MTV video pioneer put a new frame on film
- Paul Duchene
- Portland Tribune - Features
Northwest Film Center screens Jim Blashfield's vintage video hits
Jim Blashfield is Portland's other film director.
At 58, he's an animated contemporary of Gus Van Sant and is getting some days in the sun.
Blashfield and producer Melissa Marsland are hosting a showing of his landmark MTV videos at the Guild Theatre as part of a Northwest Film Center program.
Videos in the show include Blashfield's first MTV prizewinner, 'And She Was' by the Talking Heads, 'Good Friends' by Joni Mitchell, 'I Can't Wait' by Nu Shooz, 'The Boy in the Bubble' by Paul Simon, 'Don't Give Up' by Peter Gabriel, 'Leave Me Alone' by Michael Jackson (another MTV winner), 'Sowing the Seeds of Love' the Beatles homage by Tears for Fears (another winner) and Mark Cohn's 'Walk Through the World.'
Blashfield's awards sit atop a tall cabinet in his cramped office in a warehouse building at 1801 N.W. Upshur St. The awards include three 'jumping spacemen' Video Music Awards, a rather cheesy Cannes Gold Lion for best video of 1989 for the Michael Jackson song and a Grammy for the same one.
Beside a 3-foot-long cutout photo of an Airstream trailer from the Jackson video, Blashfield is sorting through images to accompany his talk. Intense and owlish in his glasses, he unrolls stills and explains his amazingly convoluted process.
Blashfield begins his signature videos by taking photographs of his subjects. Paul Simon, David Byrne and Joni Mitchell came to Portland; the Gloved One did not. The photos were turned into slides and photocopied, then portions were cut out. The scenes were assembled under glass and moved slightly for each frame.
The Talking Heads video was the first and quickest to make Ñ completed in 28 days with the help of a then-unemployed Gus Van Sant. The Jackson video took the longest at eight months. From 20 to 30 artists worked with X-Acto blades, splicing all the pieces together. Blashfield did the storyboard, and four design animators directed the other artists.
Blashfield's video output encompassed the golden age of MTV video from about 1985 until 1992, when the channel decided not to be a video jukebox anymore.
'We did our first video in 1985, and it got massive attention,' Blashfield says. 'It was very cool and looked very different. Suddenly, I was hot, and more work came my way. By the time I did the last one for Mark Cohn in 1992, they'd gotten so complicated they were taking a toll on me.'
Blashfield worked with artists whose music he admired and turned down work from people he wasn't that excited about. As time went on he also got advertising offers and did commercials for Wieden & Kennedy.
'I did three Nike commercials, Kellogg, Pepsi and other things,' he says. 'It wasn't my first choice, but it was seductive.'
Blashfield liked being his own boss, a situation that changed as time went on:
'No matter how independent you feel, you're always working for somebody. You work for ad agencies, and it's a balance between what you want and what they want.'
He returned to his pre-video work Ñ short films Ñ and cranks out up to three a year. He has just finished 'The Lone Ranger' about guitar great Bill Frisell for the Experience Music Project in Seattle. Blashfield remains fascinated by the editing process, concentrating recently on repetitive actions.
'I've done this 'Fragmentovision' trilogy,' he says. 'It's like visual hip-hop technique, and each film has a different mood. There's a spiritual aspect to it.'
This summer, Blashfield will teach an advanced workshop at the Northwest Film Center called 'Moving Your Project Forward.'
'People get to the point where they've exhausted all possibilities to make their projects better,' he says. 'I find I'm quite good at editorial consulting. I go in and get the story line straightened out and simplified and often reassemble a film in a way that works Ñ so that people care about characters they're not interested in.'