Only Art Forgives: Because. Refn Red LEDs.

Somewhere in Sonoma, under tall redwoods, I test the Canon C100 Mark II camera. Loni dons the goth. I push record. And here's what happens...

Clinton Stark tests the Canon C100 Mark II cinema camera using some homemade “Refn Red” LED gels.

What is it with Only God Forgives (2013)?

When I first watched Nicolas Winding Refn’s followup to the (amazing) Drive (2011), I was so bored I fell asleep — that glass of Napa Cab probably didn’t help matters. It was nonsensical, slow-moving. And, lead Ryan Gosling said little, but I did know he appeared mighty vengeful. So much so he would randomly drag some guy, seemingly minding his own business in a lounge, down a hallway by his teeth. Message received. Gosling means business. Apparently, director Refn did too.

But.. what a difference a second viewing would make.

Much like U2’s seminal Achtung Baby, this is an art-house piece that doesn’t conform to convention and ultimately grows on you, and requires a re-visit.

Only God Forgives with Ryan Gosling

So I gave it another chance on the big screen — unlike Drive which I thought was outstanding from the get go, from the pounding opening credit sequence all the way through to the cinematic shadow knife duel at the end.

First, the cinematography (Larry David). It’s splendid. Gorgeous. Bangkok comes to life in a gritty array of reds, purples. Visual eye candy. Unlike Refn’s phenomenal debut Pusher (1996), here the camera is static, carefully composed. Kubrik-like to be sure.

Unlike the critics, I believe film history will be kind to Only God Forgives.

Then there’s the score. Cliff Martinez creates a completely unique feeling. Electronica infused with… I don’t what else to call it. Beats. Synth. Riffs. Not sure the piece parts — it just works incredibly well. Take the fight scene between Ryan Gosling and Vithaya Pansringarm, for example. The slow-mo combined with arpeggio synth loops creates pure awe.

And, finally, the story.

Well, upon second viewing it finally made (some) sense. Thanks to my wife for helping decode some of the not so obvious, and some forced sub-titles that clarified some misconception I had the first go round. As for the camp factor? Okay, admittedly it has perhaps a wee bit of William Castle (Straight-Jacket with Joan Collins satiates), albeit in Alexa Arri/RED glory. Take it off! Take it off!

Today, Only God Forgives is easily one of my favorites in the home theater arthouse rotation. Right up there alongside Black Swan, Pi, Eraserhead, There Will Be Blood, The Tenant, Repulsion, Persona, and The Holy Mountain. Oh, and let’s not forget The Sound of Music. Julie Andrews’ energy — is there anything better to brighten the spirit? She’s kind of like the ginger during a sushi outing. When the Wasabi gets too intense you can always turn to her to cool things off.

I read that Nicolas Winding Refn wanted to figuratively blow things up after the massive commercial (and critical) success of Drive. That he needed to create the anti-Drive; I suppose to be sure he didn’t repeat himself, and fall into the trap of becoming predictable. Mission accomplished. Unlike the critics, I believe history will be very kind to Only God Forgives. He once said, in the documentary My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (2014) about the making of the film, that if your work falls in between normal and strange, it’s the kiss of death (I’m paraphrasing). In other words, embrace your inner Alejandro Jodorowsky. Bring on The Neon Demon. I can’t wait.

Homemade Refn Red LED Gels

All that to say, I wanted to add some Refn Red to a test video project.

I had a few Genaray and Neweer LED light panels. I took some red plastic sheets, cut them to size, and taped them to the lights:

Only Art Forgives - Only God Forgives Canon C100 Camera TestOnly Art Forgives - Only God Forgives Canon C100 Camera TestOnly Art Forgives - Only God Forgives Canon C100 Camera Test Only Art Forgives - Only God Forgives Canon C100 Camera Test

Done. For next to nothing I was able to light up a room with Refn Red — or, a low budget approximation. I also picked up this handy little dolly prior to hitting the road.

The Magical Redwood Retreat

Ah, Sonoma. About once a year (twice if we’re lucky) my wife and I like to run away somewhere for a “creative retreat.” Often we go to the Baja. There I’ve shot many videos over the years, experimenting with style and narrative (or lack thereof). This time we found a place on Airbnb in Sebastopol that looked the part:

Magical Redwood Retreat - Sebastopol, Sonoma
The Magical Redwood Retreat.
Magical Redwood Retreat - Sebastopol, Sonoma
Loni Stark attacks the canvas.

Quelle location! Soaring redwoods. Gorgeous scenery everywhere. And a stunning cabin with airy open-to-above space and lots of windows.

This would a fun place to test out the Canon C100 Mark II with the Refn Red LEDs.

Only Art Forgives

Loni donned the goth. I pushed record. And… Only Art Forgives…

San Francisco Arts & Culture news, stories, videosOnly Art Forgives

Only Art Forgives - Only God Forgives Canon C100 Camera Test

Canon C100 Mark II with DIY LED gel

Somewhere in Sonoma: Loni Stark confronts an arch nemesis and sets the record straight.

Art might forgive. But the artist…?

Starring Loni Stark
Shot on location at the Magical Redwood Retreat in Sebastopol, California
Canon C100 II w/ Sigma 18-35mm
DIY Refn Red LEDs

“Only Art Forgives” from Stark Insider on Vimeo.

Happy shooting!

Explore. Create. Live. Follow Stark Insider on Twitter and Facebook. Join our 9,000 subscribers who read SI on tablets and smartphones on Google Newsstand. Prefer video? Subscribe to 
Stark Insider on YouTube, the largest arts & travel channel in San Francisco.