Barefoot on stage, black silk, white-bleached hair: this is Stelahr. Born in London, raised in Berlin, Stella Franke was nurtured in an environment surrounded by creatives. She started with the cello, mastered the piano, and continued to teach herself the guitar and digital music arrangement. At the age of 15, she performed as a support act for the first time. Today, at the age of 18, she performs as the main act under the name of Stelahr. In the first of our ongoing series The Movies That Made Me, we interview creative individuals on how cinema has shaped and informed their body of work, exploring how film can descend its medium and influence other areas of art, as they ever so often intersect.
What is your favourite film about music? And why?
My first answers would have to be Whiplash. I only watched it recently but it really struck a chord (!) with me. It is one of the most realistic and personally relevant films I’ve seen regarding the internal struggle and obsession that a musician has. I could completely relate to Miles Teller’s character… I think the reason I went from playing classical music to pop music is because you have the freedom not to be like that. Having said that, I would have to say that A Hard Day’s Night is also one of my favourites! It’s just filled with pure joy and some incredibly funny scenes, which always makes me remember that music is about love and enjoyment, not perfection and success.
What do you think is the significance of making a film about a musician and/or what is the motivation behind it for a director or a writer?
There isn’t a straightforward answer to this question… so much depends on the artist who the film is about and also who is making it. Sometimes it can be a hugely enriching thing to watch a film about an artist – you learn so many things about them that you can’t know from the music alone. I always need to find out about the person who made the music, I can’t just listen to the music on its own. One of my favourite examples of that is Heaven Adores You, the documentary about Elliott Smith, which gives you a whole new perspective on him as a person and his music. His ‘image’, if you can even call it that, is barely existent – he just seems like a sad guy playing the guitar and singing soft songs at first glance. But through watching the film you find out that he was actually an incredibly multifaceted artist who started in the punk scene and even dabbled in electronic music. Sometimes it can also be a tool to build an image around someone – the first two Beatles films are a good example of this. The films are great, but they are scripted and clearly written in a way that serves their image.
In what way are films important/relevant to you in connection to your passion for making music? Do you think you’d feel differently about music if film and photography didn’t exist?
Films are hugely important to my creative process! Most of my songs are inspired by films or I have a film of my own running in my head when I write a song. I think the visual arts can add so much to a piece of music – if an artist puts out an incredible music video for a song, for instance, it can change my whole mind about the song completely. Similarly, if I see a great film about a band or artist I didn’t know or like very much before watching it, it can give me an entirely different perspective on their art. For instance, I was never a great fan of Amy Winehouse, until I watched a few documentaries about her. I understood her much better as a person, found points in which we related and what a passionate and true musician she was. I think if film and photography didn’t exist, I would still be obsessed with music – but it would be a lot drier. I have always been nearly equally as interested in the visual output an artist has as their music. It can really elevate someone’s music (however the music has to first be good, you can’t replace the music with a good video).
Has any film directly influenced your music career, whether in a visual sense (image or fashion), or in a musical sense? If so, which one and why?
It’s difficult to choose… I’d say there are a few films that really struck me. Some of my all time favourite films, visually, are Edward Scissorhands (along with almost every other Tim Burton) and Romeo + Juliet. They definitely shaped my style and aesthetic to a high degree. Musically, it is really hard to choose. I think that I have been influenced by a different film for every phase I’ve had. At the beginning it was the Beatles films – I watched them over and over and over. I loved everything about them; the music, the fashion, the humour. I think it is very hard for most musicians not to be influenced by them a bit. There is also a documentary made about the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the Californication era that really influenced me at the time. They had such an energetic and crazy outlook on everything, and that made a huge impression on me. Many films also just have incredible soundtracks as well as amazing fashion… Some of my favourites are Trainspotting, Wir Kinder Vom Bahnhof Zoo and Almost Famous.
If you got to make a film about your own career, what type of film would it be, what would this film look like, and what story would you be wanting to tell?
If I made the film, I would just want to document what I do. I would want to show every side of the creative process, the highs and lows of performing and all the hard work that goes into making things happen. I would just want it to be honest.