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[Note: This, an older entry of my blog, Terrifyingly Gnarly, was posted a good while ago on the previous Fango site. From time to time, I'm going to re-up some of my favorite pieces along with the new ones. Hope you enjoy this revisiting this enhanced version (more videos and pictures) of my interview with Ace Norton.]
“Give me a bucket of blood and a camera and I’m good to go!”
Who is Ace Norton? Someone who truly fits the description of Terrifyingly Gnarly, that’s who.
An interesting and immensely talented music video and commercial director, his work warrants you seeing it, urgently. Norton is currently one of the only people joining the ranks of legends who have pushed the medium of music video to the potential it could be used for. A bit of his résumé includes: two videos for Bloc Party, one featuring a bizarre plot to run the world by a large horse-headed creature (“Mercury”), the other, a classic man-in-suit Monster fight (“Flux”); a beautiful lensed video for Simian Mobile Disco ("Hustler") featuring incredibly hot girls transforming into monsters and vomiting; and the happily macabre “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here,” for Zooey Deschanel’s band She & Him.
Ace and I are also in agreement on the intense level of malevolent and malignant forces inside certain lawn ornaments. “Gnomes are evil dude. They gave me nightmares as a kid,” he says when asked about the sinister hold such a plastic little person has over the proceedings in the video for “Dawn of the Dead,” by Does It Offend You, Yeah. (I can’t help but concur as my lawn gnome phobia wasn’t helped by my mom purchasing mini-ones and hiding them in my bed. True story.)
The last straw, as in “Holy shit, I need to find out who this guy is,” came this past year when I became increasingly obsessed with the video he shot for Aesop Rock’s song, “Coffee.” Already a fan of Aesop, I was excited to see the video perfectly compliments its tone. Hard to describe without the use of hyperbole, “Coffee” is an insane mix of horrific influences crafting the out of control haunted house movie I’ve been dying to see since I was 10. The best part is, when watching it, you realize he knows his stuff. If you haven’t seen it, do so here and now:
Thankfully, Ace is as nice as he is rad, and kindly spoke to me about his work and influences. “My grandfather showed me RE-ANIMATOR when I was 10,” he says. “I had nightmares for weeks but for some reason I kept watching them. I think it made me largely desensitized to gore so the more blood there was, the harder I laughed.” Seeming to be a connoisseur of not only terror, Norton adds, “On sick days my parents would rent me GODZILLA and Kurosawa films. I’m half Japanese, so I think it was their way of having me get in touch with my culture.”
Norton helps bring his knowledge and love of the bloody into his videos with a no holds barred attitude, echoing a time when certain music clip directors were praised for their creativity and innovation. That’s no coincidence seeing as how he was in his prime impressionable years watching such classics. “I grew up on MTV and always looked up to the directors who pioneered the genre—Gondry, Romanek, Glazer, Jonze, Fincher, Cunningham, etc. In my mind, they were these renegade rock gods making the most visually interesting and innovative stuff. I liked the way they approached the entire process and I guess I wanted to be regarded in the same way.”
Two visual stamps of Norton’s that just might push him to recognizable status are his extremely lush use of beautiful slow-mo coupled with visceral, often unsettling images. That… and he also likes rubber masks and has a way of making them kind of creepy (Check out the video for “Evil Son” by the Willowz). “Shoot anything in slow motion and it will make your image more poignant,” he notes. “I think I wanted to make these unsettling horrific images seem poetic.” In relation to the appearances of store bought Halloween visages, apparently it’s mainly a budgetary alternative to practical FX. “Ha! If the budgets I work with could only afford prosthetics. Halloween has always been my favorite holiday though, so it's my way of playing dress up.”
And, oh, dress-up did happen on the set of the aforementioned “Coffee,” the centerpiece as to why I’m speaking with Norton. “I've had this image of a bunch of shirtless children wearing Freddy Krueger masks and driving ATV's for a while. Its one of those images I've wanted to put on screen for a very long time and it fit perfectly for Aesop's track.” That’s just one bit of the smorgasbord of gore, ghouls and horror mainstays that are found in the piece. “The rest of the video snowballed from there,” he says.
Hopefully, Norton makes the jump to features soon, and hopefully he jumps onto our team. We could use a good horror director, especially one that laments, “Sometimes the genre isn't taken seriously as an art form, but they're truly innovative films. In my opinion, right now the horror genre feels too real, they’re like snuff films. Studios now days are like, ‘Let’s invent a new way to torture someone and make a movie about it.’ Just not my thing.” A director with a sense of fun and who takes the genre seriously, who could ask for more? Unfortunately, he’s remaining tight-lipped on upcoming endeavors mostly because of “the powers that are making me stay silent,” he says.
With former music video directors nominated for Oscars, shooting wonderfully creative and surreal flicks like THE SCIENCE OF SLEEP, making new TERMINATOR movies and rebooting the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchise, the future is definitely looking good for someone like Ace Norton. As long as those lawn gnomes don’t get him first.
[Update] I recently reached out to Ace to get a more up to date version of his happenings. He told Fango, "Honestly more of the same shit- music videos and commercials, but doing more commercials lately. I just finished a short for Funny Or Die and then another with Selma Blair and Jaime King. I'm keeping my eyes peeled for an interesting movie but that's about it!"
Check out some more of Norton's work below:
Bloody Blogs -
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