Busby Berkeley-Style Mermaids in Iceland

1 Mar

So last fall I was in Europe and ended up flying home through Iceland and staying there for a couple nights, which was kind of like staying on Mars but in a cool, Forbidden Planet kind of way. Volcanic rock, covered in snow and lime-green moss! This endless liquid sky! And I saw geysers and waterfalls and continental rifts, and I even saw little doors painted into the rocky landscape where elves live, and pools where witches were drowned once, but of course I was also very curious about mermaids, being the diligent mermaid expert I am. I figured there had to be some secret and possibly nefarious mermaid thing going on in Iceland, right? So I did some searching and actually stood outside of a waterfall in the frigid whipping wind filming my tour guide talking in his lilting elvin accent about Icelandic mermen myths, though sadly I couldn’t understand a word he was saying…. and I ALSO, more fortuitously, discovered one Ms. Kitty von-Sometime and her awesome Weird Girls project.

Weird Girls is an ongoing art experiment that Kitty created and produces. For each separate episode Kitty gathers a number of women, who find out last minute where they’re going, show up having no idea what they’re in for, and get transformed in some astonishing way for some high-concept photo and video shoot. For episode number six, back in October 2008, sixteen women showed up at hotel outside of Reyjkavik, at Hveragerði’s Sundlaugin Laugaskarði, and were transformed into mermaids to do a Busby Berekley-style video for Emiliana Torrini’s song “I’ve Heard it All Before.” The resulting video is completely gorgeous and charming, as I’m sure you’ll agree. I knew there had to be some amazing mermaids in Iceland!

So I emailed Kitty and told her I would be in Reyjkavik and asked if she’d meet with me. She graciously invited me to her very swanky, gleaming, looking-out-over-the-sea office at a gaming company and though I almost blew away on the walk there, I managed to survive and to film THIS on my little Flip camera. You will notice that in addition to capturing Kitty, who is very very fabulous—watch this and tell me you don’t want to fly to Iceland to participate in her next episode!—I also managed to film many transparent Icelandic ghosts lurking suspiciously in the background and occasionally raising their fists.

Here is a mostly accurate transcript of said interview for all you more nerdly readers:

So you can tell me how you ended up assembling a ton of mermaid girls for this music video?
When I was little girl I was quite obsessed actually with mermaids and living by the sea and I come from England and I was living down in the south coast of England and when I was twenty and rebelling and I wanted to move away I moved to London and that wasn’t really as near to the sea so I used to go on a Friday on a train down to Brighton and stay until Monday because I had to be by the sea. And I now I live in Reyjkavik and it’s all harbors to the sea and I can see the sea very close, just down there….

And when I started doing this project where I managed to make women dress up in whatever I wanted to make them dress up as, I figured I would try and use this opportunity and I combined spandex and mermaids into one piece, which was a triumph for myself I have to say. And I wanted it to be resembling Busby Berkeley’s films and I felt that even though the spandex thing is obviously a new fabric and is a very modern look, the mermaid look is very classic and went with the Busby Berkeley stuff. So I found a nice art deco pool to put my spandex mermaids in and did the video.

And how did you come up with the costumes?
The costumes I’d seen somewhere before, not the entire thing but the spandex tail part and it was really easy to get someone to make that, and then a Polish girl who lives here who’s an absolute genius with costumes, Carolina, she met with me and I told her I wanted to use beads all over it and she came up with this neck collar idea and I wanted to have a really 40s looking sort of hat and so managed to find one that was just right, actually on a website that is for sufferers of alopecia and cancer who lose their hair, there are amazing hats on there, so I bought those.

And so all these women showed up not knowing what they were going to do that day?
No, they had no idea.

And what did they think?
They loved it. They generally do love it, and they generally like to take a costume and try to wear it somewhere else. This is a little impractical because you can’t walk. Being a mermaid out of water is not such a fun experience, and we had to go up and down two flights of stairs throughout the filming constantly. Which involved us all hopping or sliding on our bums up and down the stairs, which is a very undignified way of being a mermaid. But once you’re in the water, it was a lot different, very fun.

Do you think anyone felt transformed into a more mermaidly type?
Oh God yes. This was a very extreme video. If you think of taking a load of women who do not dress up for anything, who are not really actresses and haven’t put on a costume probably since they were little girls, and then to play dress-up… And this was very heavy. There was nothing of themselves left except the silhouette of their body shape. And everyone had a really really good time and I was blessed because it was October in Iceland outdoors and the days before it was snowing and the day we were filming it was very warm. It was brilliant.

still from episode 4, Bunny Revolution

Did you also wear a costume?
I did. I always do. It’s part of why I do this, and the day that I have to go only behind the camera I’ll be very upset. I always have assistant directors or lead directors and I’m the assistant, and producers, and my main thing is having a director and photographer that I talk with a lot before we film to get all the things in my head into theirs. So that then I can dress up. Cause that’s part of why I like doing this.

And how did you feel, once you dressed as a mermaid?
I loved it, it was great. And some of the girls have worn the costumes since believe it or not. They’ve worn them to costume parties, they’ve cut holes to put their legs through a bit and wrap the tail around. And one of them has got a nine-year-old daughter and she sewed it up a bit smaller for her. She just wanted to wear it once she saw what her mom was dressed up as.

What do you think is the appeal of mermaids?
They’re sexy somehow. I don’t know how the hell a woman with half a fish body is sexy, but they are. And they’re magical. It’s a bit like a unicorn, a horse with a horn on the front of its head brought to life, but they’re still very mystical and magical.

Oh and how did you manage to get all that glitter on everyone’s faces? That’s a very important question.
The makeup artists were actually very good. They simply blew it on our faces. When the paint was wet they simply blew the glitter on and it stayed on. It was amazing, I didn’t know how the hell we were going to do this. They just blew. Luckily, they didn’t have bad breath. No and it just stayed on and then they touched up as we went. I think there was a bit of spray over it to keep it on. And it made it even more magical, because you always see this spray of glitter going through the air.

Do you have any advice for anyone who would like to be mermaidly themselves?
Do I have any advice? Try it, I guess. Just try it!

2 Responses to “Busby Berkeley-Style Mermaids in Iceland”

  1. Julie Komenda March 2, 2011 at 11:39 PM #

    My very favorite interview–I’ve watched the Weird Girls videos in awe–so good to see how it comes together, really in another era …en-trance-ing!


  1. I Still Believe in Mermaids. | Life Through My Looking Glass - April 13, 2011

    […] around in oceans or local pools (more on that later). Her research has taken her everywhere from Iceland (which is apparently merman central — who knew?) to Warsaw, and she’s spoken to a sirenology […]

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