Thursday, December 21, 2006

The 20 Best Music Videos of 2006

Our week-long look back at the year that was culminates today with the Internet's most definitive listing of 2006's best overall music videos...

The widespread availability of digital camcorders and the arrival of YouTube meant anybody with some talent and six treadmills could make a life-changing music video in 2006. But the sheer amount of footage out there meant that artists had to really step it up to truly stand-out, and our year-end list reflects a heated battle between indie and pop that can be seen as nothing but healthy for the future of the music video as an art form.

We've been talking about some of these videos all year, others we haven't, and still others that we have mentioned with praise in the past have been cut from the final twenty. Essentially this is where we stand as of today, at the very moment that we are posting this list. Certainly if you asked us tomorrow things might be quite different, but regardless this list serves as an overview of the great work being done in music videos, and twenty soaring pieces of evidence that an artist's video is more than just an advertisement for a song - it can be equally, if not more, breathtaking.

20. Barzin "Leaving Time"
- It's a slow building thing, but in it's gradual dissonance it underlines the distance that can build between people who where initially drawn to each other so forcibly by the power of lust and attraction, but grow apart over time. Yet the final longer shots also allow us a more complete look at the beauty of each individual woman (even as they are obscured in the darkness), and there is something to be said for growth in a relationship. Perhaps the loss of that first intimacy is lessened by the knowledge that is gained in the long run; either way it's an unforgettable series of images.

19. El Perro Del Mar "God Knows (You've Got To Give to Get)" - The song is pristine but the video lifts curtains on meanings that previously remained closed behind the beauty of El Perro's one-of-a-kind voice. The attention to detail is astounding, and yet so seemingly simple in construction. It may be a personal story of redemption or a larger comment on the craft of music making; regardless it's one of the more quietly beautiful videos of the year.

18. Arctic Monkeys "When The Sun Goes Down" - It was a good year for the Monkeys. Not only did they release a Grammy-nominated insanely popular debut album, but they produced three top-notch music videos as well, two of which appear on this list. The album is all about the struggles of the working class, but with this first video about a poor young woman on the streets of Sheffield their critique becomes an opera of inequality and suffocating desperation.

17. Prodigy "Mac 10 Handle" - It's a claustrophobic experience filled with a Taxi Driver-esque sense of dread from the opening shots. While it might be easy to say the harmful addictions led to the murder and subsequent hallucinatory paranoia, it seems more obvious that a history of guilt, shame and pain is actually why we find our protagonist engulfed in drugs and alcohol. The stabbing of the bloody couch is a chilling visualization of the mental anguish that accompanies the many consequences of vigilante violence and justice.

16. Hot Chip "Over and Over" - This is not only the most fun and hilarious video of the year, it also happens to be a particularly insightful look at the tailor-made nature of typical music videos. The critique is mostly tongue-in-cheek but it does make us question how many of the fans in that K-Fed video where real, and how many where computer generated.

15. Bonnie "Prince" Billy "Cursed Sleep"
- Will Oldham once again shines as an actor, but the real power of this video lies in the dramatic narrative. A study of love, jealousy and freedom it grows to a frightful conclusion that requires multiple views to fully comprehend.

14. Thom Yorke "Harrowdown Hill"
- We all have a hand in both the creative and destructive actions of the world, and in this Yorke finds both hope and drowning sorrow. But in our continued collective resistance and seeking of the truth we can overcome fear through sheer power - "there are too many of us."

13. Gnarls Barkley "Crazy" - In all the discussion of the soul-baring greatness of Cee-Lo's vocals and the hypnotic production of Danger Mouse not much is ever said about the unique lyrical themes that Gnarls' is delving into here in a pop song. The Rorshach test effect of the video grandly enhances the split personality of the track, emphasizing the mental struggles that Cee-Lo is exhuming - a mixture of self-doubt, nostalgia and paranoia. Now we understand where that gorgeously pained falsetto is coming from.

12. Guillemots "Made Up Love Song #43" - One of the more over-looked bands of 2006, this gorgeous single is further complicated by the dreamy video. What upon first listen seemed to be a realization of denied love now seems less certainly positive. The final lone piano on the beach now sounds as if it's coming down from a high, the type of high one might only experience in the mind, in memory - which is often the most powerful kind.

11. Christina Aguilera “Hurt” - Among the more visually sweeping videos of the year, Aguilera and director Floria Sigismondi also accomplish what is rare in music video – they show and tell us a gripping story. Using multiple old-school film genres and styles to heighten the impact of the memories we see on the screen, Sigismondi underlines the narrative with references to Aguilera’s own celebrity status. It’s this pairing of high-drama with the soul-shattering voice of the pop star that is most affecting throughout. Yet it’s the final sequence, moving quickly from a mid-level shot to an extreme close-up on the singer’s beautifully shattered expression that secures the emotional weight of this work.

10. My Chemical Romance “Welcome to the Black Parade” – Spilling the ink of Dr. Caligari and Persona all over sheets of Queen-like epic posing, what emerges is one pitch-black rebellious mess of haunting imagery, high-strung emotional impact and pop video at it’s best. The social critique is evident but the artistic touches are perhaps more subtle, from shot to shot there is so much going on in this video, and one can’t help but applaud the sheer depth with which it attacks its’ subject matter.

9. OK Go “Here It Goes Again”
– This video will never be as cool as it was the first time you stumbled upon it through YouTube, but it remains one of the more creative and simple applications of the music video form in years. What other video this year inspired thousands of highly-uncoordinated indie-rock fans to actually try and dance to music, even if it was on crazy dangerous treadmills? For that alone it deserves some recognition, the subsequent Internet revolution that it seemed to spark is just gravy.

8. Arctic Monkeys “Leave Before the Lights Come On”
– When the lights do come on the seemingly suicidal jumper that Paddy Constantine heroically rescues is in fact a desperately lonely woman looking for love in all the wrong places and ways. But his violent reactions to her annoying pursuit are almost equally disturbing, and so director John Hardwick paints a humorous yet thought-provoking portrait of the distance, fear and miscommunication that exists between people today.

7. The Streets “Prangin’ Out” – Mike Skinner is engulfed in nightmares of addiction and vice represented through the vibrant horror of a red-rum hotel a la The Shining in this trance-inducing video. The camera only stops briefly as it cascades and floats around corners and through doorways, creating an ominous sense of presence and mystery that leaves one guessing right up until the final disturbing scene.

6. Justin Timberlake “My Love”
– For the most infectious beat of the year the directors create one of the more addictive videos of 2006 and among the best mainstream dance videos in years. Not since Michael Jackson’s heyday have I spent so many hours in front of the screen trying to meticulously copy an artist’s particular dance (I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that), but thus is the power of this black and white minimalist video. Yet more than JT and his back-up dancers it’s the flying love-notes, the wonderfully spinning final shot and the constant juxtaposition of lust and love throughout - between serenade and seduction, dance and sex, flying rubber bands and cellos – that captures the hypnotic dualism of this street-ready ballad so perfectly.

5. M. Ward "Chinese Translation" - The old-world folksy brilliance of M. Ward is brought delightfully to life with this painstakingly animated video. In the story of the young man who goes looking for answers but instead finds more people with questions, the video reveals the way in which we are all part of larger cycles of life. And in the end it's clear that the actual answers to our heart's questions are right where Ward's most famous predecessor said they'd be - blowin' in the wind.

4. Emily Haines “Dr. Blind” – It’s one of the more frightening scenes imaginable; being stuck all alone in a supermarket under the shadows of sale aisles and greed-inducing consumerism. It’s the type of thing that could lead one to a medicated drug-addiction - and that’s precisely what’s being battled in this dark, brooding and elegiac work. The human dominoes are sublime.

3. Juvenile “Get Ya Hustle On” – Juvenile wants us to forcefully see what the mishandling of Katrina really means for the people still living in the city. Beginning with high-pitched strings and an angelic porcelain statue, in the next minute it becomes immediately clear that there are no saints marching in the streets of New Orleans. Instead there is a desperate scavenger-like mentality that permeates the air left in the wake of America’s hyper-capitalist dreams.

2. I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness “The Owl”
– This brilliant video subtly develops a complex world of jailed emotions and growing terror from the inside out. The animation is startling, beautifully detailed and yet so simple in its use of colors and sharp lines. The focus on the crow’s dilated pupils is a masterstroke, emphasizing the emotion from the opening shots while echoing the horror-flick soundtrack of the song. Yet it’s clear that what we fear is not just the owl, but also the unknown – the external light towards which the crow is flying. And thus we have an existential crisis on our hands that makes for the most suspenseful video of the year.

1. Mew “Special” - Though this video was originally released in 2005, Mew’s glorious new album was not available in the U.S. until 2006, so we’re keeping it right at the top of our list. This stunning treatise on the state of the modern romance is both transcendent and kitschy, reflecting the stirring power of Mew’s music itself. Beautifully shot and overzealously performed in black and white hues that recall Antonioni and B-grade horror in the same breathe – this is one of the most unforgettable collisions of love, fear, music and video, that you are likely to see this or any year.

Buy it at Insound!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Ten Worst Music Videos of the Year

Though a great music video makes its' worth known without any comparison, it's often helpful to take a look at what doesn't work in order to better appreciate what does. So here's a list of some of the things that didn't work in music videos this year, and some things that where just plain awful...

(We refuse to post all these video atrocities on this site, though some of them have to be seen to be believed...the rest can be found quite easily on YouTube)

10. Snoop Dogg feat. R. Kelly "That's That Shit"
While the song itself is a rather lyrically typical (though the beat is great) jaunt through the opulence of these multi-millionare's daily life, the video is an insipidly annoying affair that reminds us of how ridiculous it is that these guys actually take themselves seriously. But nothing is quite as stupid as the consistent images of beautiful women covered in chainmail from head to toe, I mean is that supposed to be hot? It just makes me want to watch Monty Python more than anything. Which is kind of hot I guess...

9. Paris Hilton "Stars Are Blind"
This song isn't half-bad, I'll even admit I've caught myself singing it alone in the car on a number of occasions. And perhaps it was unfair to expect anything more from the video than what we get, but for such a feel-good tune the video should be a lot more fun. I mean yes it's kind of exciting to watch Paris dance around provacatively for a while, but pretty soon it all starts feeling like an Abercrombie or Gucci ad-campaign except the only thing being sold is Paris herself - which we've all seen countless times before. Plus, Chris Isaak already made this video like 10 years ago.

8. James Blunt "You're Beautiful"
Alright so we get it, Mr. Blunt is baring his soul, he has lost a part of himself, he is naked in the cold without his love etc. etc. But could it be anymore, err, blunt? Plus I get the feeling this is supposed to be sexy in some way, but come on James, you might have some pretty blue eyes but no one's mistaking you for D'Angelo.

7. Red Hot Chilli Peppers "Tell Me Baby"
Viewer or fan-made videos have the potential to be really affective and fun (take Tilly and the Wall or Junior Senior for example), and in 2006 they where all the rage. So what is it about this modestly made video that sucks so hard? Well it's the fact that it's a fake; it's a pseudo attempt at uplifting the spirits and hopes of a number of failed artists but in actuality it's a glorified tribute to the "greatness" of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. And on top of that it's actually quite depressing when you realize that most of these people are far past any real hope of ever making it, instead they are forced to appear in masturbatory RHCP videos just to get by.

6. Kevin Federline "Lose Control"
Didn't this guy woo Britney Spears with his amazing back-up dancing moves? I mean he's less convincing in this role than the one he plays in real life, though he's trying even harder here to seem authentically badass (he plays craps in clubs dude!). It's also fairly clear that Mr. Federline wasn't getting any love from Ms. Spears bank account when he made this piece (the sets leave something to be desired). But it's his pathetic faux-Justin Timberlake outfits that just blatantly remind us that he was always just a stand-in anyways.

5. Trace Adkins "HonkyTonk Badonkadonk"
Honestly we could have picked any of Mr. Adkins 2006 (correction: this video was actually released in 2005, but it's so bad we don't feel like changing the list) videos to put on here, but something about this one just stood out...and it's probably the thought of Trace Adkins holding a huge cigar while gyrating from side to side to techno-country surrounded by rollerskating girls in hotpants. The concept didn't work the first 100 times it was used by the likes of Sir Mix-A-Lot and others, but it acquires strange new depths of absurdity in the hands of Trace Adkins and his big black cowboy hat (especially the last ten seconds when he has that sleezy grimace on his face and admits the only reason he makes music is for the "badonkadonk" while squeezing an imaginary girl in front of him).

4. Janet Jackson feat. Nelly "Call On Me"
Ok Go taught us that you don't need to spend a ton of money to make an innovative and captivating music video. Obviously Janet Jackson and Hype Williams didn't get that memo. This 3 million dollar project looks like a cross between the The Cell (and is almost equally as frightening - Nelly on a pirate ship!?) and Janet's older brother's "Black and White" video. I can even remember Ms. Super Bowl's very own "Runaway" with fondness in comparison; I guess they just don't make super-glossy fantasy videos like they used to.

3. Fergie "London Bridge"
The song and Fergie herself are already amazingly difficult to digest, but nothing can really prepare you for the gagg-affect of watching "The Duchess" rub-up against some of the Queen's top-hatted guards. It's not that there's anything wrong with rejecting the social and sexual frigidity of our collective cultures, but there's no real focus to this critique at all. Moreover, the singer's entire image and delivery is intentionally childish and thus supposedly coquettish; but instead this track with paper-thin metaphors and overt visual imagery actually has strong appeal among children - and who better to be lowering london bridges than my 12 year-old cousin?! Though the beat rips off Gwen Stefani rather blatantly, Fergie herself doesn't have an ounce of the L.A.M.B girl's creativity in song or video.

2. Ying Yang Twins feat. Wyclef Jean "Dangerous"

We could talk forever about how terribly misogynistic and offensive the entire career of the Ying Yang Twins has been, but it's almost equally important to discuss how silly they are. Anyone who witnessed their sublime appearance on MTV Cribs can attest to the hilarity of their lifestyle, but even just one look at their bobbing heads in the opening seconds of the song is enough to make me laugh (and the haunting precense of Little John never helps). Then we get vampire women, tigers and flame-throwers all dancing around these guys just so Wyclef can steal their car? I mean this video is ridiculous!

1. David Hasselhoff "Jump In My Car"

It was a tough decision deciding whether or not this belonged on the list of "most fun" or "worst" music videos of the year. It comes down to whether or not you actually think 'Hoff believes in the image he represents here, I'm not sure if he does, but it's a lot funnier if you imagine he does. I swear this is a 2006 release, even if it looks late 70's to early 80's, and you can tell by the rampant referencing that attempts to capitalize on Mr. Baywatch's formidable past "achievements." Regardless, at the end of the day, we're all a little dumber for having watched this video...and that's why I finally decided if I had to watch it, I'd better make everyone else watch it too...

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Ten Most Fun Videos of 2006

Though we may tend to harp on the super-serious side of making music videos, we here at Obtusity watch hundreds of hours of YouTube a week, so in our search for relevant social critique we naturally come across a lot of fun stuff as well. So today we share with you ten of the most addictive, silly, dumbest and plain infectious videos we came across in the past year...

10. Pink "Stupid Girls"

This is only funny because it's true. Pink doesn't just make fun of society and every other pop star around, she makes fun of herself most of all (intentionally and unintentionally).

9. Lasse Gjertsen "Amateur"

I don't even know if this qualifies as a music video but the editing is so cool and amazing that I had to post it.

8. Lily Allen "Smile"

Diarrhea never gets old. And either does watching an asshole get beat-up.

7. CSS "Let's Make Love and Listen to Death From Above"

What's so creepily brilliant about this is how un-sexy it is. Apart from the spooky noises and elephant masks (so that's the DFA they are referencing!), it's the way in which the lead singer manages to somehow look extremely bored and somewhat coquettish at the same time. Though I have to admit I hope for a ground-shaking earthquake whenever I walk by a pretty girl now.

6. Muse "Knights of Cydonia"

This is an epic comedic event of a video. Favorite sequence: super-serious mustached cowboy, bald eagle then beautiful blonde...cue American flag!

5. Weird "Al" Jankovic "White & Nerdy"

Leave it to a 48 year-old icon to come up with the most on-point satire of modern youth culture in ages. But then again, he's the one whose been doing it so well for ages.

4. Deichkind "Ich Betaube Mich"

I would have never seen this video if it hadn't been for antville, so I've got to thank the wonderful members of that site for giving me this opportunity to pee my pants. There's a seering critique of our culture somewhere in there as well, but all I've got to say is, 100% positive!

3. Bow Wow feat. Chris Brown "Shortie Like Mine"

Finally hip-hop makes it cool to spend your life on peer-to-peer networks! Well except none of us are actually talking to beautiful people all over the world, unless of course you count those fake hot girls who send you messages and then turn out to be like solicitors for some strange money-lending website. Umm.

2. OK Go "Here It Goes Again"

The first million times I watched this I never realized how hideously ugly some of those outfits are, I mean a hot pink shirt and white shoes would be painful enough, but where does one acquire a vest on that level of grossness? It doesn't help that the guy looks like the love-child of Paul Shaffer and Ringo. Still a cool video though.

1. Hot Chip "Over and Over"

The Warning was the album on which Hot Chip supposedly got "serious" for the first time, but thankfully they kept their sense of humour when they went to make the video for "Over and Over." It's a completely off-the-wall masterpiece (those red sunglasses rock, btw), but it wouldn't be half as fun if the song was so goddamn good itself.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Best Hip-Hop Video of 2006

In kicking off our year-end list we revisit one of the most harrowing and brave productions of the year, Juvenile's "Get Ya Hustle On"...Next Monday we continue our recap with the "Funniest Music Video of 2006"...

VIDEO: “Get Ya Hustle On” directed by Ben Mor

What this monumental video depicts is not the unreal city in the imagination of the poet; it’s a present-day real-life wasteland.

In Killer Mike’s epic tirade “That’s Life,” from his 2006 mixtape I Pledge Allegiance to the Grind, he raps “all the kids got is us” – going on to claim that hip-hop stars where the only major celebrity group to actually come down and help the Katrina victims in New Orleans.

Juvenile wants us to forcefully see what this concept really means. Beginning with high-pitched strings and an angelic porcelain statue, in the next minute it becomes immediately clear that there are no saints marching in the streets of New Orleans.

Instead we see three children, rummaging through the ruins of this forgotten place, finding masks of our government officials faces as toys. School buses are smashed into bridges, horses pull cars along ragged streets and payphones stand disconnected outside crushed homes. The three boys walk down the street as if approaching Oz, but their playground is definitely not lined with gold bricks or emerald castles.

Some of these images may be staged for dramatic effect (most of them aren’t), but that doesn’t lessen the real-world impact that they have. When the kids put on George Bush and Dick Cheney masks they actually become those vicious people, picking apart a dying town, while still representing a commentary on the impoverished upbringing of children in this environment.

As they stand upon the bridge, which we imagine is barely standing amidst what looks like the fall-out of an earthquake, it is especially disturbing to see the smirks on the faces of those paper-faces. They toss what they have gathered from the city over the edge, and with little parachutes on each item the image is perfectly reminiscent of the falling aid packages that the U.S. dropped on Iraq, but failed to ever really utilize in New Orleans.

It’s as if the government has sucked the town dry – in their ultra-capitalist drive for world domination they made millions off this major U.S. coastal city, and yet there was nothing to give back. So faced with empty water bottles and dusty cans, “here is no water but only rock,” what can one do but “get ya hustle on?”

The video is not filmed with a huge budget or with an “artsy” motif; it’s got the look and feel of a rather typical rap video - authentic and gritty. Which in many ways is a reference to the hustle that the rappers themselves are forced into by society. Juvenile is completely aware of the irony of making money off of Katrina himself with this track, and it is precisely this criticism that he is mocking. As the camera spins around a mob of rappers during the middle of the video he almost dares you to claim this is simply a money-grab. But he won’t say it isn’t either, as the chorus suggests, civilization has gone back to the bare minimums of survival of the fittest. The cycle is endless like that, because if the government is hustling the people than the people are pushed into hustling each other; making money anyway they can.

Juvenile talks about the crime and depravity that has taken over the streets of New Orleans, the scramble to sell cocaine and other drugs, but in his criticism he might as well be talking about thousands of other forgotten cities and neighborhoods across America. Yet he never wants your pity, his tone and style prevents that from ever entering the picture. Instead the huge overturned Escalades and limos (apart from literally “overturning” typical hip-hop imagery) are grandly eloquent symbols of destruction that demand help – not pity.

This is the kind of video that contains shots that stay with you far after the conclusion, heightened by the knowledge that this is an actual place that continues to struggle to survive today. Juvenile and Ben Mor made this video way back in December of last year, but not much has changed in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward. What’s more is that there is little hope for mass change in America, at least the kind of change that we need – “If there were water we should stop and drink/Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think.”

In his stirring critique of our entire consumerist and capitalist culture Juvenile not only succeeds in making an unforgettable social statement, but he has created an unparalleled work of art that stands as one of the best music videos of 2006. This is my standing ovation.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

It's Just The Way That He Sings


The Secret Machines reject the tropes of your typical performance video, instead choosing to focus on the multiple parts and people that come together to create a real night of live music in their video for "Lightning Blue Eyes"...

VIDEO: "Lightning Blue Eyes" directed by Patrick Daughters

What is our first character running from as he emerges from shadow to come upon this modest indie-rock concert?

The question of distinct plot is one that this video begs to be asked, and yet one that it clearly has no intention of answering. Taking cues from Gus Van Sant's elliptical style and free-flowing cinematography, director Patrick Daughters successfully creates the feel of your typical indie concert - utilizing the flowing camera to illuminate perspectives from all corners of the experience.

We begin with the random - one who seems to have aimlessly wandered off the street - but quickly move to other equally compelling characters. The slow zoom on the door, with glimpses of the music slipping out each time it is opened, creates a sense of magnetic attraction - as if all that pass by will be sucked into this bar tonight.

A woman enters the place and the camera follows her as she struts towards the bar to confidently order a drink; it's clear that she knows the place well. Contrasted is the woman who sits on a lonely barstool next to her, occasionally glancing up in the direction of other in feeble hopes of attracting her attention. She nervously checks herself in the mirror and makes her way to the actual concert, but not before one last look over her shoulder at the beautiful woman she is leaving behind.

Van Sant mastered this technique of multiple characters interweaving around one central idea in both Elephant and Last Days. The latter was a film that used music and the power of performance as a central theme, though in a very different context here, it resonates in unison with this scene. It is the rock concert that brings together stagehands, managers, fans, band girlfriends, lonely girls and the band itself in dark light of spontaneous performance.

The environment is masterfully created through subtle character development as well as visual cues. Everything from the initial head-nodding static dancing of the indie-nerds to the fairly empty high-school gym venue is spot-on in representing an aspect of this sub-culture. Furthermore the dress code is intentionally controlled in order to differentiate character types, but it never becomes anything less than natural. The woman at the bar walks backstage in her sultry black dress with confidence because she is one of the band member's girlfriend, and the manager remains calm in his t-shirt and jeans in a moment of potential panic precisely because he is an experienced concert manager.

The heart of the piece, though, lies in the literal "lightning blue eyes" of the barstool woman, who seems to hold in her stare the hopes and fears of an entire lifetime of struggle. And when our initial rebel wanderer is involved in a raucous fight that pushes her out of the euphoria of the music, her face turns pale as if everything is in danger of falling apart. One imagines she came here tonight looking for something to eliminate all the pain of her day, maybe even her entire life.

Yet the next scene is a structured mosh-pit, a spinning procession of dancing audience members, and our girl is lost amidst the crowd - she is enveloped in the energy of the live performance. It's a somewhat surreal scene amidst an otherwise strictly realistic video, and it attempts to recreate the sense of uplifting hypnotic energy that often accompanies a great live show.

But it never lasts forever, it's often just one song, and even when you see those really great shows where the band brings it to each and every note they play - it has a definite endpoint like anything else. It's often rather jarring to be at the end of an experience like that; suddenly disconnected from the blood-rush of the music you can literally feel your feet heavy on the ground sometimes. And in this case our longhaired hero is thrown out of the show, back onto the street, left to wander aimlessly once more.

It's a celebration of the moment, and a lamentation of the short-lived duration of these grand feelings. And yet one could not say that live concerts have no real effect on lives, they are more than simply an excursion or escape from reality. As with any artistic experience they can hold deep meaning, but it is a completely separate and unique meaning than your typical interaction with art.

The video deftly underlines this point, reminding us that what is so inspiring about these shows is that the musicians on stage are experiencing the music simultaneously with the audience; the camera moves without cuts from the fans to the guitarist to the manager to the security guard and then back to the fans. The band are not just creators of the music – they are integral consumers of the event as well, like everyone else. This shared collectivity with the melody and the others around you is what can truly affect a person at a live performance.

It is often an indescribable sense of re-birth, something that is weakly represented in words, but more poignantly realized in the image of taking a new wide-open path at a fresh intersection. It doesn’t matter where he came from, but what we know is this brief six-minute encounter with the music, with the melody of the event, is something palpable that will likely effect where he goes next.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Begining of the End

The spastic rock of the Futureheads becomes the subject of a concentrated look at a certain kind of love, taking the name of the band quite literally in it's vision of the pitfall of idealist notions of marriage...

VIDEO: "Skip to the End" directed by Martin De Thurah

"happy ending, or a broken heart?"

There are in fact very few pop music songs or videos on the subject of marriage. While "love" may be the most popular topic in song, it is rarely spoken of in such blatantly permanent terms as marriage. This institution, and the particular type of life-long union it implies, remains one of the most mysterious, idealistic and well-supported monuments in our culture - filled with lucid imagery and fantastical expectations that carry with them the ultimate dreams of millions of people worldwide.

Martin De Thurah (director of Royskopp's equally gorgeous "What Else Is There?") takes the Futureheads more general fear of relationships and transports it through the visual vocabulary of marriage, presenting familiarities in strange and unsettling ways. The veiled bride, a baby carriage and the wedding night are all present in this psychedelic trip through time, but each symbolizes something slightly different than what they are traditionally associated with.

The two hesitant lovers begin their journey in wide-open fields of barley, but as they move deeper into shadow it's apparent that the snow-capped forest will become a place where ghosts live-on and dreadful fears are realized - far-removed from the rising sun of the initial meadows. The veil that promises innocence is see-through, and cannot hide the realities of the false intimacy of the initial sexual experience. The husband caresses his wife with comically oversized arms, standing yards away from her as her body lays limp and unmoved - the distance between them is emphasized grandly.

And when she closes her eyes to accept his touch her thoughts move elsewhere, to the forthcoming baby carriage and to the myriad of other men who could be standing next to her in her wedding photos. The child promises completeness for the married woman in typical ideology, but De Thurah's baby juts out with the same long grasping arms of the father (perhaps he is still a child as well). Yet she finds herself dancing in joy amidst dreams of her baby and memories of her past (neither of which really involves her husband, instead we are led to believe she is imagining her past lovers or a favorite song here represented by the Futureheads).

The man walks through childlike fantasies of cowboys and Indians, seeing marriage as a battleground in which he will inevitably receive the majority of black eyes, in the process perhaps losing his manhood. Furthermore the children are fearful creatures to him, responsibilities that he may not want. She wants to imagine the two of them growing old together, admiring him as a bitter old man, and yet her fantasy image of him is filled with smoke. And always those floating apparitions.

It's one of the best-filmed videos of the year with the cinematographer creating contrasts between ghostly whites and the blinding sun, dying trees and a colorful child. De Thurah uses the eerie image of the starkly white lone bride itself (why is that such a traditionally chilling concept in literature and film?) to further induce a sense of dread, as well as a series of long shots of the Greek chorus-like watchful band dressed in all black, and he switches from the steady shot to the hand-held at exactly the right moment of climactic tension in the narrative.

The dream, though, begins at the absolute end of the relationship - just as the song suggests - at the funeral of the husband. The wife sits still wearing her wedding gown as her husband's body decays into skeletal remains. The funeral is the other iconic image of our culture, and the juxtaposition of the two in our society has always suggested that if one is the end of life than the other, marriage, must be a beginning to a life. But this marriage was over before it began, as are many.

Yet the clue to the entire video rests in the mysterious presence of the photographer in the dreams. He sneaks out from behind a tree, the same trees that hold the children and the passing ghosts, and later he sets up that other photo shoot for the tentative bride. In many ways he is a constant reminder of the beginning, but more forcefully he is a reminder of how things should be. It is his protruding leg that the husband fears first in his dream, and, after all, it is a human hand that turns a lever to move the swirling black hole and dangles the hypnotic swinging pendulum that plummet them into this nightmare initially.

So who is creating these fears in the soon to be married couple? The idealistic notions of what marriage will be, what it is supposed to be, are in their heads but are born outside. In many ways the singers themselves, wishing to see the future, are only dooming themselves and their characters to a false fate. This is precisely the idea behind the song and the video - to constantly fear failure is to already set oneself up for that very failure. But more than that, in continuing to perpetuate the mythic qualities of marriage and ideal union our society implants fear and self-doubt in people. It creates distance between those who might otherwise be close.

The brilliance of the video is that there is no real evidence that this marriage will actually fail - the ghosts are silly white sheets, the children are caricatures and the lovers have 10-foot long arms! - It’s all a false dream of what might be. It's time to take down the fantasy of marriage, because the ultimate painful consequence is not just a sadly unsatisfying life, but it's represented in that final look between the engaged couple - the number of potentially loving relationships aborted simply out of the fear of not living up to an ideal.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Time to Roll Out

VIDEO: "Runaway Love" directed by Jessy Terrero

"stuck up in the world on her own, forced to think hell is a place called home"

Ludacris is the guy who wrote "What's Yo Fantasy?" and "Area Codes," gave us such memorable lines as "Move bitch, get out the way!" and "Shake your money maker like somebody 'bought to pay ya" and titled an entire album Red Light District. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that one of the most compelling, truthful and uplifting popular rap songs and videos about women in recent memory comes from Mr. "Pimpin' All Over The World" himself.

Yet that is all the more reason to cherish it. Not since Tupac's iconic "Brenda" have we had such an honest hip-hop portrayal of the experience of women in poverty-stricken America. And it doesn't hurt to have the Queen of Hip-hop, Mary J., in the track to add credibility. But it's also clear that Luda and Mary are not just focusing on a single group of women or girls this time, it isn't just African American women in the ignored margins of the country, it's a deep-rooted critique of the entire culture of our paternalistic society. In the images of hundreds of girls who are connected by this common pain, the artists reveal the far-reaching effects of our horribly lopsided culture.

The first episode tells the tale of "Lisa" who is a nine-year old suffering under the sexual abuse of her mom's angry and disturbed boyfriend, who through his presumable charm and denial is able to avoid the wrath of Lisa's mom. The scene recalls Dorothy Allison's popular novel Bastard Out of Carolina which dealt with similar issues of child-abuse and the long-term effects as such. Yet if we learned anything from that book it's that one cannot so easily blame the mother who allows her child to be sexually exploited by a man whom she loves, especially when it is likely that she herself was abused as a child. It is unfair to expect the same women who are suffering under the cycle of abuse to necessarily step-up and halt it.

The tension of the second incident is deftly created by the image of the 10-year old hiding under the bed as her monstrous step-dad tears her room apart searching for her body. To these men the female body, especially the weak and not fully developed female body, represents an outlet for all the self-doubt and guilt they feel in regards to themselves and in many cases their own treatment of women. In Allison's novel it is the fact that the little girl fears her antagonist stepfather that reminds him of the shame of his actions and his entire life for that matter, and so he blames her and thus justifies his next attack. In taking advantage of her body he assumes the role of predator which he begins to beleive is the only avenue of power for him. This same self-pity, the idea of the “suffering” male is what allows others to forgive him, but this video correctly avoids any notions of pity, we see these men for the selfish beasts that they truly are.

All the men in these scenes are pathetic. From the alcoholic step-dad to the drive-by shooters killing little girls, they are all absorbed in a completely separate masculine world of pride and shame - a world that constantly creates 16 year-old rapists like the boy in the final scene, while it ignores an entire half of the human population that is being strangled under its' grip.

These girls are so young and dealing with so much terror, fear and pain that it makes sense when one turns to drugs and sex to overcome a world that is so cold - but what is it that drives a 16 year-old boy to use and lose an 11 year-old girl so easily? What is it that would allow him to simply move on, literally runaway from his responsibility? The irony of the song title is that the women and young girls are almost never able to runaway, they are the ones stuck in the home, stuck with the baby, and stuck all alone while the conquering man moves on to his next prey.

Mary J. Blige and Ludacris are the literal witnesses to these crimes as they walk through this video, and in a sense they are in recognition of their own responsibility to these problems. For one, in helping to create the hyper-surreal dreamland of women, cars and money, which has grown to signify self-worth among young males in America, Ludacris faces a hypocritical dillema. The continued promotion of women as objects that is a staple of your typical Ludacris track cannot be overlooked just because he does one video where there are no scantily-clad females standing in front of "big-wheeled" cars. It is this type of hyper-masculine ideal that leads to the mindset that allows for male sexual violence.

Yet of course the problem is so much deeper than that. You can't blame Ludacris for an entire history of misogyny, an entire society created on the idea that man is more human than woman, that woman are here simply for the enjoyment of men and that it is the woman's responsibility to be mother and lover to every man that wants her. That's why the rapper sings about running away himself; in the face of such an overwhelmingly painful and deep-seated problem one may feel almost helpless.

Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of the video is the way in which it emphasizes the lack of outlets or solutions for these young girls. Mothers and dolls aren't enough, either are 1-800 numbers, friends or even drugs. There are literally thouasands of flyers posted on street walls. Girls sit out on corners watching lonely cars fly-by. The boys are too caught up in their own self-image creation to really care about their own sisters and friends. Love is certainly not solving the issue. So what is it that we can do?

Is it enough too simply open our eyes to this issue? Not really, for the most part we all already know, like Ludacris himself, that the abuse of women is a part of our society and we do little to stop it - more often than not we help promote and sustain it. But what is perhaps most inspiring about this video is the fact that it comes from such a popular source, it's the type of video that will be seen by millions of young kids around the world, and thus it has the capacity for real change.

And for all his internal contradiction, one has to praise Ludacris for making this sort of song and video. Because as much as we harp on the sexual inequality of the entire rap and hip-hop world, a song of this force probably wouldn't be possible in any other genre. Credibility in hip-hop is all about "truth," how "real" one is to the streets. This video is truth, depicting the horror of these experiences with unflinching honesty. As he stands amidst the rainfall of missing children flyers it's clear that this video is Ludacris and Mary J. Blige's own flyer to the world, in rememberance of every hurt and defeated young girl that has suffered too long. Let's hope Ludacris and his fellow superstar rappers use their credibility towards the spreading of more truth like this in the future, and less of that typical misogynistic "fantasy."

More than anything, though, it's the responsibility of every viewer to take the lessons of this video and not simply brush them off as 5 minutes of entertainment with a good beat. When we say art has the power to enact social change, we mean it, but it only works if people have the same faith in the art. The best way to stop the mistreatment of women in our society is to change the way you and the others around you think about the treatment of women - spread the word.

Call For Writers

Obtusity needs more writers.

We believe in the power of art to transform life and inspire greatness. If you do too, and you have strong well-formed opinions, send us a sample copy of something you've written in the recent past - preferably on the subject of pop culture - and we'll take a look at it. We are looking for any and all kinds of contributors, whether you have an interest in music videos or not; we want motivated people working towards illuminating the beauty of all kinds of art in new and exciting ways. We want people who are out to change the world - one essay at a time.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

I Wish That I Knew What I Know Now

Christina Aguilera's beautiful-looking video for "Hurt" is a melodramatic affair full of high emotion and powerful storytelling...

VIDEO: "Hurt" directed by Floria Sigismondi and Christina Aguilera

Everyone's life is chaos, but celebrity life is intentional controlled chaos, a circus.

It's a tent waiting to collapse under any gust of wind; a freak show with a million eyes in the audience. When you're entire career hinges on the love of people whom you don't know, how do you stay connected with those you do?

Yet that's precisely the tightrope walk that we love to watch. We cringe at the personal mistakes of drunken stars out on the town, and yet celebrate their marriages like they where family. We rarely consider celebrities as "real" people, or think about the fact that they where once little girls and boys being raised by un-famous parents mostly in ho-hum modest towns.

Thus is the appeal of the circus for the performer herself, the dream of becoming this larger than life figure who walks on air above - someone who literally escapes reality under the flashbulbs and wide-eyed smiles of an adoring (or hateful) public. But the dilemma is that Christina Aguilera and her character in this video still exist in a real world, and we all know that in the real world all those circus tricks are fake.

Aguilera has made a series of videos (not to mention an entire album) that are dedicated to referencing and reviving historic forms/genres of music and film. This video creates it's sense of enchantment by opening in the black and white newsreel footage of yesteryear, with a traditionally folky ringleader hyping his mundanely amazing performers (all circus's are the same!) over some vaguely old-school foreign music. Yet he doesn't just introduce the tightrope walker, he also mentions a sword-swallower, who in many ways epitomizes the idea of sacrifice for the sake of entertainment.

It's a gorgeously shot and designed video, using everything from soft smoky lighting to Aguilera's Gene Harlow look (which she plays very well) to create a sense of time and place. The sped-up editing and cutting techniques are odes to silent and early sound pictures. There are subtle touches that establish mood as well; like the opening of the "Telegram" that cuts to a shot of Aguilera sitting amongst fallen stars in a stream of light, or the Titanic-esque spinning confusion of her confrontation with her father's death. An entire metaphorical celebrity world is created that is at once timeless, surreal, as well as strikingly poignant. We begin to actually feel bad for the struggle of entertainers.

Yet this isn't just a video aimed at creating pity for Aguilera or her celebrity colleagues, we know that her lifestyle is much different than ours, but we also are reminded here that everyone has parents with whom they are either close or disconnected from. Images of a young girl and her father at the circus and then at home practicing for the future are universally affecting. Whether we never knew them, or they call us everyday, it is rare for a young person to constantly think of their parents. Most of us are too busy dreaming about walking in the clouds to remember who taught us to walk in the first place.

It's often viewed as a sacrifice we have to make, to let go of our familial attachment in order to strive for some amount of personal success. Can we blame Aguilera in this video for becoming enthralled in her fame, loving the atmosphere of the clowns and the jugglers when it is what she has dreamed of since childhood? But what is truly sad is that her father had the same dreams, he was right there with her pushing her towards that goal till the very end.

Most of all it's the pride in his silver-grey eyes and then the subsequent disappointment of being forgotten standing alone in the tent in his dull brown suit (because we of course feel more sympathy for a poor dad than just a mistreated dad). And as Aguilera sings her heart out in the tent, now in a tighter frame (the camera moves closer and closer as the video progresses and gets more emotional - until the final extreme close-up of her crying), she speaks about all the regrets she has that she was never able to convey while he was alive.

Yet Christina knows that it's "dangerous to try and turn back time," and in the brilliant climactic shot in which she spins and spins until she has fallen completely into darkness, we can see where grief and guilt can take us. There's also the implication (through the use of flashbacks and different looks for Christina) that this death happened far before we find Aguilera sitting alone and singing the story in that tent, and that she is yet to overcome it because of the immense amount of guilt she feels in neglecting her father.

There's a fine line between neglecting and idealizing parents, and most of us fail to toe it properly. On the one hand we should call our parents right now (if they are alive and we know who they are) and tell them how much we appreciate them, yet we fear their judgment and see them as the ultimate measure of our worth and on the other hand we blame them for the parts of ourselves we don't really like, or those really horrible times in childhood and adolescence when we felt forgotten. But they are human beings who are understanding and caring - people who, just like us, have the capacity for forgiveness and for making mistakes. Rather than constantly putting people up on some high pedestal, we could create stronger connections if we kept both ourselves and our perceptions of others grounded in the reality of our bonds.

In our constant struggle to impress those we love, we often forget to actually love them.

Buy it at Insound!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Tintern Abbey Revisited

The Maccabees make a fun and moving video about something that we can all identify with: "First Love." But it's also something we rarely understand...

VIDEO: "First Love" directed by Terry Hall

"first love, lost love, only's only love!"

The chalk on the street is evidence of the crime committed. It's evidence of the victim's pain, proof of what has been lost and the impetus to solve the case.

But it isn't a body on the street. It isn't a direct encounter with death but an implication of the feeling. It's a sterile ideal vision of murder and death, one that can be used in children's movies as much as in CSI.

The woman on the pavement in "First Love," who first appears as if a dead body herself, is mistakenly associating the loss of her "first love" with the death of love itself - for her and the others in this video, it is no longer possible to find love, because it has been murdered by "first love".

But they are drawing the chalk outlines themselves - literally outlining their own bodies, kissing their own lip-sticked fists or pressing their own hands into clay in order to recreate the feeling of "first love." Most people encounter this "love" long before they have ever had their first serious relationship. We imagine the ideal relationship as one of doubling, of two people fitting together perfectly to "complete" each other (as the band puts it, "symetricool"). We essentially are in love with ourselves, and seek a partner simply to justify and prove the worthiness of that love.

The hypnotic perfection of "first love" which builds in our minds from the minute our ideal is broken, is an excuse to hold on to childhood fantasy. The Maccabees ask "do you miss home?" and it is precisely this disconnect from the protection of fathers and mothers that initially leads us to hold so dearly to the ideal of a perfect union. We seek to recreate the safety of that environment (or if we've never had it, find it for the first time), a place where we are completely sure that we are loved, and that it is ok to love ourselves.

The first step in moving past the memory of that blissful happiness (which seems more perfect with each passing year) is to recognize that nothing is perfect, and that it's ok. Most people wouldn't even know if they where in a great relationship or not, because they are so caught up in judging it against this one image they have in their minds. There is one scene in the video where we realize that two of these characters are in fact in contact with each other. One of them hides in trunks of cars while the other attempts to force two puzzle pieces together - it's very plausible that they are even thinking of each other when they do this, remembering the initial waves of feeling they had.

The irony that the song illuminates is that even our first relationship ended for some reason, whether it was because it could never live up to our dreams our some unstoppable natural disaster has separated us - what is clear is that we must accept the imperfection of existence and embrace it.

And what the video shows us is that we are very capable of this, and in fact, we do it all the time. Notice the way in which you feel for these characters, at least one of them speaks to you in some way, and you understand what they are going through even as you laugh at their extremism. We love them because they are human, just like us, just like everyone. And there is nothing to say that a lemon and a cactus can't stand next to each other (just one of the series of images the video juxtaposes).

But the video and the song are buried under the same nostalgia that they seem to want to escape from. The final seconds soar on the vocalist's melancholic wail "it's only love!", and it seems that there is a resignation to the impossibility of letting go of first love, as the woman leans in closer to her chalked self. Because of course few will ever admit to finding truth in a statement like "it's only love," since love is the ideal, it is in fact for most all there is.

We may not be able to deny our need for human connection, but that's not to say that any one love we have is necessarily better than the rest, especially if the only criteria for that comparison is which came first. Yes people you are with take something from you, as you take from them, but it isn't in the sense that you have lost “a part of you” - other than your innocence (which was never really a “part” of you anyway, just a perecption of the world). You are simply impacting their lives, becoming a part of their memory, but you remain completely you. And loss of innocence is the gain of knowledge. You are always capable of more love, greater love, and further growth.

More than anything, before we can ever properly care for another human being, we must first feel comfortable in loving ourselves - without outside justification. Because the ultimate justification for loving anyone, the only reason you ever need, is that they are human – as are you.

Buy it at Insound!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

It's Snowing In Here

Amy Lee and company stick with their goth roots in their new video "Lithium," but this time the dark setting is an integral part of the story rather than just a fashion statement...

VIDEO: "Lithium" directed by Paul Fedor

"don't wanna lock me up inside"

Lithium is a key ingredient used in the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals aimed at preventing and treating bipolar disorder and mania. And like most drugs used today to treat mental or psychological problems, the side effects of the chemical can be as painful as the disorder it seeks to help.

In this video lead singer Amy Lee plays a character who confronts her own psychological trauma head-on, struggling through an internal dialogue that attempts to "let go" of her alter ego as well as her drug addiction. Lee speaks of the comfort of learning to live without the hindrance of "lithium", while simultaneously feeling the fear of the lonely darkness. She walks through a winter wonderland in her mind, slipping in and out of two different personas before eventually deciding to "drown" one of them in her memory.

The conflict arises in that when one does actually suffer from bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, how is one to determine which part to "keep"? Which side of you is essentially more you? The drowning scene is not a triumphant defeat of some great evil within, it is rather a sad detachment from a valid internal voice. The drugs are lifting her out of a sort of depression, and yet they are at the same time deleting something that has been an integral part of her.

The tricky part about this video is that in Lee's words and the visuals themselves, there is also a hint of the same bipolarism. It's somewhat unclear what exactly Lee is drowning, is it her mental state or is it her reliance on the drugs that treat that state?

She sings "in the darkness I know myself," and seeks to remember what it is like to live without her addiction - which could very well mean she is willing to become her mania if it means she can release herself from the bonds of lithium. She references her own narcissism in loving her "soul" and not being able to let go, but then insists that she must let go. The camera shows her both drifting backwards into the darkness and forward into the light; the snow is both beautiful and haunting. But which side of Lee is the dark, and which is the light?

Lee claims "anything is better than to be alone," but this is a reference to the creation of companionship within her mind as much as it is to any outside person (others might say anything is better than to be alone with yourself). In many ways this video reaches past just a take on a certain specific mental state and speaks on our collective urge to create self-images and often become obsessed with what we portray more than whom we are.

Lee sees her reflection in the piano, and as a musician she is directly dealing with a character she has created and the crux that it can often become. But just as the two personas in a bipolar's mind could be equally valid, we cannot easily dismiss our outward image of ourselves as any less authentic than what we hold internally.

Often this can even be the root of a mental breakdown. The pressures of attempting to maintain different personas while the world insists that you have just one can leave one feeling completely empty and undefined. There is not some pure essence to your personality; instead it is a constantly changing and multi-faced thing. Any attempt to subdue certain aspects of your self because they are unappealing or are not socially acceptable can be devastating to your mental health.

That isn't to say that to suffer from split-personality mental illness isn't a horribly painful ordeal and one that can eventually lead to self-destruction, but rather that one should not fall too quickly into the arms of drug-based treatment or ignore the validity of all your varied personalities right away. The reliance upon drugs such as lithium (or just plain suppression of yourself) in fact can just create yet another self, one that may not be anywhere near any side that you actually want to express from inside, but rather a bland socially conforming self that makes things simply look nice.

Personally I'd take the snowstorm forest of Amy Lee's drowning sorrow over bland existence any day.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

No Man (or Woman) Is An Island


One of our favorite videos of the past year, director John Hardwick finds an amusing and poignant way of depicting the emotional distance between people today and our collective fear of sincerity...

VIDEO: "Leave Before the Lights Come On" directed by John Hardwick

"With great power comes great responsibility" is the calling card of Peter Parker, but it's a sentiment that fits rather snuggly within the themes of this Arctic Monkeys video.

On the one hand we could completely blame this desperate women, who has found a rather disturbing (and morbidly comical) way of getting attention and seeking love, for using the sincerity of people in order to fill her own emotional void. And yet one can't help but feel a little annoyed at our male protagonist as well, who seems smugly satisfied with himself after saving a life, but is quick to avoid the consequences of his actions.

As he walks down the street he's got a steely gaze in his eyes (played by Paddy Constantine), and it's a look of fierce determination and distance. But his almost immediate response to the falling shoe reveals that deep down he does have a powerful concern for his fellow human beings. His cold demeanor is not born out of spite, but rather a feeling of resentment towards all those who have ignored and hurt him.

He's a very admiral character in that in a moment of extreme crisis he makes a quick, decisive and helpful decision. But his moment of glory does not make him a complete hero, and his inability to overcome a fear of human connection makes him quickly pull away from the girl. Granted she comes on extremely strong, but there is a sense that the man has a bit too much bottled anger.

The woman is ridiculously manipulative and one wonders if anyone could actually pull this sort of stunt in real life, but the fact that she is believably scared and depressed in her faux-suicide attempt reveals that there is a great amount of despair within. Her impulsive desire for any man leads her to deceptive tricks, but she is not entirely out of her mind.

The desperation of the women is almost laughable, but the man's complete rejection of her is also very cold. What type of relationship is one expecting when one saves a suicidal person? The parallel is drawn through the song to a one-night stand, where one party decides to leave "before the lights go on" in order to avoid the intimacy of the morning. In that case the escaping party is looking for a quick fix to their sexual and emotional needs, but are afraid of going any further. In a similar way our protagonist saves the girl and feels the sensation of doing "good," but rejects any further connection once she forcibly reaches out to him.

What we see as a result of this is her sprinting back to her building, beginning another attempt at connection. We're afraid of those that open up so easily because we are not willing to open up ourselves, we are embarrassed by those who speak and act freely because it challenges us to respond in kind - when most of us are ashamed of our own voices. And this isn't a video about suicide, no one in here is actually suicidal (yet), instead it's about the cold distance between people, especially between men and women.

It's disturbing to see how desperately this woman seems to need a man in her life, but one imagines she has been rejected so many times before that she no longer believes herself capable of actually luring someone normally or, more importantly, feeling secure on her own. In the same sense this man is so wrapped up in his own suffering and what is socially "proper" that he is incapable of handling a conversation with a desperate woman.

She is angry that his initial appearance of care seems now to be false, and yet we know (by witnessing his speedy reaction) that it was a pure moment of concern for another human being. At the same time he lashes out against her because she wants to force him to care about her when he feels as if he's incapable of that (and he simply just doesn't want to).

The complication of it is that she will continue to spin horribly in this cycle of self-defeat and despair as long as hard-headed people are afraid of trying to get to know her and find the root of her ills - but those same stubborn people will never attempt to understand her because her desperation and direct call for help will scare them away.

What can we do? It seems that if we where just to trust each other and ourselves a little bit more, we might have less people on the ledge of desperation.

Monday, December 04, 2006

All Lost in the Supermarket

Metric lead-singer and Broken Social Scene contributor Emily Haines leads yet another band, Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton, and for their "Doctor Blind" video the group enlists Jaron Albertin to create a haunting piece reflecting the songs frighteningly real themes.

VIDEO: "Doctor Blind" directed by Jaron Albertin

"the lonesome lows don't quite go away overnight"

The click of heels against the cold sterile floor can be heard over the dream-like music as Emily Haines makes her way through the blandest super-mart in the world.

The real-world sounds increase and the music subsides as she approaches the window of the pharmacy and rummages through her bag in preparation of a purchase. At this moment of hollow spending she is almost completely disconnected from the beauty and self-expression of life (i.e. the song).

Yet before she succumbs to the drugs once again, Haines slips into a hallucinatory nightmare about the pitfalls of our heavily medicated society. It's a strikingly terrifying concept - being alone at night in Wal-Mart. This feeling is heightened by the build-up, which starts with the slow-motion horror of the first beautiful shot: Haines fleeing mysterious bright lights in fear and panic. The camera focuses solely on the place from which Haines runs at first, placing our interest and fear in it, before revealing the rest of the dark scene (with the damp windshield implying that it has just rained).

She walks into the place pushing against a door that is noticeably marked with the familiar "do not enter" symbol on the reverse side. A sense of entrapment is imbued into this scene, as if she is walking into a place from which there is no exit. Then we notice Haines herself, looking beautifully singular amidst a sea of dull pastels. Her every move in her tight-fitting vintage shirt and bright blue purse is hypnotic and graceful (amplified by the clicking heels) contrasted with the faceless customers and rows upon rows of sameness.

Yet she also looks almost skeletal herself, a bored defeatedness looks out of the lazy make-up she wears - serving to further increase the creepy factor. The climax of this tension is when Haines sees a ghostly man appearing behind her on the screen of a security camera. She turns to face the horror, but as she shoves him away she realizes the full magnitude of this nightmarish environment. A queue of over-the-counter addicted humans, crumbling like dominoes under the effects of a sad sad world.

But it isn't just about those who have sought medicated-relief for their mental health; it's a far-reaching critique of a consumerist and capitalist culture that robs us of individuality and feeling. The toppling row of shoppers spirals into a cross-like intersection as Haines runs past. Many have called capitalism the fastest growing religion in the world, but director Albertin highlights the black hole at the heart of this ideology. The panning shots of the ceiling reveal cracks in the framework; Haines and Albertin show us the places where the wires are showing under the faux-sleek exterior of modern life (including a glancing jibe at the cookie-cutter elevator music that fills most of our shopping experiences).

That's not to say there isn't something almost alluring in falling in with the line, letting yourself cascade down and out of the troubles of your mind. The zombie-like collapse of each victim is somewhat peaceful in it’s quickness (the camera work brilliantly attempts to mimic the sensation of a drug-induced high), as if each soul is being put to rest amidst his or her purchasing dreams. Haines herself drops her bag at one point, almost completely hypnotized by the seeming comfort of this easy-fix that has sustained her and the others so many times before.

But she quickly rejects it, and it is in fact the forcefulness of her fear - a real pure emotion - that allows her to wake-up from the drudgery of her robotic addiction, and momentarily flee from this form of escapism. Upon securing her safety within the car, the rain has stopped and she takes a deep breathe before reaching into her purse once more. It's possible that in order to deal with the hellish fantasy she has just gone through, she feels the need to now look for yet another quick-fix (perhaps a cigarette, or even more prescribed drugs). Or maybe she is just looking for her car keys - regardless it's clear that the solution to the problem of addiction is not something that happens "overnight." Instead what is plausible is slowly fighting the urge to succumb to the inauthentic lifestyle that these types of environments and drugs represent through the "highs" of music and real human feeling.

Buy it at Insound!

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