Christina Aguilera’s first and last videos from Stripped could not be more different, so it may come as a surprise that the same person directed both.
David LaChapelle offered an easy explanation. “There’s all kinds of connotations to the word ‘stripped,’ ” said the visionary, who stripped Aguilera of her inhibitions and most of her clothes in the provocative “Dirrty”.
In “A Voice Within,” the director’s latest collaboration with the come-hither chanteuse, “I wanted to strip it down to one take,” he explained. “Just her and this incredible voice. And really not have anything that is going to overshadow that.”
“A Voice Within” is a response of sorts to “Dirrty” as well as LaChapelle’s other Aguilera video, the fly girls and B-boys celebration, “Can’t Hold Us Down”.
“She’s trying to grow as an artist and along the way she’s taking all kinds of risks and a lot of times people let those things overshadow her ability and her talent,” the director said. “I wanted to bring it all back as a sort of bookend to this album.”
LaChapelle, a distinguished celebrity photographer whose foray into music videos includes Elton John’s “This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore” and Moby’s “Natural Blues,” visualized a black-and-white, continuous shot when he listened to “A Voice Within.”
“I wrote the treatment and when [Aguilera] read it, she said, ‘This is so weird, I feel like I wrote this. It was exactly what I was thinking,’ ” LaChapelle recalled. “We were on the same page and synchronized in what we wanted to do.”
The director felt he and Aguilera were entering the experimental video from a similar vantage point.
“We’re multi-faceted,” LaChapelle said. “Christina’s explored a lot of parts of herself, her sexuality, and this is a part of her too. People say to me, ‘You’re the color guy.’ Well, I spent six years only shooting black-and-white. People don’t understand you can be an artist and do different types of things. Me and Christina are up against the same things. Don’t let other people’s labels make you feel like you’re stuck in a box. It’s not about living up to limitations people put on you.”
The “A Voice Within” video opens with a close-up of Aguilera’s face and falls back to her sitting on a block in an abandoned prop room. Wearing a simple slip, she strolls around the room and eventually out of the building to the streets.
“I really love neo-realist and that’s where I got the idea for the clothes, the styling and the texture of the film,” the director said, naming filmmakers Pier Paolo Pasolini and Vittorio De Sica as influences. “She looks like one of those women in those films, like [De Sica’s] “Two Women,” with Sophia Loren running across the country in bare feet, that kind of idea.”
LaChapelle actually shot the video in a deserted theater in downtown Los Angeles. The props were already there, with the exception of the light box he built outside that Aguilera lays on at the end.
“Light boxes are in my vocabulary as a photographer, so to speak,” he said. “I love things that are contained. Basically, it’s a bed of light. The whole video is sort of a journey and it sort of climaxes and then she goes to sleep.”
The video was filmed by a Steadicam operator who walked backwards and eventually on to a crane for the finale. After carefully mapping out the path, LaChapelle rehearsed with a stand-in.
“When we walked through it, we did not think it was going to work,” he remembered. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, what have I done?’ And then Christina did it the first time without a rehearsal; she nailed it. She brought so much energy and this passion, this f–ing craziness to it, spinning around. I knew I’d done the right thing.”
LaChapelle and Aguilera did several more takes, but only one was as good as the first. They went with take five, but “it was a toss-up.”
“Christina’s someone who is really interested in art and artists and it’s a nice experience because she respects the edit, the cut and the people who work on it,” LaChapelle said. “It’s not about showing a particular side of her face. She’s not neurotic like that. She wants interesting imagery.
“This video is tailor-made for her,” he added. “As simple as it is, there’s not a lot of artists who could do that sort of video.”