In the 1980s, the dream of going pop — as in pop culture rather than Pop art — in the art wold was raging strong, and many people thought it practically imminent. Artists like William Wegman, who had already made film shorts for TV shows like Saturday Night Live, were on the cusp of breaking through into mainstream consciousness, while more avant-garde filmmakers like Robert Breer were also eager to push their work to a wider public.
So, the two artists joined forces to create a memorable video for one of the world’s hottest bands, New Order, and the result is an orgy of 1980s style with hints of art world hijinks: “Blue Monday 1988.”
The story of how the duo came to direct the video is told in Claude Flowers’s book New Order + Joy Division: Dreams Never End (1995), where he explains:
“I was trying to think of something that was different,” [Michael] Shamberg said of the ‘Blue Monday 1988’ video, “something fresh. I was interested in doing something with animation, I didn’t know what. I looked in a Whitney Biennial Catalog, saw two frames, one was a ball, one was a peron, very crudely hand drawn, and said, ‘That’s it!’” The artist who’d sketched the pictures was film-maker Robert Breer. Shamberg met Breer, asked if he’d do a New Order video, and he said yes, Shamberg also knew William Wegman, a director of short comedies known for his work with his pet dogs Man Ray (by that time deceased) and Fay Ray, both of which were hams before a camera.
Shamberg said, “I felt that if the two of them could get together, Wegman would utilise his trained dog. Fay Ray, and also deal with the band. Breer would be able to work off of Wegman, back and forth, and their humour, I felt, was quite good. They got along and in the end the editor brought them together, and they were quite happy with the video.”
In 2011, Wegman blogged about the video, and he wrote:
About twenty years ago, Michael Shamberg (not the one that was involved with TVTV and later produced “Pulp Fiction”, but the art world one, who was also involved with filming and producing) invited me and the fabled Robert Breer to collaborate on a video for New Order’s song “Blue Monday”. The rough idea was that I would shoot video of the group performing and give it to Robert to work with his animation process.
I had just begun to work with my dog Fay who was about a year old at the time. Fay was obsessive about the tennis ball. Her eyes bulged in its presence. Some of the band members were Fay-like, I thought. (I’m not sure what I mean by that.) Nevertheless they got along well as I shot video of the group and Fay’s hypnotic ball/pendulum involvement.
I liked the song but I have no idea what our video means to it.
Neither do I, but it’s still a great video that captures the insane superficiality of a decade without falling into the clichés of consumerism.