Movie Review: Pillbox

Pillbox, which refers to a concrete dug in guard post and actual pill box, is a 40 minute music video turned film and Billy Corgan’s latest boundry-breaking artistic project. Corgan is an influential musician, whose great insights have made him a thought leader and a pioneer when it comes to observations on the music industry.

The Smashing Pumpkins front man has come a long way since his band dominated the alternative music scene in the ’90s. Releasing the double album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was a massive undertaking and risk, following in the wake of the critically acclaimed classic, Siamese Dream. While the band has gone through a number of line-up changes and a reinvention, the common denominator has always been Corgan. He released The Future Embrace, a solo album that sought to blend his traditional musical elements with electronica. He also formed a band called Zwan, which delivered a more uplifting rock version of his music. Corgan has made it his mission to evolve with the music industry’s changes, riding the crest without losing his own musical identity while driving his own innovations. For Ogilala, his second solo album under his initials WPC, he’s gone for a more raw and intimate sound.

A pioneer, his music has always been true and incorporated artistic elements to create a multi-sensory exploration and imaginative playground. From the early days of Gish, album art, posters and music videos were always an important artistic expression to accompany any of the band’s releases. His poetic lyrics were inscribed upon archive photos in a CD inlay that could have warranted its own art exhibition in Siamese Dream, and he carried this creative bent into Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, The Aeroplane Flies High, Adore, Machina and beyond. His concept art has always been a welcome aspect, expanding the artist’s universe and inspiring creativity.

Releasing albums for free online for the fans, making his work available in a myriad of formats, re-releasing Smashing Pumpkins albums as all-encompassing remastered deluxe box sets, taking a free-ranging documentary style tour across middle America, opening Zuzu’s teahouse in Chicago, writing Blinking with Fists – a book of poetry, performing the Oceania tour against artful images projected onto a giant orb… Corgan’s artistic temperament is only matched by his innovative, entrepreneurial spirit. Having been an integral part of award-winning music videos like the George Méliès A Trip to the Moon-inspired, Tonight, Tonight, it seemed like only a matter of time before he released a film of his own.

Watch the Pillbox trailer.

Pillbox is a 40 minute psychedelic silent film, which tells the tragic story of a young man (Harry Holmes) sent off to war, against the music from Corgan’s latest album Ogilala. Directed by Linda Strawberry and Billy Corgan, the experimental film moves from black-and-white depictions of a war send-off to spliced archive war footage. Moving onto a psychedelic afterlife party scenario, the lead suffers a number of trials after insulting the king. Meanwhile his sweetheart, waits patiently at home only to receive urgent news of his death. Through spiritual symbolism, gatekeepers, rolling montages and eclectic scenes merging the illustrations of Daria Hlazatova, we get a curious kaleidoscopic depiction of the hero’s spiritual quest.

While non-linear, one gets an overall impression of the journey through title card text and Corgan’s lyrics. The styling is artistic yet camp and stagy as the curious fable plays out against Corgan’s stripped down album turned soundtrack. Listening to the Ogilala album before watching the film makes you realise why he was careful to stay within the same sound channel, keeping a level of continuity to the album and audio-visual experience of Pillbox. Using elements reminiscent of the Tonight, Tonight and Zero music videos, he’s crafted a psychedelic film that operates like an antique store and camera obscura with his poetic lyrics anchoring the story.

Watch the Pill Box Film

Much like a 40 minute music video, the visuals inform the music and vice-versa, creating a wonderful platform for the listener to enjoy the album as a whole. It’s more experiential than entertaining, but manages to fascinate with its careful composition, ever-changing retro style, Wes Anderson appetite and enchanting spiritual component. Corgan has been looking for a way to reinvent his music within the framework of the modern music industry, which has become largely dependent on singles over albums. Perhaps Pillbox is what he’s been building to?

Pillbox is similar to John Carney’s Once, a music romance drama that combined music and film so beautifully that it seemed like the movie was there to market the album. Using the film’s simple narrative and indie spirit, the music suddenly took on more significance and greater intimacy as a busker became acquainted with an immigrant on the streets of Dublin. While not as traditional in terms of narrative and more equally poised, Pillbox could be the first step in trying to rectify the very concept of an album. Taking this fresh approach will hopefully inspire emerging film-makers and musicians to become more co-dependent.