Morbid Sentiment Emerges from Hi Custodian

Gabriel Kanengiser

Morbid Sentiment Emerges from Hi Custodian Gabe Kanengiser On Sept. 6, Dirty Projectors released Hi Custodian, a short film written and directed by bandleader David Longstreth, and featuring music from their most recent release, Swing Lo Magellan. Longstreth says that this short film was inspired by Kanye West’s Runaway and Prince’s Purple Rain, but, not to worry– neither the cinematography nor the music will remind the viewer of either of those two artistic endeavors.

Hi Custodian was filmed in California, with a diverse landscape ranging from lush mountainside to gravelly, heat-drenched desert. And while the work can at times seem like random pairings of images and clips with Longstreth’s compositions, it is actually a very intimate window into Longstreth’s view of the human condition, a view encapsulated in the second track on Swing Lo Magellan, “About to Die.”

The plot of the short film almost seems like a stream-of-consciousness narrative. Longstreth is portrayed in one moment in a full yellow hazmat suit on a trash dump, then laying in a bed with Haley Dekle, Nat Baldwin and Amber Coffman singing and playing around him. He is then depicted limping out of a hole in a rocky terrain with his head, leg and neck bandaged. Suddenly, Dekle and Coffman are standing in a river singing a sweet, child-like melody, patty-caking and walking together. Longstreth is then again seen more with further injuries, and eventually limps toward five beautiful women wearing bathing suits washing a car in a suburban neighborhood. The women stop washing the car and spray water at Longstreth until he falls to the ground. When he rises, his injuries have been healed and he is thrown into the back of a semi. Are you confused yet?

The real issue with the film is simply this: Why was it made? Of course, any Dirty Projectors release is laudable, but a film set to Swing Lo Magellan seems senseless when albums such as Mount Wittenberg Orca (the Björk collaboration, which, if you still haven’t heard, you must!) and Bitte Orca are much more programmatic — for instance, Mount Wittenberg Orca is about Amber Coffman hiking on a mountain in Northern California and seeing a group of whales. Is Longstreth somehow admitting that this album was not quite as coherent or cutting-edge as his prior releases? That it needs randomly selected images and a sporadic plot to be comprehended?

Not quite. Like most of Dirty Projectors’ music thus far, in order to fully appreciate it one must take Longstreth’s metaphorical hand and walk through the world he experiences through his music. Our understanding as viewers is surely far from the perspective of artists and creators — and Hi Custodian suggests that Longstreth views the human condition as constantly approaching death.

The movie begins and ends similarly: Longstreth is, as the album’s standout song suggests, “About to Die.” “About to Die” could be a bleak and pessimistic analysis of the state of his own life, but the way it is portrayed comes across as joyous. Before his “re-birth” Longstreth is washed over with water and sings, “Where would I ever be without you? How could I hope to seize the tablet of values and redact it? Foolish, I know, but I’m about to die.” This idea is celebrated in one of the final scenes, with the band, religious figures and other musicians all playing the song in the back of the semi— and the rejoicing that occurs here is one of the most beautiful aspects of the film.