Antony Hegarty and Charles Atlas Affirm Innocence in 'Turning'
Despite his many talents and accomplishments, Antony Hegarty is a humble artist. In Turning, the Charles Atlas-directed documentary that premiered at the SVA Theater last Sunday, he can be seen performing a selection of songs where he essentially takes a backseat visually. While his powerful voice can’t help but take a lead, the real stars of the film are the handpicked women that grace the stage with each song. "Tonight is your night" Hegarty tells them before one of their performances, which is one of three heartfelt pep talks he gives the models over the course of the film.
Based on a performance piece Hegarty originally performed in 2003, Turning extends the project beyond the turning portrait live show, and includes a behind the scenes look at the tour along with interviews of each model involved. The day following the premiere, Hegarty and Charles Atlas spoke with Société Perrier about the making of the film as well as their relationships with the people involved and the artists and musicians that influence their work.
What made you want to do this project together?
Antony Hegarty: Charlie had just done these beautiful turning portraits of a friend of mine, Johanna Constantine. We had the idea to combine this prototype of a turning portrait for each song [in a show] with live models from my community. I increasingly had a desire to be less and less the visual object of interest on stage. My job was to just be almost like a piece of glass that sang and people look through to see theses intimate, hypnotic portraits of these women that have some sort of quality that I aspire to.
How did you decide on the right sequence for the film?
Charles Atlas: I tried to do a variety of different things the same way I would in a live show but this time in a way of combining a woman’s story and the song just to create a sort of flow that was telling the story of multiple women and Antony’s music. It was different from performance to performance because it was all live, but there was something about the form that really held it together.
How did you choose the songs?
Hegarty: It was just totally intuitive. The songs are just little archetypes in a way. They each have a little myth inside of them. I just kind of matched them up. Even when I was making theater it was really about combining elements and drawing disparate elements together and finding relationships between them.
Can You explain the significance of opening the movie with “Everything is New”?
Hegarty: We did feel like we were doing something new and special in 2004 when we did the piece. And for me as a composer, there was a moment in New York where this new group of people were breathing tremendous life into urban music. I actually wrote “Everything is New” for Devendra [Banhart]. I had been laboring away in obscurity in New York City since the mid-'90s, trying to find a light to move towards. So then this new generation of kids that were ten years younger than me came up with that music, like Devendra and Joanna Newsom, and all these people that were suddenly working with this restored inner guard and personal imagery. They were dreaming internally again.
Atlas: That was one of the things that people in the piece intuitively felt — that this was a change of spirit.
Hegarty: It’s an affirmation of innocence. There was sort of this redemptive light we were casting on each other and looking at each other with everyone’s best interest at heart.
Inspiration-wise, where does a song start for you?
Hegarty: I’m not someone that really separates anything. Unfortunately everything is on the same plane for me. My creative process, my personal process… It just comes out of life... I’m woefully unstructured.
This movie confronts a lot of issues of the feminine, including the hardships of transgenderism. Do you feel like public acceptance of transgenderism is greater now than it was when the film was shot in 2006?
Atlas: I think there’s definitely been an increased awareness of trans issues in the past five years and I think that Turning had an almost subliminal or homeopathic influence on that. We did Turning in Paris and then Givenchy introduced their first ever trans-models three years ago and it caused a giant storm in the fashion community.
Do you feel then that there’s a benefit to taking your time getting this film out?
Atlas: I mean I always say the good thing about it is you always look five years younger [laughs]. [To Antony] Nomi [Ruiz] has grown up so much.
Hegarty: I know she looks like a baby in the film.
How did you and Nomi Ruiz end up working together on the first Hercules and Love Affair album?
Atlas: I encouraged Andy to invite Nomi to be the other singer and she fucking turned it out. Nomi in Hercules was one of the sickest things on the stage in 2009. It was so incredible seeing her sing at those giant festivals. It was so exciting! She has the rhythm of Beyoncé. She’s an extremity of musical talent.
Aside from the release of this film, what else are you two up to? Are you going to Art Basel?
Atlas: I have a piece, actually a Leigh Bowery piece is going to be in the Luhring Augustine gallery.
Hegarty: [To Charles] Oh, so hopefully maybe I’ll come to and just be a fly on the wall for you.
Turning is playing at the IFC Center and will be premiering in the U.K. on November 25.