Monday, November 27, 2006

Unleashing the Animal Inside

A strange and elaborately constructed world of foggy streets, howling beasts and overwhelming desire is the setting for TV on the Radio's crazy-good single, "Wolf Like Me."

VIDEO: "Wolf Like Me" directed by Jon Watts

For a band as epic and art-rock serious as TV on the Radio, one expects equally emotionally transcendent videos. But director Jon Watts approaches "Wolf Like Me," the best song from TVOTR 2006 masterpiece, Return to Cookie Mountain, with a dramatic story that is equal parts romance, horror and comedy.

Beginning with an ode to the drudgery of modern times with images of factories and ticking clocks, the director then sets the video in a pseudo-nostalgic world that is at once timeless and distinctly present-day. Filmed in a serious black-and-white silent era style, the video also features bursts of vibrant 80's color with the band emerging at one point dressed straight out of a Michael Jackson video (in fact much of the video can be seen as a reference to a combination of MJ’s “Thriller” and “Beat It”). The opening subtitles layered with the flashback recall the romantic classic Hiroshima, Mon Amour, but the dialogue itself is rather silly. At every turn the gritty mood is undercut by humor and kitsch, mirroring the themes of the song itself.

Our protagonist is aching over a lost love, and in the heat of his feeling he is determined to win her back. Yet it is clear that he barely knows her (referenced by the surface depth of their one conversation), and that she may often be with other men. Despite this he rushes into a sleazy bar literally glowing with passion; he spots her across the room and unable to control the biological desire within each other any longer, they converge in dance. But as the cheeky inter-titles reveal, "biology" also means the survival of the fittest, and thus he is thrown out of the club by a bigger, stronger man seen earlier with his girl.

As he lays outside in his pain, he is perhaps even more enlivened by his desire. His love follows him outside and begins to caress him out of his hurting. As her hand moves down his body, he literally starts his descent into animal-hood. The sexual is directly tied to the animal here, but the animal itself is a goofy looking beast that is neither ferocious nor entirely lovable. It is not something to be feared, and yet it is not something we can fully embrace either. As the band itself puts it, to give in to our physical desire is "the bite that binds, the gift that gives."

But despite the seeming negative connotations of a "bite that binds," the band, here, is embracing those animalistic tendencies within. They themselves turn into werewolves, becoming the "hideous thing inside" they sing of. It is precisely this nature within us that allows the production of such beauty like this song; music becomes an example of the power of "howling."

And in loving our human nature, we can achieve a closeness with each other that is far superior to the denial of lust, passion, and anger and even love itself, which permeates modern living and morality. The final inter-title, which simply reads, "so yeah, we're werewolves," is a simple, ironic, yet defiant statement. No matter what the seeming cost, we will never give up our animal instincts, we will howl forever.

In the end, despite the cheeky humour and irony of the video, TV on the Radio actually do end up with a huge, dramatic work of art. And though with a song this powerful we may have expected as much, by bringing his own unique touch, Jon Watts exceeds those expectations smashingly.

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Depth of Focus Videographies: Radiohead / Bjork / Michael Jackson / Bowie