Gus Van Sant’s ‘Ouverture Of Something That Never Ended’

Alessandro Michele

Silvia Calderoni photographed by Paige Powell

In his Notes From The Silence manifesto in May 2020, Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele spoke of ‘suspended time’ and the need to change the pace of fashion, its format, and its relevance. Eschewing the traditional runway for subsequent collections has become a part of his new modus operandi, starting in July with the 24-hour Epilogue campaign shoot with Alec Soth in the Palazzo Sacchetti for Gucci Resort 2021 and continuing with GucciFest — a world-first online fashion film festival championed by Gucci from November 16 – 22.

GucciFest not only reveals the house’s Spring Summer 2021 collection in the form of a miniseries directed by Michele with the celebrated Hollywood director Gus Van Sant, the week-long event also gives the digital stage (and Gucci’s global reach) to a suite of young fashion designers and filmmakers to show their short films too.

Like many works in his 35-year career, Van Sant’s 7 episode series plays heavily on suspended time, a concept that surely played a considerable part in Michele’s creative exchange with the American director. Shot in and around Rome, each episode follows the waif-like blonde Roman actress Silvia Calderoni through her hometown, as she encounters a slew of characters both real and imagined, from the Spanish trans philosopher Paul B. Preciado to the American playwright Jeremy O. Harris, British singer songwriter Arlo Parks, and the Italian art critic Achille Bonito Oliva. Not to mention, Harry Styles.

Entitled At Home, In The Café, At The Post Office, The Theatre, The Neighbours, At The Vintage Shop, and A Nightly Walk, the seven episodes revealed night after night paint a candid portrait of Gucci today – both ultra-gritty and phantasmagoric, youthful and global in its gaze whilst remaining firmly anchored in the elegant, philosophical subplots of Michele’s work.

A Magazine Curated By sat in on a conversation with Alessandro Michele and Gus Van Sant on Friday November 13th 2020. The following excerpts reveal their thoughts on working together in Rome this month, on a race to their digital finish line.

GucciFest premieres here at 9pm CET November 16th, with new films revealed daily until Sunday November 22nd.

Ouverture Of Something That Never Ended, 2020

On meeting…

Alessandro Michele:  So our encounter was based on Skype conversations, actually. We promised each other to do something together. But then something happened – as you know, there was a pandemic. But then we managed to meet in a very natural way. That was a great experiment and it was an apprenticeship to me because I observed I understood a lot of things and I learnt a lot of things.

Gus Van Sant: Well, we mentioned we had planned something a year ago or almost a year ago, and then all of a sudden there was a pandemic and there was no more travel. And that particular project, which had its own origins and story, fell away. Then I was contacted by Alessandro and Michela [Tafuri] about doing something right now. I mean, I think it was only a month ago that I was contacted! So it was happening really fast. I think it was a spontaneous idea to make something within just a few weeks, which I sort of found exciting, challenging and something I had never done before. I mean, it reminded me of a few films that I’ve done before in a very short period of time. So that was exciting, that part of it. And the fashion was part of the concept, part of the series. The casting was connected to the fashion and part of Alessandro’s group of fashion models, and there was a very descriptive story that Alessandro had come up with. It was just kind of intense and crazy and we just went ahead and did it. So now it exists.

On the name, Ouverture Of Something That Never Ended…

Alessandro Michele: The epilogue was a way to close something that never ends, but also to start over again. My relationship with my work or my idea of life is based on the idea of never closing a door. I chose that word because it was the end of one of my ways of being, one of my ways of working. So I wanted to extend my search. And this is something that is never ending. Overture as well means opening something that had not come to an end. Creativity is circular. It’s not something you can stop. And then the series we directed together. Well, you have a story telling you can go through. It has no beginning and no ending somehow. And this is what I like and what I call ‘suspended time’. Gus told us that his life has not changed really during the pandemic. So I think he’s living a wonderful life because he takes time to listen to himself, to be in nature, to do simple things like preparing a cup of tea instead of taking a plane. I mean, I’ve discovered these little things that I keep on discovering and that are part of my life, and in this ‘fresco’, I also included clothes. They have an influence on us, of course. So this is where the title comes from. I have been reflecting on this. And so this ending is symbolic and it’s also a beginning, but there is no beginning. And so this is what we have done with Gus. We wanted some poetry going through time, a time which is not clearly defined. It’s an open form of writing, which is self-generating somehow.

Photography by Paige Powell

On shooting in Rome…

Gus Van Sant:  Shooting a film in a place like Rome is a very good way to see the city. I was here 30 years ago this month shooting My Own Private Idaho, and we shot in the Piazza del Popolo and we shot out in a farm about 20 minutes outside of town – a sheep farm. And so I knew a little bit about Rome. I had come here for six weeks in 1975 too with Gideon Bachmann, who was an American journalist who lived in Rome and was sort of the American eye on Italian cinema. He brought us to all these amazing sets, of Fellini’s Casanova and Lina Wertmüller’s Seven Beauties. We visited Pasolini at his house before he died in 1975! This trip, it seemed like I was able to meet the people of Rome more than maybe I was on the other trips. And it was great to meet people – it’s like an alternate universe. It’s like another place. But everyone seemed very similar to people I know in L.A. Also, the weather is a lot like Los Angeles where I’m living now. In so far as the locations, it was written as a series of days in the life of Silvia Calderoni, which was, I think partly invented, but partly sometimes the way she would experience life. So it was sort of a day to day life. And we were going with her to places like a theatre, a vintage shop, a cafe, pretty ordinary places, but beautiful. No churches.

We’re also in Rome, you know, the home of Fellini and Rome does something to you when you’re here. And the crew is Roman and the techniques are Roman. There’s something that comes from that.

Gus Van Sant and Alessandro Michele by Paige Powell

On referencing Gus’ early work…

Gus Van Sant: I think it was exciting in the sense that I knew the territory as far as what I thought Alessandro was interested in. The story that he had written was very specific. And it resembled something that I had done on Jerry, Elephant, and Last Days in particular. Those were also films that were kind of condensed shooting schedules and stories that were told obliquely, I think circuitously, and I like working in that sort of area. Storywise, like noncommittal stories that are sort of happening in front of your eyes. Yeah, those all reminded me of something that I had done. I was excited to work with Alessandro anyway, and we had been discussing something completely different last April, I think it was, but this was even more sort of something that I was familiar with.

Alessandro Michele: Well, I could say the same thing. My choice of working with Gus was possible because in the past I could see through his eyes, so I thought about his stories located in non-specific places in a non-specific time, and you mentioned locations and I thought it was possible to share an idea with Gus – the creative construction of a story, a story that develops like a pregnancy, I wanted to describe a slow time with a voyeuristic approach to images. I wanted to have a neat narration, so it was easy. It is something that we wanted somehow, and it grew in a spontaneous way.

On clothing…

Gus Van Sant: As you know, the clothing aspect was also something that kind of came along with the idea that it would be completely only Gucci on every character. And when I’m making a film, for instance Elephant, the clothing on the kids was completely their own clothes. They brought in their clothes and we chose which ones we liked from three different outfits that they had. And so in that case it was completely their own thing. And in this case it was completely Alessandro’s. There’s a similarity to me as a director, but that was an interesting part of it. The clothing that people were wearing and also the set design and so forth had a cohesive unity to it. It was beautiful.

Alessandro Michele: Yeah, you’re right, because the clothes have broken free from the runway, from fashion locations, and they have landed as a single ‘veneer’. Cinema is an imitation of life, and it gives life to garments. Thanks to cinema, garments can become incredible, but they also go back to where they come from – to life.

On shooting in a pandemic…

Gus Van Sant: Yes, well, it’s always difficult to shoot any film. So we just played by whatever rules. The only difference, as I saw, was they were being tested [for Covid-19]. But that only took a few minutes, and everyone involved in the production was part of a family of ‘already tested’ people, so there was a kind of  safe environment. But I had never really been through a pandemic or worked in a pandemic. I had heard of other people shooting things, but this is my first time. It seemed natural. I mean, sometimes the places we worked were very vacant and the locations were not similar to normal times. Hotels were abandoned, almost.

I think it was the pandemic, but then there was also political turmoil in the United States that sort of was playing along at the same time. So I think things were many things happening at the same time. The pandemic was just the strange sauce on top of everything else. But yeah, I mean, being sequestered, being quarantined were situations in my life that were very similar to the way I live anyway. I’m usually by myself, so I didn’t notice so much of the hardships of quarantine. I mean, at times I did notice it, but it was pretty much business as usual for me. And I was busy creating a screenplay for the last 9 months. So I did have things that I was doing, but so far subject-wise it wasn’t influenced by the pandemic.

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