There is a lot left to the imagination when you watch one of Ben Charles Edwards’ short films, just as when you admire his photographs. His work is so wicked and deliciously macabre, filled with creative genius and valid social commentary. Nicole (my partner in crime) and I Googled him when a friend of ours mentioned he’d be up for doing an interview and immediately we wanted to know more. Who was this guy? Why was he making shorts about banished pig boys with an insatiable fetish for high heels? And why do all his pictures depict the wrath of mankind with satirical overtones and over saturated colours? Everything he creates is full of drama, of morbid hilariousness, and I really couldn’t imagine what he would be like in person. But I really couldn’t wait to find out.
After trekking it from work, I finally made it to Old Street tube station in Shoreditch, and I found myself thinking about this hub of artistic and talented people that populate this side of London, and how appropriate of a backdrop it is to meet this Ben character. Running up the stairs to Bens flat, I was devastated that my other wing (Nicole) was missing. A little sweaty and out of breath from the long walk/jog, I give a little knock on the door. Expecting to see just Ben and our old friend Burns, who initially introduced us to him, I was surprised when I walked in to find quite a few other bodies there. I was slightly taken aback and a little wary of the video camera in my hands, I half expected a few eye-rolls or awkward looks but I felt none of that. They were all so welcoming and friendly, I felt very much at home.Feeling like I’d stepped into Andy Warhol’s studio from the 70’s, with a larger-than-life artist surrounded by inspiring muses, I was fascinated by the creative buzz in there. There was a big projector screen in the living room used for spontaneous screenings and slide shows; some of Ben’s paintings and crazy objects hung from the walls. Ben graciously glided across the room and introduced himself to me, poured me a gin and tonic and sat a few of us down for a screening of his newest creation ‘Animal Charm’.
Ben began his career as a nightlife and celebrity photographer in London and L.A. After a living in California for a while, he decided to jump back across the pond to his hometown of Woking in Surrey – quite the contrast. The glam and glitz of the Hollywood hills is scarce, or pretty much non-existent, in the dull and dreary Woking town centre. Beautiful people and gorgeous weather were no longer in the agenda. “I love Woking”, he says. “It’s wonderful for what it is but there’s a lot of women in velour tracksuits and worn out trainers.”
It was here that he met the fat girl who would inspire his short film ‘The Town that Boars Me’. People watching, sitting on a bench in Woking, Ben suddenly saw this huge, 20 stone woman bounce past him in a pink tracksuit. I guess he must have been staring a little too much because she turned around and yelled in that comical cockney accent, “What you looking at? You want a photograph?” Well yes, that’s exactly what Ben wanted and exactly what he got! Still good friends today, Ben took masses of inspiration from the fat girl in pink. “I didn’t even know I wanted to make film, I was quite happy taking silly pictures.” But before he knew it he had met this girl, got inspired by the picture he took of her, and thought, “I need to see you in motion!” And thus he made the transition into filmmaking. The stills were no longer enough, and he co-wrote and directed his first creation in 2008.
Asking Ben where he gets his inspiration from brought out a series of hilarious and fascinating comments. He started by saying he didn’t really know the origins of his ideas, and that’s a fair answer because it is quite an unconscious thing when you’re inspired by something. “As a child, I liked things like ‘The Hilarious House of Frightenstein’,” he reminisces. “I have these memories of ghoulish people and things in the shadows.” He takes a lot of inspiration from his surroundings, the people he hangs around with and the things that he likes, especially music. Ben also has his fair share of small obsessions; it could be an image, a feeling or a particular line in a song. “There’s a Paul Simon song called ‘Call Me Al’ and I was obsessed with it for maybe 2 years, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I get these obsessions with things, this one got so bad I decorated the lyrics down the whole stairwell of the house. I painted over it cause people assumed it was a bit strange!” Strange? Perhaps. But that’s one of the coolest things about Ben. He carries through with whatever is on his mind, as if he needs to see it take shape and form into something that is tangible and visible. A true artist.
Ben has an uncanny ability to look at everyday moments and transform them into something larger than life. He takes simple ideas that you wouldn’t necessarily think twice about and turns them around to mean something profound. For his most recent project, Ben has made a series of short films for the Balenciaga museum in Spain, one of which is called ‘Appetite’ featuring Princess Julia. The moment that sparked his inspiration for this film was when he saw a dirty old man in a café gorging on a plate of greasy sausages and bacon. Any of us would probably just have winced and turned away, but Ben turned this moment into something creative. He juxtaposed the situation by filming a beautiful blonde woman in a gorgeous ball gown going to town on a plate of sausages and bacon in front of her, eating them, rubbing them over her body, seemingly enjoying it. Ben likes to create these contrasts verging on the ridiculous. He likes to push that boundary to make people think. This short film, ‘Appetite’, he explains, came from a mere “..interesting thought.. just a moment” but he has managed to turn it into a piece of art that makes the audience question notions of beauty and stereotypes.
One of Ben’s muses is Al Joshua, who just so happens to be his flat mate and close friend. Al does a lot of Ben’s music but is also a musician in his own right. He is the lead singer and guitarist of the band Orphans & Vandals. Ben describes Al’s music as “somewhere between Tom Waits and Bob Dylan”, and he’s not wrong. On the recurring topic of the evening, inspiration, Al says, “you have to be like a magpie, anything shiny that catches your interest you have to pick up on, its all about chance and instinct.” A little more reserved than Ben, they compliment each other perfectly. They have big plans to do some collaboration and are in the process of writing a synopsis for a feature film called “Set the Thames on Fire.”
Regardless of my prodding, sadly they didn’t want to divulge any information about the feature. I can say, however, that we can expect more of Ben’s signature visual style, but apparently the stories won’t be as crazy as his previous films. Less pigs raping prostitutes and fashion designers killing their competitors and making coats out of their skin. “It’s fun for a short and it’s fun while your young because you get away with that nonsense, but sooner or later I’m going to have to make something that people want to pay attention to.” Well if all this has just been him having fun, imagine what he can be capable of in the future.
Ben talks about his work very passionately and you can really see that he loves what he does. What strikes me the most about Ben, though, is his personality; he is so captivating that it really makes you want to know more. He’s very at ease with himself, very confident. I asked him how he would describe his work in three words and half joking, half not he came out with, “very, very, good!” Obviously he laughed it off afterwards but maintained that, well why would he waste all his time doing it if he didn’t like it? If he saw his work somewhere else he’d think, “fucking hell, that’s good!” And he is exactly right, if you don’t like your own work, why bother?
Ben’s personality, as well as his talent, has gotten him to where he is today. He has gotten so far and knows so many influential people that want to work with him because he is so charismatic and infectious. It’s an exciting prospect to see what he will come up with next, and Little Wing will most definitely be keeping an eye on this guy because he is set for a meteoric rise.
Written and Filmed by: Hana Difrawy
Photography by: Chris James Edwards (iiinside.com)