Filmmaker and artist Frederick Paxton takes us on a journey into an unknown land. We begin on a mysterious train ride over a long bridge. A solitary figure in white falls through the darkness. At first it’s unclear where we are but as we move through the layers, through anonymous suburbs, it becomes apparent we’re in North Korea, at the Arirang Mass Games: a spectacular gymnastics and artistic festival held in Rungrado May Day Stadium in Pyongyang most years.
Paxton is interested in finding moments and places that reveal our shared humanity, our hidden euphoria. This is what he hears in ‘Shiny Collarbone’, in the looping ragga vocal (“Mash up the place/ Free up the order”) and the climbing synth.
“It has a strength to it, a weight to it, but there’s a euphoria hidden under that,” he says. “And that was also my takeaway from my brief experience in North Korea: you can subject humans to any sort of control and pain and suffering; but there’s always this human reality, a child being a child, or someone smiling, hidden underneath that.”
North Korea’s Mass Games are a visual representation of the country’s ideal of the collective whole. However, after filming their choreographed performances on his slow-motion camera and watching the slowed-down footage, Paxton found that the individuals in the group were revealed, that their characters became more apparent as time was slowed down and his attention focused in on them. Now, set to the music of this club track, the children in their sequined costumes with their pompoms, the undulating dancers carrying the giant Earth through the stadium and the parading soldiers show us how the human spirit is always present; how technology can reveal it, and how there’s beauty everywhere.
Directed by Frederick Paxton
Edited by Andrew Cross at Assembly Rooms
Director represented by Ella Giradot at Academy Films
Frederick Paxton responds to ‘Shiny Collarbone’