IT SAYS A LOT about Devendra Banhart that his current album Mala features tracks that hymn both late professional skateboarder Keenan Milton and German medieval Christian mystic Saint Hildegard Of Bingen. The latter is the subject of Banhart’s tune, Für Hildegard Von Bingen – a track that showcases the man’s musical evolution from his more esoteric acoustic roots into percussive, DIY electronic pop, and for which he has just released a new mini-movie.
In musical terms, Hildegard is known for her major work, the monophonic Ordo Virtutum. Estimated to have been composed around 1151, Ordo Virtutum is a morality play broken down into five parts, the narrative of which concerns a protagonist who turns away from virtue and is faced by the Devil’s temptations before repenting.
Speculation as to the root of this story has long raged, with suggestions that it related to a real-life situation involving a nun at Hildegard’s convent leaving to take up a new, ill-fated position elsewhere. It is this theme that Devendra loosely returns to in his film, which is directed by Isaiah Seret and features Jodie Smith in the lead.
“In my head there was this little movie, an alternative universe, I guess,” explains Banhart. “Hildegard is sequestered in her cloister, and one day she gets a VHS cassette and it’s the prime era of the MTV VJ, and she just goes wild. ‘That’s it for me,’ she says. ‘That’s how I’m going to get my message across.’ So she escapes the cloister... and becomes a VJ.”
This unlikely plot makes for amusing viewing, the film moving from the solemn to the keenly absurd in just over three minutes. Absorbing it is too. And it leaves us wondering: who is that playing Klaus Nomi?