How did you get the job to direct the video for ‘Man in the Box’ ? Considering that Alice in Chains were a fairly new band at that point.
Paul Rachman: On Halloween of 1990, two months after ‘Facelift’ had come out I saw the band play at the Cat Club in New York City and they blew me away- I loved them. The next day I called the video commisioner of Columbia records his name was Kris P, saying that I wanted to work with the band.
They had just done a video called ‘We Die Young’ but that single didn’t fly. In late November, a month later they asked me to write for the ‘Man in the Box’ video. I got it and we shot in mid December of 1990.
‘Man in the Box’ was Layne Staley’s song, how close did you work on ideas with him?
Paul: The band was touring at the time (with Iggy Pop) I received a few phone calls and fax exchanges with Layne. He had written the song so I collaborated with him conceptually but at a distance since they were touring. Layne’s idea for the video and song were based on the images of a rainy drippy barn and a baby wuth his eyes sewn shut. I took those ideas on board and came up with an animal farm, but used an adult for the eyes sewn shut idea. I remember for the animals there were a couple of horses but production brought in the pigs, the cow, the chickens….. There had never been a rock music video with animals in them before.
The ‘Man in the Box’ video is quite striking, dark and almost eerie.
Paul: A lot of my work in the early 90’s was pretty dark. Layne was very very magnetic and inspiring. It was easy to visualize his ideas because there really was truth in them. I really feel that when you watch the video that it matches the song, it added to it, and transcended what it needed to do to reach their audience and beyond.
You said that Alice in Chains’ first video ‘We Die Young’, did not fly- ‘Man in the Box’ not only took off, it went for a better word into orbit.
Paul: Colombia Records loved it, MTV loved it, the band loved it. It hit the ‘Buzz Bin’ rotation almost immeadiately. It just clicked. I remember Metallica saying that ‘Man in the Box’ was their favorite video. In September of 1991 it got an MTV award nomination. It ended up losing to a shitty Aerosmith video, one of the ones with Alicia Silverstone in it. I remember sitting at the awards and when they read who had won it started with ‘A…..’ my heart skipped and then I heard ‘Aerosmith’.
But you know I think the video is more important today than Aerosmiths.
How long did ‘Man in the Box’ take to shoot and how were the band during the day?
Paul: Well it was a long day, a 14 hour shoot. The band were great to work with. They were young, fresh and eager. There was only one or two full band set-ups so most of the time when the video was being shot we worked on individuals. When you watch the video you can see their youth and vitality. Layne was beautiful in his close-ups he is almost babyfaced and his eyes are piercing.
They were a young band with hope, they were touring but did not know their destiny yet. They were the type of band working hard because they wanted to make it, nothing was guaranteed for them in the winter of 1990. No one knew what would happen, at the time of the shoot they were a band that could have fallen flat out after 50 or 60 thousand records sold or something. They were a fun rock band to hang out with, easy to be around. I could definitely notice the change when I would see them later in their careers. They had become rock stars by then.
‘Man in the Box’ is shot in sepia color- was this risque in terms of promoting a new band and for the video itself?
Paul: It fit the mood and the look. I actually shot on black and white film for ‘Man in the Box’. Before shooting I visualized a black and white video with a little bit of color in the hand held 16mm shots in the cages outside. After when I was in color correction the sepia tinted really gave the video a warmer but more intense feel. The band’s droning, grungy sound was dark in itself. The song and video have definite moods.
What are your memories of Layne Staley?
Paul: I remember a few months after the video was completed I was in Seattle directing the video for Temple of the Dog which was a collabaration between Pearl Jam and Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell ( this video was the first time that Eddie Vedder had been filmed). I was hanging out with Layne one night and I could tell that the rock star life style was going to affect him. He was a bit tired and rawn out but still very friendly. He was a very sweet, talented, sensitive and inwardly emotional. He was very comfortable and confident with his ideas and his art and music. He never really second guessed himself, he was always forward moving with his thoughts. I don’t remember him as ever hesitant or asking too many questions. He just did it. On that set they were very cooperative and friendly. I mean look at the video. I asked the front man to sit in a corner of a real dirty barn tied up and sing. To most frontmen that would seem demeaning and negative, Layne just did it and you can see he is in that moment. There is almost a vulnerable sadness in his eyes and face in that hat scene.
When the video broke, the band were obviously estactic- how about you?
Paul: I was psyched and very satisfied. I was able to really bring the element of mood into the music video which was always what I was trying to do. I felt I had really achieved that with ‘Man in the Box’. First and foremost it was a great song and a great band that inspired me. I mean I saw the band live first and then I went after that video as a director because I felt something about the music. In the end it’s success was the ultimate reward but the making and working on it was very very satisfying. ‘Man in the Box’, put me in a different league vis a vis the record companies and the music biz too. It still stands up well today.
I have always thought it was an introduction to Alice in Chains. In England when the video first aired and Layne screams ‘Jesus Christ’, everyone just looked at each other. It was a big thing at the time.
Paul: It was an introduction. I wanted the video to create that curiosity. You have three and a half minutes, there is only so deep you can go and shoe the band.
The final scene of the video with the man with his eyes sewn shut. For first time viewers it’s mindblowing. The answer is right there in the lyrics but it’s still a shocking moment.
Paul: Yes you got it- and that’s what it was supposed to do- no more -no less. A blind caretaker on a farm. One who cares but cannot see. A reaper of some sort who cannot choose based on what he sees. Jesus was one who did not judge too. The character is dark and gloomy, but I did not have anything obvious on or specific on him. Just an uncomfortable feeling.