ABOVE: KEATON HENSON. PHOTO COURTESY OF SOPHIE HARRIS-TAYLOR.
As of 2014, the average shot length in an English language film was two and a half seconds. In 1930, that number was nearly five times greater at 12 seconds. While there are various causes to which one can attribute this shift, the fragmentary urge seems to align with a contemporary condition: the itch to reach for a device in a solitary moment; opening window upon window, tab upon tab; mindless scrolling and double-tapping; a phone always on the table, its promise of elsewhere in the periphery. Taking an unflinching look at one another, without disturbance, feels rare and demanding.
Albeit trying to achieve, “craving stillness” within this environment is a relatable sentiment, and one that English musician Keaton Henson shares. His new music video for “No Witnesses” offers respite from the norm in its format—it’s largely one shot—and for that very reason it’s a challenge: under the direction of Will Williamson and before the lens of Will Hanke, one watches the musician emotionally bare, sitting in the backseat of a car on an open road. A plume of smoke (of which he is the implied cause) rises in his wake.
The track itself, the fifth on Henson’s recently released album Kindly Now (Play It Again Sam), sets a melancholy tone, with Henson’s voice nearly quivering as he begins, “You said one day I would catch a break / But said it like it was the flu / You said one day I would celebrate / The day I fell in love with you.” This act of lyrical (and visual) openness, and living under the gaze of those who admire his music, doesn’t come easily to Henson. He finds himself wrestling with the blanket of inevitable attention.
“I have found myself both struggling [with] and fascinated by the effect this has on one’s life, relationships, and mental state,” he tells us. “The main effect being that one can become tricked into thinking that if something is not heard or seen, it wasn’t worth doing. If there were no witnesses, no crime occurred,” he continues. “[‘No Witnesses’ is a] portrait of me with no filters of performance or disguise. I can attest that it is an honest moment in a bizarre situation, as much of my life can be.”
At its close, “No Witnesses” is rewarding; the light warms, a curve in the road offers a change of scenery, and being present for Henson’s experience offers a sense of intimacy. For him it was cathartic, too: “It’s a very simple thing, but the song means very much to me, and I felt I needed to set something on fire somewhere beautiful before I could lay it to rest.”
KINDLY NOW (PLAY IT AGAIN SAM) IS OUT NOW. FOR MORE ON KEATON HENSON, VISIT HIS FACEBOOK.