“I’ve always felt alone when I’m shooting,” says John Lloyd Cruz. The guy is not talking about his past life in front of the camera where a million eyes were often directed at him, but a more recent pursuit where he finds himself the person looking. The 36-year old just wrapped up work on the first ever music video he himself shot: the video for the Sugar Hiccup song, “Saturnine Nevermore.” Composed of black and white moving images collected from his travels, it is a love letter to the stuff we no longer pay attention to: the view from a moving vehicle, a moth in flight, a huddle of balloons ascending to the clouds. Cruz’s quote above is a reply to our question: Did he shoot the images in the video while he was traveling alone?
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He gives a more straightforward, though less dramatic, response to a question regarding the places where he shot the images. “Some of the shots were taken in Europe,” he says, “and some here in the Philippines.” The text at the beginning of the video supplies the drama: All the images were taken from September to December of 2017, “shot in several cities by the filmmaker, some visited before and some for the first time. One perhaps for the last time.” The music video, says the written text, is “a record of that journey.”
The project started two years ago, says video producer Erwin Romulo (he shares producing credits with filmmaker Jason Tan). “Rather than plan a specific concept,” offers Romulo, “we agreed on an approach.” Which is, quite simply, that Cruz was given the track that came with the job to fill in the meaning, find the truth in the song. Was there any other specific direction from the band? “It’s a shame I’ve never met the band,” says Cruz, who is credited as Idan Cruz on the video as it appears on YouTube (Idan is a nickname from his childhood). “Their music was my only guide.”
“Saturnine Nevermore” is a dreamy pop tune made ethereal by the group’s signature angel-like vocals. Its lyrics are a string of seemingly disconnected words and phrases that suggest more than spell out. They can also send the ordinary pop music listener scurrying for the dictionary. It begins with the phrases:“Nim this heart / Sentient art.” Its chorus goes, “Mirth profound, Orphic jest / utterance of paramour / purity, simpleness / nullify loneliness.”
Cruz’s visuals provide the song an almost necessary grounding, but also a melancholic contrast to the message the lyrics seem to put across: to, from hereon, cease to be unhappy—which is saturnine nevermore translated to earth language.
Cruz and Romulo worked with promising young filmmaker Apol Dating for the editing, which wrapped up Saturday night, September 7. “It was fun to witness them working on it,” says Romulo who has worked on other music videos before and has scored some of Erik Matti’s recent films including Buy Bust and Kuwaresma. “It was fun to see how ideas develop. And change. And evolve. I mean, there’s really a lot that can happen with even the simplest things. Magic din talaga.”
Cruz says he owes it to Romulo for having trusted him with the project. “If not for him I would not have been able to document something most people would simply want to forget as they carry on in their journey,” the new director says in a text message.
But the film is no doubt Cruz’s. Not only because he briefly appears in it twice (his much-missed clean-shaven self) but it is his in sentiment, and in style — at least if you base it in the photographs he likes to take, and the images he exhibited last March at West Gallery: empty, desolate spaces that have acquired meaning through the simple act of the artist choosing to document them. Which is also likely Cruz reminding us of the solitude that introspection entails, telling us to find value in looking at the great void again. Or not.
“Theres nothing significant about my videos,” he says when asked about his images. “They are all passive and almost very easy to ignore.” But clearly, not for Cruz who seems to be finding his place in the visual arts, this time behind the cameras. “They are moments and sights profoundly undermined by greed and fakeness. They are my excuse to look away and ask further.”