Paws up, monsters, because the barrier around Lady Gaga’s life is coming down.
After nearly a decade of redefining contemporary pop music — and, for that matter, celebrity culture — the 31-year-old is giving fans an intimate peek behind the sequins, shoulder pads, and disco sticks that catapulted her to international stardom back in 2008, teaming with Me @ the Zoo filmmaker Chris Moukarbel to craft an eye-opening documentary about her struggles with fame, loneliness, chronic pain, and her evolution as an artist during the recording sessions for Joanne, her most personal album yet that carries on the spiritual legacy of her late aunt, whose death in 1974 at age 19 catalyzed a period of “intergenerational pain,” as Gaga describes it, that lingered over her family as the years went on. The resulting album — and the film built around it — is rife with reflections and odes to memory and resilience, ushering in a new era of fresh sounds and unique fashions starkly contrasted with Gaga’s previous outputs.
“[You will see] a woman who’s an artist, creates all day, thinks all day, and also has the experiences [as] both an artist and a celebrity. Those two things collide for me, and you’ll see how they’re conflicted,” Gaga tells EW, additionally noting that she’s currently working on a new album. “I am 100 percent at my lowest common denominator. Nobody [is] explaining what I am or putting a label on me as a female artist in this film. That’s what this documentary is about.”
“Gaga was really supportive of the creative process and I felt like she wanted to give me the space as a filmmaker to make something that I believed in,” Moukarbel adds. “The one thing I said to her early on was that I would be her shadow and would shoot everything I saw, but that I wasn’t interested in [making] an exposé. I just wanted to be there as her life unfurled and create a portrait of her interior world.”
Gaga: Five Foot Two will have its world premiere as part of the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival next Friday, Sept. 8, before its Netflix launch on Sept. 22. Read on for more secrets about the film, as told by Moukarbel and the Lady herself.
Filming began in June 2016, and mostly captured the creation of the ‘Joanne’ era
GAGA: “This was a true documentary made of my life, meaning I gave everyone access to what I wanted everyone to have access to. I decided what they could and could not film and [what could] be in the movie. I’m excited for people to see it, but it’s not intended to lay a framework for anything. It’s intended just to be true and honest.”
MOUKARBEL: “I started shooting casually last June [when Gaga finished writing Joanne]. I started rolling as soon as I walked through the door. She was very friendly and also told me right away that she wasn’t going to do anything special. She would just be getting ready to go to the studio and I was welcome to tag along. That whole first day ended up as the first scene of the film. I really didn’t expect that at all. The film follows her through her creative process in writing the record Joanne. We see her shooting American Horror Story and coping with some heavy personal issues including chronic body pain that she’s been dealing with for five years. We’re also alongside her as she prepares for the Super Bowl halftime show.”
Gaga’s planned documentary with Terry Richardson has no relation to this project
Prior to Artpop‘s 2013 release, on Christmas Day in 2012, Gaga announced that she would collaborate with the notorious photographer on a nonfiction film about her life, the creation of the album, and her relationship with her fans. Moukarbel stresses that this film is a completely fresh project, and no ties exist to previous plans for a documentary. “It was really important to both of us that this was a completely new project, separate from anything she had done before,” he explains. “This film is a frame around a very specific time in her life. That was the hardest part! How do you compress such an enormous life into 100 minutes of film? There were dozens of ways to approach it and I realized quickly that I had to focus on the present moment. She does more in a day than most people do in a year, so it was about limiting the scope to a specific window of time.”
The film unfolds through the eyes of her close friends
GAGA: “It really and truly is my life, but as made in a documentary by friends who simply wish to show the world a look into who they know me to be. It’s really for art’s sake. You know me; I’m not only a ‘making the money’ kind of girl. For me, doing things with people that I love is important. The filmmakers are my friends, and I believe in them as artists, and I was happy to have them create [this movie.]”
MOUKARBEL: “There were some things that she felt strongly needed to be included and she had a clear vision as to how to represent these aspects of her life. One of those story lines is her chronic body pain. It was very important that we represented this experience in a way that could be helpful to other people that might be struggling with chronic pain. She was also generally sensitive to the perceptions of young women and girls. Her role as an influential woman is something she took really seriously.”
GAGA: “It’s my gay friends [in this movie]. They see me and love me in a very special way, and yet they know me through my relationships, through my family, through my business, in every aspect. No matter what they see me go through in my life, they still have the ability to lift me up, and that is what I’m so grateful for.”
We might see how the ‘Artpop’ era played a role in shaping Gaga’s approach to ‘Joanne’
The official TIFF synopsis indicates the film “follows the artist as she recovers from the mixed reviews that greeted her Artpop album and faces deadlines to deliver its 2016 follow-up, Joanne,” noting that she’s “in a reflective mood, looking back on her dazzling flurry of work and image shifts, and trying to find a new definition for herself.” Though Artpop contained one of the biggest hits of Gaga’s career, “Applause,” and has sold around 800,000 copies in the U.S. alone since its debut (hardly a small feat in a market where streams dominate physical sales), critical reception was lukewarm. The aftereffects of the album’s release could play a large part in setting the stage for Gaga: Five Foot Two and its chronicling of Gaga’s search for a new creative voice on the rock-influenced Joanne, named after Gaga’s late aunt, who died from lupus-related causes in 1974.
GAGA: [Responding to a question about Artpop‘s inclusion in the film]: “You have to be sure about who and what you are, and have that be the most important thing. If every time somebody has a comment about what to do or makes a statement about your work, if you shift as if the wind were blowing, you have no perspective or spinal cord as an artist. Every single one of my albums, no matter if they were received with critical acclaim, commercial acclaim, or artistic acclaim, [after the release] I plant my feet further into myself, and that is what I believe to be honorable as an artist. You fall on the sword always. It’s your work, and when I make my work, there’s a reason and I think about it and I love it, and that’s what matters.”
Moukarbel shot in vérité style and didn’t conduct interviews with people close to Gaga
Though music documentaries typically unfold with commentary from people close to the subjects’ lives, Moukarbel felt it important to limit the number of voices making observations about Gaga’s life in an effort to preserve the natural, organic feeling of the film — though her father, Joe Germanotta, and Florence Welch, who features on Joanne cut “Hey Girl,” are in the film.
MOUKARBEL: “Gaga has created an extraordinary life through force of her own personality but when you’re inside her world you’re immediately struck with how laid-back and familial she actually is. She’s warm and genuinely interested in the people around her. I approached the film in a vérité style. That way I could focus on Gaga and her experiences so the viewer gets a sense of the world through her eyes. I didn’t do any interviews with people around her. If they happened to be present while I was shooting, then they might end up in the film, but it was really about her surroundings at that moment. She is incredibly close with her family and they are around her all the time. They have a naturally loving relationship so I hope some of that comes across in the movie.”
The film will explore Gaga’s legacy and evolution as an artist and as a person
GAGA: “[The film is not me taking control of my narrative] more than I have before. When I’ve chosen to wear big shoulder pads and avant-garde clothes back when it wasn’t sexy to do it in 2008, I was doing it because I refuse to let anyone around me tell me what is beautiful about a woman or how a woman should be sexy or how women in the music industry should sell their bodies to be sexy. I’ve always done that.”
MOUKARBEL: “I always got the feeling that part of her creativity comes from an internal struggle. She has an outsized amount of talent and ambition but also needs to have real human connections to be happy. Those needs can often be at odds because one is usually at the expense of the other. She’s definitely fighting for balance. I like to think of this film as a simple portrait of a truly complex person. She’s put herself in such a position of influence and is really thoughtful and hyper aware of that power. One of my personal takeaways is that there is a lot of power in allowing yourself to be vulnerable.”