|I Don’t Know What You Want Video|
| June 6th, 1999. Inside a very large studio in West London there are three sides of a smaller -but still fairly large – Regency drawing room, modeled on the room at the end of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Inside the room are the Pet Shop Boys. They have blond hair and are both wearing a strange striped kind of trouser with impossibly wide legs.|
As Chris waits to be filmed on his own, a heavy rectangular light array topples towards him. He catches it. When it is Neil’s turn, he asks for a set of lyrics to their new single, “I Don’t Know What You Want But I Can’t Give It Any More”. He hasn’t completely memorized them yet.
They break for lunch and to film an interview for their record company, for which they sit on the edge of the Regency room, answering questions about the new record and forthcoming tour. The interview is supposed to be shown all over the world on TV programs as promotion. Chris quibbles about the lighting, then says, “the fact is, the problem isn’t the make-up or hair. The problem is me.” Neil half-smiles. “We look like the post-punk Richard And Judy,” he says. He looks at Chris and observes, “Needless to say you’ve managed to make your clothes look vaguely clubby.”
When the camera starts rolling, Neil tries to work out a rationale for their forthcoming album.
It’s the first interview they’ve done. “In three weeks time,” he laughs, “Chris will know that speech.” After they have finished answering a few questions, they debate whether record company interviews like this ever actually get used. (They decide that they would like fans around the world to write to Literally with details if they see footage on their local TV of Neil and Chris sitting on the edge of this video set answering questions.) The idea for the video is that the Pet Shop Boys are seen metamorphosing into their new images. They begin as the previous Neil and Chris, on some kind of operating table. “You see us actually being created to look like this, almost in a medical process,” Neil explains, “and then a ritual dressing.” In this Regency room they are dressed by stern-faced Japanese men.
They wanted a room like the one in 2001 “because we wanted the video to look very science fiction, and that is the ultimate science fiction movie.” In the final scenes, to be shot tomorrow, they will walk in a bleak urban landscape with their dogs. Various scenes are based on various movies, Ridicule, 2001, A Clockwork Orange – and the director, Pedro Romhanyi, actually cut together the song to clips from the movies beforehand, to give an idea of how the video might look. Right now, they debate whether the Backstreet Boys are any good.
“I quite like ‘Quit Playing Games With My Heart’,” Neil says
. “That one’s had heart surgery,” says Chris, “so good on him.”
“Yes,” Neil agrees. “He did, didn’t he? The one with the blond hair.”
They talk about seeing Hole in New York. They only arrived in time for the last four numbers, but just in time for their favorite, “Celebrity Skin”. Afterwards, they played it three more times in the car as they drove downtown. Chris says that he recently saw the famous Sixties Bob Dylan documentary, Don ‘I Look Back. “They’re always playing music in the dressing room,” he says. “I found it weird.”
Neil laughs. “Nine out of ten rock stars wouldn’t find it weird,” he points out.
Chris mentions that one recent Tuesday night he ended up in the Grouch Club and Kate Moss persuaded him to play the piano. “I played ‘West End Girls’ and then ‘Suburbia’ and then I finished with a rousing ‘Go West’.” After that, Bernard Summer took over. “He played something really complicated,” Chris says.
Dainton takes snack orders. Chris asks for his latest discovery, Caramel Galaxy. Dainton asks Neil whether he wants carrot cake. Neil shakes his head firmly. “Diet,” he says. “Carrot cake bites the dust, I’m afraid. I might have a tangerine.”
“We’ll get afternoon tea, won’t we?” Chris confirms. “Actually it’s great, video shoots. I’d forgotten how many meals you get.”
They are filmed together, being fussed over and having their final clothes put on. The director asks for an apple box for Chris to stand on so that both Pet Shop Boys will appear the same height. The filming moves over to a futuristic operating table around which a strange device rotates. They have to wear green medical smocks. In a break, Neil and Chris wander back and stare at the Regency room stage. “Why are we standing here?” Chris asks Neil.
“We’re looking at the stage,” Neil replies. There is a short pause. “We’ve looked at it,” he declares, and they move off.
During afternoon tea in their dressing room, they have meetings about their forthcoming tour and interactive CDs, and field one of the daily requests from their record company to make the title of their new single shorter. (“One of the things I like about the single title,” Neil laughs, “is that I know it’ll keep on coming back and back.”) And they bitch about a certain boy band. “I don’t think I’ve ever hated a group as much as them,” Neil says. “They’re so naff. They’ve got nothing whatsoever.”
“What about Steps?” Dainton suggests.
“Steps at least are a camp frolic,” Neil says. “They…” – the boy band – “…Are just horrible.” “Yep,” nods Chris. “It’s appalling. I just don’t know what’s happened to music really. It’s time for it all to get banished, and something to take its place. Like when ballroom dancing got the push.” Neil talks about Sir Ian McKellen’s birthday party. He sat next to Geri Halliwell at dinner, and met Monica Lewinsky. “I said, ‘I’m Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys’. She said, ‘I know you are. I grew up in LA in the Eighties and we used to listen to you’. I asked her what she was going to do next and she said, ‘it’s very difficult…”‘
Chris looks at his watch. It’s nearly seven o’clock. They arrived at ten-thirty. “Do we have dinner here?” he asks.
“I’m getting a we-leave-at-midnight vibe,” Neil says. Chris is appalled to learn that for the next shot he is supposed to appear – albeit not very obviously in the finished video – as he is, without hat or sunglasses. “I didn’t know I was going to be exposed,” he says, dubious. “I don’t remember this being in the treatise? What am I going to do. When was I last exposed? It must have been Please.”
“Actually,” Neil says.
Chris nods. “The front cover of Actually. I’m not sure about this. I’m not sure about this at all.” He decides he’ll have to keep an eye on the editing afterwards.
They lie on the operating tables again. “What a ridiculous position to lip-sync in,” Neil laughs. “You start to think about your breathing, don’t you,” Chris says, “when you do nothing.” There is no catered dinner. At around 10.30 in the evening they eat a takeaway curry. For the evening’s final shots Neil has a pill popped into his mouth from above and various probes put into his mouth.
June 7th. The second day’s shooting begins in the grounds of Heathland school in Hounslow. Most of today’s filming is with dogs, and with extras who are wearing garish wigs somewhat like Neil and Chris’s. Neil’s are called Gracie and Frasier; Chris’s are Maisie and Josh. Chris isn’t very comfortable with them.
“Mongrels are the best adjusted,” he opines. “I always think you know where you are with a mongrel.”
“You’re with a mongrel,” Neil points out. They are visited by the head of their record company, who seems suitably impressed by all the odd goings-on. They discuss plans for their new record, and he asks them about writing songs for some other famous people. Neil in return rants some more about that boy band:
“Pop has never sunk as low as that. They look crap and most of them can’t sing. They’ve become a sort of light entertainment institution. I think they will be the last successful band where three of them can’t do anything… But it’s a very friendly meeting. “Being nice to the record company,”
comments Chris afterwards. “Being positive. Did you notice how positive we are? There’s no room for cynicism or irony any more.
“We’ve given up irony,” Neil says.
Dainton comes in. “Chris,” he says, “you’ve got to have a quick lesson in dog management.” “I’m not going to be coached in dog management,” Chris protests. “It’s up to them to know how to do it. The dogs. I’m the one who should be allowed to have an ego problem, not the dogs.”
They both go and do some dog training nonetheless, walking their dogs up and down, trying to build up some rapport. “Still don’t like them,” Chris declares. “Not bonded.” The dog handlers change the collars on Chris’s dogs from colored collars to chain ones, which will give him more control.
“They might want a wee-wee now,” one of the handlers tells Chris.
He hands the leads over straightway. “I’m not doing toilet training as well,” he says. Back in the trailer, Neil eats a Milky Way. “You know,” he says, “when you get used to eating seventy-per-cent chocolate chocolate, this stuff tastes like.. Fish, or something.” It is nearly four o’clock before they are allowed lunch. Chris has a nap. “Time for make-up,” Dainton announces, soon afterwards.
“You better wake up Chris,” Neil says. “To put on his make-up.” He laughs. “That’s one of my favorite pop rhymes: wake up, make-up. It’s in that Courtney Love song: ‘when I wake up / put on my make-up…”‘ He picks up the sunglasses Chris has been wearing on camera. They look accusingly modem and minimalist but in fact they’re a hundred years old: “They are, in fact,” Neil says, “a late Victorian example of sunglasses. And, let’s face it, they look like Issey Miyake designed them yesterday.”
Neil and Mitch, their manager, discuss doing a new photo session, and come up with an idea they like. Mitch says she’ll call the photographer.
Neil clears his throat. “Can you just run that past everyone in the group?” he suggests. In the make-up room, they discuss the new Abba musical, Mamma Mia, which neither of them have seen, though they are now considering it. “I thought we decided Abba only wrote four good songs,” Neil says. “We did,” Chris agrees. “No. Four great songs.
“‘The Name Of The Game’,” Neil begins.
“‘The Winner Takes It All’,” says Chris.
“‘Knowing Me Knowing You’,” says Neil.
“Aha,” says Chris.
“What was the fourth?” Neil wonders.
“No,” says Chris. “‘Thank You For The Music’?” he suggests.
“No” says Neil.
They ponder for a moment.
“Maybe there’s only three,” Chris says.
They rejoin their dogs. “Hello doggies!” says Neil breezily. “Remember me from an hour and a half ago?” “Of course they don’t,” says Chris.
It’s 5.38. Neil yawns. “It’s past the five o’clock watershed,” he says. “We only work between twelve and five, don’t you know that?” Nobody on the video crew takes much notice. Neil and Chris walk around with their dogs amongst the extras, and sit on a bench. They are joined for a while by two young kids who are, presumably, supposed to be them.
Neil and Chris discuss the forthcoming photo session. Neil agrees it should be during the week. “The weather’s always better in the week,” he says. “It’s a well-known fact.” He suggests that they base themselves at Chris’s house.
“I’m not having it in my house,” Chris objects. “I’ve just got a new sofa.” The final shots are to be filmed in the walkways underneath the seats at Twickenham rugby stadium. “How exciting, going to Twickers,” says Chris. “Dear old Twickers,” echoes Neil. “When I worked at MacDonald Educational, the guy who edited military books, when you said ‘what are you doing at the weekend?’, he’d say, ‘Twickers!’. He was a real hoot.” They walk through the shadows in a somber manner, as directed. Neil and Chris debate whether they should try to do it skipping.
“We don’t do comedy,” Chris decides.
“Not on purpose,” Neil says.
There are other problems.
“Have you heard the scandal?” Chris asks Neil. “No food break.”
“We might need Chicken McNuggets very soon,” Neil says.
An envoy is sent to fetch their orders: a Big Mac for Chris, nine Chicken McNuggets for Neil. Meanwhile, they walk up and down the corridor some more. Chris keeps getting the giggles, ruining the takes. “Actually,” says Neil, sympathetically,
“doing the same thing over and over again automatically gives me the giggles. It’s just one of those things.” One of the staff at Twickenham has two Pet Shop Boys records to be signed: a “Love Comes
Quickly” seven-inch and a “Left To My Own
Chris inspects the sleeves. “God we’ve aged, haven’t we?” he frets.
They discuss fantasy plans of what they’ll do if any of their British concerts don’t sell out. Perhaps they’ll pretend to split up. “Then we get back together at Christmas,” Neil suggests. “An emotional reunion. It is well after ten o’clock before the last shot is filmed. By then, their cars are waiting.
Copyright Areagraphy Ltd 1999: All Articles have been
Taken From Literally 1999 Issue 20