.
I can’t describe what hearing Paul’s Boutique for the first time was like. I just remember that I didn’t even think about how different it sounded from Licensed to Ill. I was totally blown away by the beats, the cover, the underwater photo by Ricky Powell and the lyrics on the sleeve that don’t match the actual lyrics on the record. It was like entering a new and mysterious world. Though too young to fully understand what the Beastie Boys, Matt Dike and the Dust Brothers, had achieved with Paul’s Boutique in contemporary music, I sensed it was clearly something unique. And as I got more into Rap, studying the classics, listening to all the new styles the nineties had to offer, and then finally diving into other music genres, that record always stayed with me.
When Check your Head came out in 1992, the Beastie Boys had finally come into their own, fully defining a style that would be carried on in Ill Communication and developed further in Hello Nasty. At one point, almost everybody seemed to have forgotten about Paul’s Boutique.
I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to the album in all these years, but at some point the idea began to form in my mind about how cool it would be to have a visual counterpart of the whole record. Only later I discovered that this had been MCA’s plan from the very beginning. The countless pop culture references and the density of the music offer so many possibilities on how to visually approach the record. Also, the urban legend regarding Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon when paired with the movie The Wizard of Oz, basically a result of the concept of synchronicity, had a certain influence on me.
Then the worst possible thing happened: Adam Yauch passed away. I can say with no shame that this was the only time I ever cried for the death of an artist, someone I obviously had never had the luck to meet in person, but who accompanied me for the last 25 years. I couldn’t even talk that evening, because the idea of losing such a great musician, filmmaker, activist and allround amazing person was just so sad. I can connect every song the Beastie Boys made to a specific moment in my life and to me it was clear that an era had come to an end.
As I saw tributes in memory of MCA pop up all over the world, I wanted to do something myself. Finally I sat down and began writing what you could call the editing script for Paul’s Boutique - A Visual Companion. The concept was to use all the original videos (Shake Your Rump, Hey Ladies, Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun and Shadrach) as a kind of skeleton to build around the rest of the movie. Also, I wanted to incorporate as many of the interviews and appearances the Beasties had made to promote the album, but sadly they were not many. The rest would consist of movies, cartoons, commercials and pictures, mostly from the 70s, but in any case nothing that came out after 1989. There are quite a lot of references in many of the lyrics, so that made it easier. Where there is actual storytelling, like in Johnny Ryall, High Plains Drifter (years ago there was a pretty nice clip of this track on Youtube and even though I think we did a better job, thanks go to the anonymous editor for the inspiration) or Stop That Train, I tried to find scenes or ideas that would reflect the content of the lyrics. This turned out to be a real challange in the case of Car Thief, despite the apparently obvious title of the track. The Beasties wrote some of the most brilliant and surreal rhymes of their entire career for that album, but there is also a lot of lyrical nonsense in it. Just think of What Comes Around, one of the many jokes on the album. Those songs had to be approached in a different way, like using the samples as a guideline for the scenes to be edited, as in the case of Egg Man. I wrote the whole thing, at least regarding the basic idea for every track, in a couple of weeks, and the final script didn’t change that much over the course of the two years we worked on editing the Companion. I say ‘we’, but actually that’s not entirely correct.
Not being at all familiar with any of the technical aspects required, I needed someone to do the dirty work for me and that’s when I asked my dear friend Fabio to help me out. The poor guy didn’t know what he was letting himself in for. Having an exact idea in your head is one thing, explaining it to someone else, who is by no means a Beastie Boys fanatic like myself and who comes from a different musical backround, is another. I tricked him with the promise of eternal glory and fame and that was it. I can’t thank him enough for the incredible job he did and the fun we had during our many editing sessions. One thing is sure, without his infinite patience, this probably would never have happened.
The Companion evolved after that original script, but in the end we stayed surprisingly close to the original concept. But something else happened, something strange. Some of the ideas I had from the start turned out to be almost as multi-layered as the tracks themselves. Luck, fate, coincidence, karma, call it whatever you want, but out of nothing the weirdest connections between music, lyrics and images came to be. There are some things that only film buffs, hardcore Beastie Boys or Hip Hop fans will get, but that’s not even half of the story. Let’s just say that free association has a big part in how well you will understand the movie. That said, even though we started out with mainly Beastie Boys fans in mind, our goal was to make this an enjoyable viewing experience for everybody else too. That’s why, in theory, the Companion should work at different levels.
This project has been one helluva one ride. Right from the start we got support from the great Jim Mahfood, who gave us permission to use his Ask for Janice artwork for free and who even found the time to do an original poster for us. The like-minded trio of turntable wizards composed of DJ Food, DJ Cheeba and DJ Moneyshot, who did their own brilliant tribute with the Caught in the Middle of a 3-Way Mix, made us understand that this could become something much bigger than we would ever have imagined. Then there is of course my friend Paolo Tangari who did the website for us. Last but most defintely not least, we have the amazing Derek Langille. I contacted Derek after I stumbled by accident on his Sabotage comic, an ass-kicking tribute to MCA. Strangely enough it hadn’t reached that many people in the over two years since it had gone online. He just took a look at some of the clips I sent him and immediately threw himself into the project with total dedication. The result is our superdope official poster. Thank you all for your enthusiasm and help.
Now, every Beastie Boys fan probably has his own Paul’s Boutique movie in his head. That means a lot of different movies. This here is our idea of what the record should look like. We did the best we could, with what we had, putting heart and soul into it, but with the inevitable awareness that we could never make it right for everybody.
Paul’s Boutique - A Visual Companion is our sincere tribute and homage to the Beastie Boys and everything that went into making that legendary record. Let’s be totally clear, we don’t want money, we never asked for it and never will. This is not about profit, but about passion. Now that it is out there, it belongs to everybody, to you, the viewer, as much as to us. Our only hope is that at the end (but is it really the end?) of the movie you will take home something for yourself. Even if it’s only a 53 minute break from everything else in your life.
As for myself, it should be clear by now that I consider The Beastie Boys the greatest band that has ever graced the face of the earth and Paul’s Boutique one of the best records in the history of music. It was light years ahead when it came out and has never been equaled before or after. It is without any doubt my favourite album of all times.
So I would like to dedicate this movie with all my heart and never-ending gratitude to Adam Horovitz, Michael Diamond and Adam Yauch, the unique Beastie Boys. My life wouldn’t be same without you and your music. Thank you.
One final note. As much as being a movie and music geek paid off on this occasion, we couldn’t have made the Companion without the precious work of the following:
and obviously Dan LeRoy’s book about the record.
That’s all folks, for now…
TO ALL THE GIRLS
The Graduate / The Ambushers / Thunderball / La Sirène du Mississipi / The Deep / Emanuelle Nera / Shao Lin Ta Peng Hsiao Tzu / Joshuu 701 Gô:Sasori / Furyō Anego Den: Inoshika O-Chō / Dr. No / C’era una volta il West / Thunderball / Deadlier than the Male / Something's Got to Give / Rear Window / Breakfast at / Tiffany's / Coffy / Milano Calibro 9 / The True Story of Eskimo Nell / Ad ogni costo / Gone with the Wind / The Muppet Show / Airplane
SHAKE YOUR RUMP
The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat / Soul Train / (You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!) Official Video
Superfly / Jaws / Psycho / Taxi Driver / Aliens / The Mack / Dolemite / Cheech & Chong's Next Movie / Public Enemy - Bring the Noise Official Video / Merrie Melodies - Bugs Bunny Rides Again
HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER
High Plains Drifter / Marathon Man / Se sei vivo spara / Gonzo: The Life and Word of Hunter S. Thompson / Kool Cigarettes Commercial / Centel Commericial / Vanishing Point / Christine / Taxi Driver / Looney Tunes - Guided Muscle / Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry / Hardcore / The Cheap Detective / Straight Time / Dog Day Afternoon / Jell-O Commercial / Ballentine Commercial / The Getaway / Dirty Harry / Two-Lane Blacktop / The Outsiders / First Blood / The Dukes of Hazzard / Jackson County Jail / The Andy Griffith Show / Smokey and the Bandit / To Live and Die in L.A. / Night Court / Houdini / California Split / Gone in 60 Seconds
THE SOUNDS OF SCIENCE
The Nutty Professor / BDP - MY Philosophy Official Video / Beastie Boys - Shake Your Rump Official Video
Yo! MTV Raps Today / Dragnet / Three's Company / Enter the Dragon / Little Rascals / Parliament Funkadelic - The Mothership Connection Live 1976
5 PIECE CHICKEN DINNER
LOOKING DOWN THE BARREL OF A GUN
Heavy Traffic / Fear is the Key / Harry in your Pocket / The Wanderers / Up in Smoke / Krush Groove / Straw Dogs / The Soap Factory Disco / Quick Draw McGraw - Slick City Slicker / Barney Miller / Rappin’ with the Rickster / The Godfather 2 / Scarface / Fritz the Cat / Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid / Cheech & Chong Nice Dreams / Woodstock / Apocalypse Now / Brooklyn Dust Elephant Logo By Todd James / Tougher Than Leather / Alice in Wonderland / Bright Lights, Big City / The Godfather / Soul Train / The Untouchables / All the President’s Men / Black Caesar / The Pied Piper / The Blues Brothers / Continental Divide / Vanishing Point
WHAT COMES AROUND
Dolemite / The Human Tornado / The Monkey Hustle / Petey Wheatstraw / Disco Godfather
Official Video (Abstract Impressionist Version)
ASK FOR JANICE
Beastie Boys - The Skills to Pay the Bills
YO! MTV Raps
GET ON THE MIC
Paul's Boutique Album Pre-Release Party / White Lines and the Fever: The Death of DJ Junebug
STOP THAT TRAIN
The Warriors / The Taking of Pelham 123 / Wild Style / Style Wars / Bananas / Death Wish / Star Trek / Little Murders / French Connection / Dunkin’ Donuts Commercial
A YEAR AND A DAY
Paul's Boutique Cover By Jeremy Shatan & Nathanial Hörnblowér
Koch / 80 Blocks from Tiffany / NY77: The Coolest Year in Hell / Johnny Cash - At San Quentin / Beastie Boys - Make Some Noise MSG / Beat This!: A Hip Hop History
Basketball Jones / Yo! MTV Raps / Shamus / Come A Long Way
LAY IT ON ME
Up in Smoke / Soul Train / Dolemite
MIKE ON THE MIC
Perry Mason / Red Lobster Commercial / Rapido Interview / News 14 - Llyod Lindsay Young Weather Promo
Beastie Boys - Shadrach (Original Video Version) / Paul's Boutique Inner Sleeve By Ricky Powell / The Graduate