The Smile frontman Thom Yorke explores the maze-line spaces of a disused Cornish tin mine in the video for the band’s new single, ‘Skrting on the Surface’, sumptuously directed by BAFTA-winner filmmaker Mark Jenkin.
The song dates back to Radiohead’s In Rainbows sessions from 2005 and was performed live only a handful of times before disappearing from the band’s setlist for over a decade. Summer 2021 saw bandmates Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood enrol Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner to form The Smile – and gave the track a sublime makeover and a new release.
For his part, Jenkin is known for his hand-crafted, atmospheric, black-and-white approach to filmmaking and ‘Skrting on the Surface’ takes this to new depths (both figurative and literally). The small crew went 200 ft underground at the Rosevale tin mine in Zennor, near St Ives. While no longer active, the mine is owned by the Rosevale Historical Mining Society – a six-person volunteer team that has spent 30 years restoring and preserving it as an example of a typical Cornish mine.
While Storms Eunice and Franklin were ravaging the British Isles, the director and his team were able to shoot in uninterrupted peace below ground. At first, cramped confines and a temperamental camera might seem to inhibit the artistic process. Jenkin, however, found that the Bolex H16 – and working with small gauge black and white film – saw the mineshaft in a very different way, telling Shots.net: ‘16mm has beautiful limitations that the eye usually normalises.’
‘The mine is a brutal space,’ he adds. ‘It just smacks of hard work. Obviously there’s a beauty in that, but there’s also a toughness. I also think there’s a toughness in the song.’
This dichotomy of beauty and brutality, toughness and vulnerability translates to the music and the pictures. Starting with old film stock, Jenkin mixed his own developer using water from the mine, complete with the grit, mud and minerals that came with it. During shooting, he deliberately underexposed, then pushed the processing to a breaking point in the film grade, solarised it with a torch, bled the film emulsion with bleach and sulphuric acid, and once dried, etched the songs lyrics into it with a knife.
All these interferences can be seen in the ethereal finished piece. This human interaction with the process and the limitations of working in film is fundamental to Jenkin’s work: ‘I like the physicality of the medium. Shooting on film means I don’t shoot too much, which is really great when it gets to the edit.’
Read more about Jenkin’s shoot over on Shots.net.