Independent film magazine Beneficial Shock! is a riot of colour and a fountain of thought, and we've not really seen anything like it. So we were pretty excited to talk to its editor and co-founder, Gabriel Solomons.
Here's his take on creating in the age of the Internet, and how the holy union of art and film works. Then to his dismay, we forced him to pick just 3 films to recommend.
Q: How did Beneficial Shock! get started and what did you and Phil intend for it to be?
A: Phil and I discussed the initial idea while on the picket line fighting for teacher’s rights back in 2016 — we’re both university lecturers. I was interested in creating a fully illustrated movie magazine and Phil was keen to try his hand at art directing - giving him the opportunity to work with lots of illustrators he admired.
"We wanted the magazine to challenge what a film magazine could look like and also allow illustrators the freedom to have more control over their content - taking a bit more of a lead with the narrative."
Q: How did you come up with the name of the magazine?
A: The name was inspired by an Alfred Hitchcock quote: "I aim to provide the public with beneficial shocks. Civilisation has become so protective that we're no longer able to get our goose bumps instinctively. The only way to remove the numbness and revive our moral equilibrium is to use artificial means to bring about the shock. The best way to achieve that, it seems to me, is through a movie."
We loved this idea of film as a medium to ‘shock’ us out of an everyday malaise, so we wanted the content for the magazine to be surprising, unconventional and daring too!
Q: Since the inception of Beneficial Shock!, the world has seen the rapid growth and emergence of streaming platforms, a global pandemic, and a general decline in moviegoing. Has this affected your relationship to the zine, and the zine’s place in the wider art & film industry?
A: Yes the world has changed a lot, and the way people engage with films naturally changes too - but as with the rise of e-books, which lots of people thought would kill off printed books, we believe there’s room for lots of ways to watch movies.
It’s sad that people are going to cinemas less, but the most important thing is that people are watching movies and engaging with stories. So whether that’s on a tablet, on a phone, a VR headset or in the cinema, movies will continue to weave their magic on us. I think the pressure on the industry as a result of Covid has forced people to come up with new and innovative ways of engaging with audiences, so it’s great to see the resurgence of things like drive-in movie theatres, rooftop screenings, and immersive experiences like Secret Cinema utilising new technologies to push cinema forwards.
All of this makes us more excited about the future and motivates us to see how we can be a part of this evolution.
Q: The mag feels like a natural yet kinky marriage between design and cinema. It has a very distinct aesthetic, where does that come from?
A: Kinky marriage, ha, we like that! Well although the layout changes slightly from issue to issue, the main consideration has always been to showcase the illustration as best we can, and so I try to use space and muted colours so the magazine doesn’t feel too crowded.
There are so many different illustrative styles in every issue so I always felt it was important for the design to be minimal rather than busy. I also love typography, so I choose a different featured typeface for each issue to use as headlines. Not something everyone would notice necessarily, but something I as a designer enjoy working with.
Q: Illustrations seem to take center stage in Beneficial Shock!. How has the art/artists helped you and the writers reimagine or expand the world of film?
A: All of the illustrators we work with have great imaginations and a mature way of thinking through ideas, which is why Phil, as the art director chooses them. This means they often surprise us with how they interpret the words they are given or when they contribute a comic or visual essay.
The same goes for the writers, who are less interested in straightforward review content but rather love exploring a theme or topic with depth and passion. Ultimately this is a labour of love for all involved, so we’d rather people contributing to the magazine do things they are passionate about than us produce yet another populist magazine more interested in selling than innovating.
Q: It’s visual gluttony & debauchery, but there’s also commentary, story-telling and serious stuff like that piece on the Cinematic Big Brother and film censorship. Is Beneficial Shock! basically a new and updated take on film literature? Maybe kinda like Cahiers du Cinema when it began?
A: That’s an interesting comparison! Ironic too, as we’ve just published a piece on the Cinémathèque Française and Cahiers du Cinema in the latest issue and in part, I think we’re fuelled as much by wanting to shake things up as those great French directors were back in the 1950s and 60s.
Ours is probably a bit more of a modest goal in wanting to create interesting, engaging and challenging content that you won’t find anywhere else; exploring the fringes of cinema in exciting visual ways with less compromise and commercial restraint. That means we will include fun stuff alongside serious stuff, weird stuff alongside more well-known stuff - the only real rule is that we’re interested in it and hope others will be too!
Q: In the age of the Internet, you guys decided to create a physical magazine instead of a digital one. Were there any doubts or fears, and how did you get past them?
A: The Internet does what the Internet does, but it can never replicate the physicality of an object, which is something both Phil and I love. I’ve had experience making and publishing magazines for over 20 years, so I knew what to expect from a production side - but the industry has changed loads in that time.
"The Internet does what the Internet does, but it can never replicate the physicality of an object"
The great thing for makers at the moment is the proliferation of shops and online stores such as yourselves dedicated to selling and celebrating independent magazines, which wasn’t the case 20 or even 10 years ago. This helps to build a community of like-minded people that love print and want to see it flourish. This community is generous, and if you can connect with it and realise we’re all in it together - from the makers, the sellers and the buyers - it helps everyone to rise up.
Q: For writers, illustrators and creatives who aspire to publish with Beneficial Shock!, what advice do you have?
A: Just love what you do and work at it. There's a quote by a Beneficial Shock! contributor Zara Wilkins that really helps to sum up our thoughts on this: “You get ‘good’ not just because of what you can do, but how and why. The ‘how and why’ brings the richness and the depth.”
There’s a lot of stuff out there that looks great but lacks depth. We are interested in depth, personality, meaning and a personal voice - so if this is what fuels your creative journey, then you are more likely to sustain a fulfilling career and work with like-minded people that see this in you.
Q: Which issue has been the most challenging to write or publish so far?
A: It’s always the most recent one, as each issue brings with it the challenge of collating all of these different ideas, visual approaches and creative voices into a coherent whole.
Covid obviously made the last two issues particularly challenging, but also easier in some ways as contributors were more accessible online for Zoom chats.
Phil and I have our day jobs, so it’s always a balancing act to dedicate the time needed in ensuring we do a good job with the magazine, and don’t let down all of the great contributors that have devoted so much time and effort to us.
Q: Has creating Beneficial Shock! changed your relationship with film?
A: Yes, definitely. Each time an illustration comes in for an article, it makes me think differently about the films being discussed because it’s someone else’s interpretation. This is the beauty of working with original artwork rather than recognisable photos of the film.
Q: You mentioned you and Phil are both university lecturers. How does that feed into the colourful feast that is Beneficial Shock!?
A: Working with students always keeps you on your toes as you need to be relevant historically and currently - so discussions you have with students about problem-solving, looking for a voice and aiming for originality always makes me think about what I’m doing. It’s great to sometimes use the magazine as a learning tool; showing how collaborations work well, how to tell a story visually and how to take risks.
One of the biggest life lessons for me which I always want to share with students is that if you have an idea to create something of your own - as we did with Beneficial Shock! - don’t think about it, just do it!
Whatever happens, you will learn from the experience and you will have created something that wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for you.
Q: What are your top 3 must-watch films of all time?
A: Yikes, what an awful question to ask! Paris, Texas by Wim Wenders, as it always makes me cry and has been poignant to me at various different times of my life.
The Big Lebowski by the Coen Brothers, as it always makes me laugh and that’s important, and The Station Agent by Tom McCarthy as it’s a perfect film about friendship.
Q: We’ve got to ask, for a designer and visual artist - which filmmaker, do you think, is the gift that keeps on giving?
A: Paul Thomas Anderson. Every one of his films is rich with meaning and significance that requires picking through like a crime scene or archeological dig. The clues are everywhere once you look and this is something all great film-makers understand; that film is interactive at its best - making us ask questions and attempt to understand the world, and ourselves, better.
Q: If you could have dinner with an illustrator dead or alive, who’d that be?
A: For me, it would have to be Bill Watterson, creator of the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes. He managed to smuggle all aspects of life and death into the seemingly simple adventures of a boy and his imaginary furry friend. He’s an intensely private man, so I’m not sure a dinner would ever be possible unless it was on Zoom with the camera and microphone turned off!
Q: What was the last film or TV series you watched and how was it?
A: I watched Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog last night and was blown away by its confidence and maturity in telling a story so beautifully yet with so much tension.
Currently my favourite directors are Campion, Céline Sciamma and Kelly Reichardt - who all have such a strong grasp of powerful story-telling and visual elegance.
I’m not sure what part their being women has to play in how they affect me, but perhaps it’s their female perspective in dealing with relationship dynamics, masculinity and memory. They are each just making brilliant films at the moment.
Q: Lastly, which is your favourite issue of Beneficial Shock!?
A: That’s like asking which of my two children is my favourite!
Beneficial Shock! is available on Wormhole here. Issue 7 is expected to be out in the second half of 2022.