Daily Briefs
9 min

Paleontologist or exotic dancer? More tales from Tales of Us

The amazing story behind Goldfrapp’s short film Laurel

While it’s been almost a year since the release of Alison Goldfrapp’s sixth studio album, Tales of Us, I’m still not over it. It has definitely turned into one of my favourite albums by one of my favourite artists.

When the UK musical duo turned a few of the songs into short films directed by Alison Goldfrapp’s partner, Lisa Gunning, they’ve shown how there are a number of tales behind Tales of Us.

With the release of the short Laurel — my favourite from the series — I wanted to share the story behind Gunning’s film, which I covered briefly in a piece on the series a few months ago. Gunning explains:

“There’s another one, which is called Laurel, which is a lovely, simple song which was inspired by a Dorothy B Hughes novel, which is called In a Lonely Place, and that novel is about a 1950s starlet in old Hollywood who happens to be in a relationship with a serial killer. Alison and I had, while I was cutting the [Seven Psychopaths] film in LA — I would go regularly to this bar called Jumbo’s. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this place. It’s like a strip club, and it’s where Courtney Love first started her dancing. It’s kind of a grungy little place, but it’s not seedy.”

Gunning would go there with her friends after workdays. “One day Alison came to see me at this place, and we sat down and comes this amazing woman,” she says. “This kind of Lynchian, red-haired, milky-skinned, very unconventional looking woman, and she did this dance to The Smiths song called ‘How Soon Is Now?’”

“She just appeared in this puff of smoke and vanished in a puff of smoke, and we just thought she was amazing.” This dancer made such an impression, Gunning went back to find her to make an observational film about her for the Laurel film. “I went to find her, and no one knew where she was. She’d kind of gone missing. So every night I’d go to this place, in the realms of research, but obviously they kind of thought I was a pervert because I kept going back there. We had to cast somebody else in the end, because she was just nowhere to be seen, but the night before the shoot I was still not giving up, and I was still at Jumbo’s just asking around and I saw a little photograph on the wall of these eyes. And I thought, ‘Who’s that?’ You know, they have a wall of girls, that’s just millions of pictures of girls, and I just spotted her, and I said to the barman, I was like, ‘Who’s that? That’s the girl, that’s the one!’ And by now he knew me really well, and he was like, ‘Oh! That’s Tiger!’ So he gave me her number, and I called her up immediately. It turns out she’s got a PhD, and she’s doing a PhD in paleontology, which is dinosaurs. She’s just like some kind of massive brainbot and a big, big Goldfrapp fan, so she was really pleased to get involved. So I made this little observational film about her and her dancing, so that’s another one to expect.”

I found this story so fabulous that after a little hunting around online I got in touch with Tiger, or Dr Alyssa Bell, who was raised in Tennessee but has lived all over. “As for paleo, I was one of those annoying three-year-olds who can name all the dinosaurs, and I just never grew out of that phase,” Bell says. “I started dancing about five years ago while I was working on my PhD, at first solely as a way to make ends meet (grad school doesn’t pay much), but I quickly fell in love with dancing as a creative and emotional outlet completely unlike anything I encountered in my life as a grad student.”

Bell says the establishment where she dances, an infamous club called Jumbo’s Clown Room, has Goldfrapp’s “Strict Machine” on the jukebox, and she was thrilled to get involved in a character study by Goldfrapp’s girlfriend:

“Lisa was only in town for a few days, and there were only about five of us on ‘the crew’ (including me and Lisa), so everybody did a bit of everything. One day Lisa and Cathy came over to my apartment and we dug through my clothes to figure out the wardrobe, then they went off to the American Apparel outlet to finish things off. The next day we started shooting at the IHOP on Sunset at six or so in the morning. We were very hush-hush about it, hiding the cameras under the tables and stuff. After that we went to a friend of Lisa’s to shoot the swimming-pool scenes, then got a room in a hotel to do the bedroom and shower scenes, followed by another friend’s place for the nighttime stuff — a crazy day. The next morning we met at Jumbo’s to finish up and shoot all of the dancing stuff, and Lisa had to catch a flight back to London that afternoon. It was a hectic, crazy, awesome experience. When Lisa saw my Jeep (I drive a red Wrangler), she loved it and every time we drove from one location to another we put GoPros on the hood, on my head while I was driving, had Christian shooting in the backseat, everything. The whole experience was very fluid and flexible. Someone would say, ‘Ooh, let’s try this!’ and the next minute we were off on a whole new direction.Working with Lisa was great!”

The scientist/dancer ended up getting “Laurel” tattooed on her back to commemorate the event.