Eleanor Friedberger, the Oak Park-born and Brooklyn-based musician best known for her work in the brother-sister duo The Fiery Furnaces, released her excellent second solo album, Personal Record, last month. She also made a new short film. Called She's a Mirror and inspired by her ambiguous, spellbinding song of the same name, the film sees Friedberger act in a number of roles, including an actress in a spy film-within-a-film, as well as herself in a live performance at the Jewish Museum. Joe DeNardo directed, and Paul Felten wrote the script. See the film above in its entirety, then read an interview with Friedberger, recorded while the film was being finished.
Where did you get the idea to make a short film out of “She’s a Mirror”? I recently met someone named Joe DeNardo, he’s a musician and filmmaker, and we became friends and started talking about doing something together. I really liked his work. He shoots only on 16mm film, which I thought was really cool and unusual. All of his work has this beautiful warmth to it, and he has a style that I thought was sentimental in a similar way to my records. And because he’s a musician too, he does a lot of unusual audio stuff in his films, like a sound collage almost. I gave him the album and basically said, Which song do you wanna do?
It’s interesting that he’s a musician and filmmaker, the same way that John Wesley Harding, your writing parter on Perosonal Record, has a double life as a musician and a novelist. I have plenty of friends who aren’t musicians, but of course I’ve been doing this long enough that you meet other musicians. I’ve always been drawn to musicians, I’ve dated musicians. But it is unusual to be good at two different art forms. I think that’s pretty difficult, but I think Wes is really good and both and so is Joe.
Are you good at making films? I studied film in college, but I haven’t made any films. It’s always something that I imagined. When I was younger I thought maybe I’d be a producer. I’m very organized, and I thought that was something I could do as a job—maybe I still could. [After college] I had an internship at Austin City Limits. I thought I could maybe work in public television or radio, but I never had a real job in that field.
In Lindsay Zoladz’ Pitchfork review of the album, she says it feels a bit like a short story collection. Do you see yourself as a writer? No, I would never say that, it sounds too obnoxious. I’m going to stick with this for a while.
You’ve been playing some of the songs on Personal Record live for a while, but “She’s a Mirror” was written more recently, right? Yeah, that was one I hadn’t played live with the band on tour. Something funny is that, for the film, Joe assembled a fake band for me, and one of the scenes is supposed to be a band rehearsal where I’m showing the backing band how to play the song. So we got a bunch of people who had never heard the song and I wrote out the chord changes. He was hoping for it to be really awkward or to have a couple people who couldn’t really play that well, but then somebody dropped out and I made a few phone calls and it turned out the band was totally awesome. I showed them the chords, and they were just jamming and noodling. We ended up coming up with a new arrangement that’s totally different from the album, and that’s all recorded and filmed. While I was practicing with my real band, we were trying to figure out how to make it sound good. We were trying to make it as faithful to the album as possible, but then I was like, What if we try it this other way?
How did you feel about acting? I don’t feel incredibly confident about it. But there were a lot of other people in the film as well, so I didn’t have too many lines, luckily. I’m playing myself, so you get to laugh and screw up.
How long is the film? I don’t know. I haven’t seen the final cut yet. In fact, we’re gonna screen the thing at my show in Williamsburg at the end of the month, and I want to see it for the first time with everyone else. We might show it right before I go on stage, cause our changeover isn’t that long. We’re all kind of on the fence about if that’s too obnoxious to do beforehand, like the “Eleanor Night Hour.” It might be too much of me, but, you know, fuck it. I think it’ll be hilarious and fun.