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The Cure video director Tim Pope talks new concert film, cat-herding, and that time when Robert Smith chopped off his hair

·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
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On July 11, The Cure: Anniversary 1978-2018 Live in Hyde Park London, capturing the post-punk legends’ epic 40th anniversary concert last year, will screen in theaters for one night only. Says director Tim Pope, “One of the things that I wanted the film to do was really be cinematic and really put us inside the music. So, I urge people to go to the theater. Sure, they'll see it on DVD and Blu-ray and all that stuff, but please, go hear it in surround sound on a great, big, f***-off screen. You'll be closer to the Cure than you have ever been.”

Pope has been close to the Cure for decades, directing not only every Cure music video between 1982 and 1997 but also the band’s other major concert film, The Cure in Orange. That movie is probably best-known for an opening scene that scarred the psyches and figuratively snatched the wigs of poor little Goth kids around the world — when bassist Simon Gallup quite literally snatched Robert Smith’s frightwig, revealing that the famously follicled frontman had shockingly shorn off his spidery black locks.

Cure bassist Simon Gallup pulls off Robert Smith's wig in 'The Cure in Orange.' (Photo: Fiction Records)
Cure bassist Simon Gallup pulls off Robert Smith's wig in 'The Cure in Orange.' (Photo: Fiction Records)

Smith spent the rest of the film looking semi-unrecognizable with a conservative buzz-cut, and Pope laughingly recalls that the wig-snatching stunt was his idea, as a way to salvage an unforeseen situation. “I was extremely pissed-off with [Robert], because I had seen the shows [on that tour] beforehand,” Pope tells Yahoo Entertainment with a chuckle, describing Smith’s surprise haircut as “drastic surgery.”

“I was like, ‘Bloody hell!’ I had literally planned to base the entire film on closeups of Robert with his big, growly haircut. So, it was well-missed. I was extremely upset, because yes, I thought he was going to have all this hair, and yes, I thought that was going to be the basis of my film! And so that's why I added that scene. I said, ‘We've got to do a thing where you pull your hair off.’ I'm in the background shot of that scene, actually: As the camera comes through, there's a very lanky me with very fetching white shorts on.”

Smith of course grew his hair back, and he has stuck with his signature look ever since. And that hairdo — along with a dream setlist, Smith and company’s incredible musicianship, 5.1 audio mixed by Smith and Paul Corkett at Abbey Road Studios, and 65,000 delirious attending fans — is on full, glorious display in Pope’s The Cure: Anniversary 1978-2018 Live in Hyde Park London, out this week globally via Trafalgar Releasing. Pope believes both of his Cure concert films are bookends of different stages in the group’s long, illustrious, and recently Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-recognized career.

Robert Smith of The Cure performs at London's Hyde Park on July 7, 2018. (Photo: Michael Garcia)
Robert Smith of The Cure performs at London's Hyde Park on July 7, 2018. (Photo: Michael Garcia)

“When I shot The Cure in Orange in ’86 [at the Théâtre antique d'Orange], if you look at it in movie terms, that was like their first-act climax; it was the changing point for them,” says Pope, recalling how the formerly underground group had just broken through to the mainstream with 1985’s The Head on the Door and was about to blow up even bigger with 1987’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. “And I happened to be there to film this amazing concert in France. Now, suddenly I'm filming their second-act climax [in London]. And I think that's what this [Hyde Park] concert is. I think this concert is like a line in the sand for the band, before they move forward.”

The Cure haven’t released a studio album since 2008, but Smith has announced that a new “dark” and “incredibly intense” album, possibly a double-album — very different from the poppier greatest hits that the Cure played at Hyde Park — is finally coming this year. “Robert hasn't said this to me, so I don't want to speak out of turn, but I do wonder with many of those [classic] songs, we will hear then again?” muses Pope. “He's told me a little bit about the [forthcoming] album, and those songs will all be 10 minutes long and gloomy and back in the pits of hell. And I think that's fantastic. So, I think this film will be a turning point again. I think it's very fortuitous that I was there that day… and I think, therefore, it was a very important project for Robert. He was very engrossed in it.”

Smith and Pope had always worked together closely during their MTV heyday, and that collaborative spirit carried over decades later to this latest project. “I got an email from him about two weeks before saying [he wanted to] film the show at Hyde Park. This culminated with me going to see a rehearsal the day before with the band, and I sat literally in the middle of them, in this tiny, tiny, tiny room. And I thought two things: that I wanted to capture the epic quality of the music, the bigness of the music, the emotional bigness, and that I also wanted to capture the intimacy and the interplay between [the musicians].

“I'll tell you what I love about the Cure: They are very hard-working band,” Pope continues. “They are not lazy people. Robert was even sending me emails on the way up to the Hyde Park, about small details like the screens being played back.”

The Cure: Anniversary 1978-2018 Live in Hyde Park London won’t be the last film collaboration between Pope and the Cure. A few years ago, the director accompanied the band on a South American tour, and his footage of those shows “may well” make it into a planned career-spanning “kaleidoscopic life of the Cure” documentary. But considering that it took the Cure more than a decade to release a new album, don’t expect to see that documentary any time soon. “When it will happen, no idea,” Pope says of that project. “The deal is, we will [finish it] at some point. The thing you have to understand is, when you go into ‘Robert time,’ you go into ‘Robert time’ — and that's just how it works. There's no point trying to force anything at all. It'll happen when it happens.”

Whatever happens with future Cure music or films, Pope says, “It's really nice that we've come back together again and are working together again.” And he’s certainly happy that they came together professionally for the Hyde Park anniversary concert, because his original plan had been to simply attend as an invited friend. “I thought I was going to go as a guest just to watch it. But thank goodness that wasn't the case. I would have been thinking, ‘Oh no, I should be filming this.’”

To prepare for the premiere of The Cure: Anniversary 1978-2018 Live in Hyde Park London, Yahoo Entertainment had Pope share the stories behind 10 of his most iconic Cure music videos.

“Let's Go to Bed” (1982)

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This was the video that started it all, after Smith was intrigued by Pope’s groundbreaking work with the new wave band Soft Cell and got in touch. (“Let’s Go to Bed” was in fact shot at the same St. John’s Wood studio were Pope filmed the infamous, widely banned video for Soft Cell’s “Sex Dwarf.”)

“We had this geometrical sort of idea, this sort of triangular set. I really remember the first set, the first shot. The first time I ever worked with him was the opening shot of ‘Let's Go to Bed,’ where Robert is standing to the right-hand side of the picture as you look at it. I just remembered both being quite nervous with each other, and throughout the day we kind of formed this relationship. And I guess that was the start of us, really,” says Pope.

“This was a bit of a turning point. Robert had broken the band up at that point. It was just a duo, Lol Tolhurst and him. I love that album. I think Japanese Whispers is quite a beautiful album; in fact, if I had to choose a Cure album, I would almost choose that one,” Pope says of the upbeat electro record that was a total 180 from the Cure’s previous brutal and depressing opus, Pornography. And so, while the Cure had previously been known for videos that were gloomy and dour, “Let’s Go to Bed,” with its party games and finger puppets and gaffer-taped collapsing bunk beds, set the tone for the many whimsical, wacky Pope/Cure collaborations over the next 15 years.

One of “Let’s Go to Bed’s” crazier moments was when Tolhurst stripped off his baggy boiler suit (which is now displayed in Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) to dance naked behind a screen in silhouette. “We had to do everything we could to keep Lol's clothes on, you know? Maybe it's because he knew we shot ‘Sex Dwarf’ in that studio and he could still smell the raw meat,” Pope chuckles. “Suddenly I have a pretty strong image [in my mind] of Lol being very naked. I had forgotten. I think maybe that was the start of a very complex relationship between Robert and Lol. Maybe getting Lol to get his clothes off was part of that.”

Pope says this video was the first time he got a glimpse of another important relationship in Smith’s life. “I remember Robert pulling down those flags [from the ceiling], and there was one that said ‘Mary,’” Pope recalls. “He said, to me, ‘Oh, that's my girlfriend.’ That was when I first heard Mary's name.” Mary Poole would later become Smith’s wife and inspire two of the Cure’s most popular Pope-directed videos.

“The Lovecats” (1983)

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“In those days, it was a bit more made-up than anything,” laughs Pope, recalling that the band was drunk and that he was “jetlagged out of my head” after flying back from Neil Young’s whirlwind “Wonderin’” video shoot in Los Angeles. “The thing is, in those days, as is always the case when you enter Cure world, things happen in quite a spontaneous way, usually without much notice.” Borrowing the keys to a London house from a naïve realtor under the pretense that he was a potential home-buyer, Pope quite literally herded up some borrowed cats, lent Smith his own red polka-dotted Carnaby Street button-down, and chaos ensued during this feline-filled all-nighter.

“I think my favorite bit in this one, which I think is the start of Robert's and my interesting relationship, is when I grabbed a cat and I started waggling it in from the side of the frame. That was all quite spontaneous,” says Pope. “And there's a great bit where I whack him on the nose with the cat and he looks quite angry for a second at me. I quite like that moment.

“But my ultimate memory was again about Lol: him at 6 in the morning, walking the streets in a cat suit. Not a sexy cat suit, of course, but the suit was of a cat. I just remember us filming this bit and Lol stumbling along in this cat suit. And it was all a bit crazy — all these commuters at our bus stop, I remember their faces as we were running along the street, shooting those shots.

“That circular shot at the end was very hard to do. The poor cameraman did like three takes and then fell over. Because if you think about the way that camera was going around at the end, that guy was having to leg it around at the speed of light. By the time we had him running around in circles three times, he was swearing a lot in Polish and falling over.

“So, what you had by the end was a drunk band, a jetlagged film director, and a Polish cameraman who was suffering from running around in circles. Hence, voila: ‘Lovecats’!”

Pope doesn’t recall if the duped real estate agent ever found out what Pope and the band were up to, but it is possible the rogue video shoot actually increased the value of the property. “I know where that house is. You know how in England when a house becomes famous, they put blue plaques up on the house to say ‘such and such happened here’? I think there's a blue plaque on the house, that says, ‘“Lovecats” was shot here.’”

“The Walk” (1983)

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“Robert was in a splash pool, and I wanted the pool to look like DNA. So there's a top shot that looks down from the roof of the studio, and I remember dropping all this stuff into the pool and then filming it in slow-motion and reversing it all,” Pope reminisces. And of course, Tolhurst was cradling baby dolls, wearing a housedress.

“Inbetween Days” (1985)

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The Cure - Inbetween Days from feelthemonster on Vimeo.

“One of the questions I get all the bloody time is which is your favorite Cure video, and this is definitely one of them,” says Pope. While on the surface “Inbetween Days” might seem like one of the Cure’s simpler clips, Pope stresses, “It’s not just a performance video. I think it was quite groundbreaking.”

In typical spontaneous Cure fashion, Pope was sent this track on a Friday — and he was filming the video by the following Monday. “We were literally making it up on the day. It was 28 grand worth of camera being swung in a shopping basket — from a plastic shopping basket on some ropes! So as much as it was a performance video, it was pretty edgy, with the ‘get away from me’ stuff, where Robert chants to cameras, with all these obstacles in the film,” Pope explains, recalling the promo’s motion-sickness-inducing, kinetic feel.

“I remember standing behind the camera, pressing Robert's stomach with a broom to get tension between the camera and him. And then suddenly I wanted him to brake and to throw the camera away from himself, and then catch it again. That is not an easy thing to do — when you have a large metal object flying towards a pop star, it's not a good thing, either from the camera's point of view or the person's point of view!”

“Inbetween Days” was the first single off The Head on the Door, an album that marked another turning point for the Cure, as they expanded to a quintet with new drummer Boris Williams and the return of two ex-members, guitarist Porl Thompson and bassist Gallup (the latter of whom is still a core Cure member today). “I remember feeling the energy. I remember the conversations with Robert were about ‘this is a new band,’” explains Pope. “I got the sense of something new happening, like a rebirth — which certainly became the case, because The Head on the Door was the album that catapulted them to a huge level of success. I suppose the videos were a part of that in a way. So, this one captured the new energy of the band.”

“Close to Me” (1985)

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The most memorable scene from this seaside clip had to be the climactic moment when an antique wardrobe, stuffed with all five Cure members, toppled off a cliff, crashing into the waves below. Of course, the Cure weren’t really inside. “I tried to, but I couldn't talk them into it. Oh, how different history might have been!” Pope jokes. “We shot it in an aircraft hangar, this great big aircraft hangar with all these lights around it, but it was this one tiny wardrobe. I went up the next day to Beachy Head [in East Sussex, England] and chucked a couple of wardrobes off the cliff. And that was it.”

As for how the closet concept came about, Pope says, “Robert sent me a rough mix of a song, and all I heard was this bass guitar with loads of heavy breathing over it. I immediately felt a sense of claustrophobia, of trying to escape from something. But I can’t recall if it was me or Robert who actually came up with the idea. It would be somewhere between us, probably a conversation that went something like, ‘Hey, yeah, sure, let's shoot it inside a wardrobe!’”

And once again, poor, put-upon Tolhurst provided the comic relief on the set, although this time unintentionally. And another surprise haircut, or “drastic surgery,” occurred.

“Old 35mm cameras, which is what we filmed that on, are quite large. So there was me, the band, and the cameraman inside this very, very enclosed area. And at one point… I don't know if you've ever smelt burning hair. You know that small hair makes when it burns? Suddenly there was this high-pitched, whizzing sound, and Lol started screaming and there was this burning hair!” says Pope. “Lol's hair was quite curly and lush in those days, and it got caught up like an elastic band in the film. And there was a horrible sound, of like his hair being sheared. Inside this wardrobe. I always remembered that.”

“Why Can't I Be You” (1987)

“We just thought it would be a laugh to put them in loads of costume, and the Cure would look ridiculous. But let's face it, Robert makes a lovely polar bear,” says Pope of this costumed caper, perhaps his wackiest Cure clip. “I have to say it's one of the two times I think I've literally — and I'm not afraid to say it — wet myself with laughter. We had this Irish choreographer come in to teach the dancing. She's going, ‘One and two and three and four,’ and Simon had his cigarette, and it was hilarious. But was brilliant, and I started wetting myself after about 10 minutes when they actually started to believe they were good dancers and started treating it seriously. That was the moment when I literally was on the floor crying from laughter. It was so, so funny.”

And, once again, Tolhurst was the butt of the jokes. “Lol had chosen the role of being the court jester at that point. I think what we know from [Tolhurst’s memoir, Cured: The Tale of Two Imaginary Boys], bless him, was he was burying [his pain] in a lot of ways.” (Tolhurst was battling alcoholism; by 1989, he was barely functioning enough to contribute to the band and was fired.) “I think Lol was in a bit of a weird state at that point. I remember a bit of Lol cruelty when he was put inside a Humpty Dumpty outfit with the world's brightest strobe strapped to his chest and various band members dancing on his feet as he was spun around and the music was played. And there I was, filming him through the crack in Humpty Dumpty's mouth.”

There was one Lol moment on the set that in retrospect is quite unfunny: For a brief moment, he is shown wearing blackface. “I know, I know, and it's absolutely shocking,” Pope says, clearly aghast. “I think it was a thing that happened spontaneously on the day. Nowadays, I wouldn't dream of doing that in 20,000 years. I don't know how it happened. It just happened. It should not have been done, but it was. Not good at all.” Pope wearily says “people were less aware of stuff then” (it should be noted that “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” by the Cure’s peers Culture Club also featured blackface) and believes the spur-of-the-moment makeup was inspired by an unfortunate TV variety program called The Black and White Minstrel Show that surprisingly ran in Britain from 1958 to 1978, but he stresses, “It's something I feel pretty dreadful about, to be honest. It’s awful and very offensive, frankly.”

On a much lighter note, Pope says this video is a “double-whammy as far as lack of political correctness” — referring to some subliminal imagery when Tolhurst pops out of a sideways woman’s mouth that resembles a certain other female body part. “This video, I always said, was me mishearing the lyrics: You know, ‘Why C*** I Be You.’”

“Just Like Heaven” (1987)

This video was famous for its rare Mary Poole sighting, as she and Smith romantically slow-danced by the ocean. Smith and Poole had been dating since they were 14 years old, and would soon marry; 32 years after this video was shot, they are still together. “Certainly of all the videos I made with the Cure, she is the only woman [to appear],” says Pope. “I think it was around the time of their wedding. I remember going to Robert's wedding, and it was all kind of romantic and lovely.

“She's a beautiful creature. I love Mary. I can still remember shooting that scene of them twirling around on that cliff — which was all built in the studio, obviously. The wonderful thing is people believe it's really on a clifftop. The illusions that you can create with film are wonderful.”

“Lullaby” (1989)

Pope says that along with “Inbetween Days,” “Lullaby” is his other favorite Cure video. “It seemed to me to have Polanski feel of those films I grew on, kind of an Eastern European influence. And again, talk about vaginal references — my goodness! I think Robert gave me one of the greatest lyrics anyone has ever given to me: ‘I feel like I'm being eaten by a thousand million shivering furry holes. So, somehow or another, I must have perceived not one million shivering furry holes, but one large furry hole. I remember Robert came into the studio and saw [the set] and he said, ‘You said it was going to be spider's mouth. But it's a f***ing fanny.’”

“Lovesong” (1989)

The Cure’s biggest U.S. hit, going all the way to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, “Lovesong” was a sweet wedding gift for Poole. Still, its video still sneaked in a few subversive genitalia references. “It was a cave of penises. A cave of phalluses! It's funny, you know — I didn't really notice at the time,” Pope chuckles as he recalls the visual. “I love that song, and I know Robert wrote it for Mary, but I'm not sure it’s our best video. I don't think Robert liked it, because he just kind of lays around in that one, you know? But retrospectively, I realize what a wonderful song it really is.”

“Wrong Number” (1997)

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“This was the last video I made for the Cure,” says Pope, who sat out a few of the Cure’s mid-‘90s videos while he “had a period where I went to America and worked with the lovely Weinstein brothers and had a terrible experience making a movie [The Crow: City of Angels], which I won’t go into.” (Pope has previously stated that working with Harvey and Bob Weinstein “put [him] off making [feature] films for 20 years.”)

Pope continues: “I think this is a fantastic video. Guy Ritchie, the director who later married Madonna, was actually a runner on that video, a gopher. There's a bit where I wanted Robert to dance, and he was kind of shy about it. And I had this mad actor who looked a little bit like Lawrence Olivier on LSD. I remember I had all this dusty s*** with bones and ash and everything, and I pushed Robert in, and suddenly he found himself dancing with this guy. The look on Robert's face just kills me every time I see that. It just makes me laugh.”

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