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Chuck Statler: Godfather of the Music Video

July 10, 2017

Chuck Statler behind camera with a gun

By David Roth | Producer for The Lowertown Line

Chuck Statler has been a filmmaking hero of mine since an early age. In 1982, I went to the Uptown Theater and watched a program of his music videos. I had already been exposed to his iconic DEVO videos – I had also been fascinated by screen shots of his work that were reprinted on DEVO’s first album, “Are We Not Men? We Are Devo!”

DEVO's first album inner sleeve
“Are We Not Men? We Are DEVO” inner sleeve

As Statler’s music videos played that night, I was struck by the surrealism, absurdity, and humor in the pieces. The visuals up on the screen depicted what new music and styles were unfolding in America.

I didn’t know that Statler was a resident of Minnesota. They showed a Suicide Commandos video, and I knew that they were a local punk band, and I was also unaware that he had done videos for Madness, The Cars, Elvis Costello, and Nick Lowe, etc.

35 years later I’m producing video pieces for the local arts program, MN Original, and I decide I’d like to do a story on Chuck. I email him asking if he would participate, and he respectfully declines, saying he doesn’t like being on camera. I push a little, and ask him if I could buy him lunch and pitch him an idea. We meet for lunch at Kramarczyk’s deli, and I tell Chuck I would like to tell his story without showing him on camera, and outline a few ideas. The one idea that Chuck likes is the “Clutch Cargo” gag, which involves superimposing a talking mouth over a 2D face. You might remember Conan O’Brien doing this technique a lot. So, finally Chuck agrees.

Clutch Cargo
A screen shot from Saturday morning cartoon “Clutch Cargo.”


I interview Chuck at his house for an hour and a half. I’m pretty stoked as this is one of my childhood heroes telling me cool stories from his past: His early days knowing DEVO, travelling to the UK to film Madness, and meeting Elvis Costello’s manager at the Longhorn bar and getting a video job that way.

DEVO video shoot
DEVO video shoot


Madness video shoot
Madness video shoot


Elvis Costello and the Attractions video shoot
Elvis Costello & The Attractions video shoot


But I also have no clue how I’m going to fill out the visuals of the piece where I have no talking head to rely on.

Two more years pass, and I’m not working for MN Original anymore; now I’m producing for the show The Lowertown Line. We decided it would be fun to delve into Minnesota music history, so I pulled out the audio interview I did with Chuck, and we got to work filling in the visuals.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.


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