Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Eye Candy # 5: The Willowz "Jubilee," The Knife "Na Na Na"

The Willowz "Jubilee"

dir. by Toben Seymour

One of the truly innovative videos in recent memory, it's a transcendent journey through city lights, coastal scenery and limitless human imagination. Though one could attempt a large scale interpretation, it's far more fun to simply gaze in wonderment at the technical mastery of this piece.

The Knife "Na Na Na"

dir. by David Vegezzi/Dagmar Weaver

A video that delves into the power of lust and physical touch - as well as the misuse of such powers. Working in abstract images of fantasy, submission, attempted rape and murder, the directors canvas the many layers (both dark and bright) of sexual desire in one sweeping hook.
It may be super artsy, but the Knife demand this type of work for their music, and have already established themselves with a stellar collection of music videos.

The Mind's Eye: Cloud Cult "Chemicals Collide"

Cloud Cult "Chemicals Collide"

dir. by

I have yet to hear the entirety of Cloud Cult's forthcoming, The Meaning of 8, but whenever I see the number 8 my 9th grade math-brain kicks in and wants to define it as infinity. Even in a non-mathematical sense the figure visually presents a loop complete onto itself (like a racetrack). I've always been rather wary of the number for that very reason - it looks a lot like an inescapable trap. But for Cloud Cult the connectivity of that image, the way in which all things contained in the infinite loop are necessarily connected, is what redeems the fear of falling into black holes of despair.

The video begins focusing in on the tattoos of lead guitarist/vocalist Craig Minowa's fingers, while he gently strums his guitar, before transitioning into an array of cosmological images. To anyone familiar with Minowa's past it's not surprising to find the environmental science major/activist surrounding by lots of greens and sunlight. But the themes of this work have far more grandiose aspirations than simply reducing global warming (though it's a definite concern here).

Minowa's lyrics speak to a confusion between what is outside and what is inside the mind, but the floating eye that confronts us early on seems to reference an all-seeing vision that eclipses notions of internal and external reality. Thus the images of kaleidoscopic trees and stars gives way to concert footage where artists paint in concord with musicians - pointing out a unity of humanity, nature and the universe.

It's fairly obvious that Cloud Cult has the miracle of creation on its mind when the chorus of the song floats in. Yet the video does a good job of adding further layers of complexity to the images crafted in the song. The director juxtaposes the guitar with shooting stars, and the birth of plant life with open doors and windows. The mention of "god" in the song is somewhat prominent, but the religious imagery is fairly light, and in focusing on the chemical and scientific aspects of this miracle the video fights the tendency to become overtly spiritual.

Instead the focus is on the beauty of this endless process. From the bang that creates the universe comes the earth that births humans, and this is a video that finds meaning in continuing that process. But it isn't a simple task of existence, or merely living ones' life in peace that assures the sustenance of the cycle.

In the climactic sequence a door in a forest melts into what could be the tree of life. Above the oak is the piercing sun, and on the grass below it are rays of energy sparkling. Like most of this indie video it's a hokey (and trippy) image that might be at home in a grade school learning video, or on an episode of The Magic School Bus. Yet from a purely scientific standpoint it is the sun that feeds the grass, the tree that grows from that soil, and then humanity that breathes the fresh air of those leaves - standing in the shadow of all space and time. A beautifully infinite entrapment that isn't that scary after all.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

NEWS: MySpace Changes Video Format?

I'm not entirely sure if this is something new, but previously when I visited MySpace's Music homepage and clicked on a featured video the site would take me to their own embedded player with fan comments, links etc. But now if you click on one of those videos you get this, and more importantly the videos are played in Windows Media Player!

The funny thing is MySpace still has it's embedded player for user uploaded videos, but is using Windows Media for it's officially licensed music videos. Which raises the question, is YouTube next? And how do I play Windows Media files on my Mac?

It's obvious that MySpace has done this to avoid unnecessary lawsuits like the ones YouTube has to deal with, but it also makes their Music site a little bit less essential. And isn't MySpace all buddy-buddy with Google - which owns YouTube? We'll have to see how this plays out in the long run.

It's My Heart in a Box!: Omarion "Ice Box"

This criminally overlooked track, featuring the sublime production of Timbaland, gets a fairly in-depth music video treatment for its genre...

Omarion "Ice Box"

dir. by ?

A giant clock spinning forward and the endless force of Newton's cradle on his desk remind Omarion of the unavoidable progression of time as he sits contemplating his broken heart. But when the camera angle switches we see the clock reflected in the glass table, and now it appears to be spinning backwards amidst a collage of images from the forest of his memory. It is a truly brilliant opening and one that holds grand promise, but unfortunately the video fails to deliver on the expectations set by this epic introduction.

What follows is typical Omarion (or Usher) posing - intricate choreography that almost always breaks into some sort of dance-off. While O looks adequately cool pulling some of these moves off, they add little to the thematic or emotional hook of the video. In fact the climactic ballet-like encounter with his inner fear actually takes away from the effect that scene could have had.

Nevertheless there is some deep introspection going on at times during this production, and they offer interesting perspectives on what makes "Ice Box" such a stellar song. First off, the topic of heartbreak in hip-hop or R&B is almost always discussed under the light of infidelity. This song is no exception with Timbaland (who now has a history of appearing in cars while singing guest verses) and O repeating "Don't wanna mess this up better keep your eye on me girl," but for the most part the singer focuses on his own trepidation in trying something new when he has been hurt so badly before. It's a far more complex topic than simply overcoming a cheating partner - a more general fear of relationships that can often result from such heartbreak.

The video also settles in on the paranoid effects of going through such a loss. From hallucinatory encounters to wild dreams (not to mention strange dance numbers), Omarion seems to be going through some traumatic experiences (though once again some of those solo dance sequences contradict that feeling). What has resulted is a supposed cold demeanor towards a potential lover.

But the words and Omarion's emotions are far from cold but rather fragile and broken. He seems quite open about his feelings and reasons, and instead his frosty breathe seems to come from a frigid loneliness. His heart is filled with ice because he is without love and in pain. No matter how hard he tries he can't seem to move his thoughts forward, and seems stuck in one place - trapped in his "ice box."

That is until Timbaland opens a door for him. Perhaps the beat, the song itself has given Omarion a chance to exhume his demons. In the opening Omarion's heart is literally given new life by the music as he jumps out of his chair in reaction. And after all it is a gloriously expressive piece of music, one that hums and chimes with emotional weight. It's thus even more troubling that the video does little to add to this weight other than offer some pretty cinematography and highly controlled dance numbers. It could have been a contender.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Circles, Dots and Blunty 3000

The winner of Jamie Kennedy and Stu Stone's fan-video contest comes off as a truly brilliant critique of contemporary culture...

Jamie Kennedy and Stu Stone "Circle Circle Dot Dot"

dir. by Blunty 3000

It's hard to know whether a director named "Blunty 3000" could ever intentionally create satire on this level, but much like the song itself, this YouTube phenomenon is nevertheless a stinging and hilarious parody of hip-hop, music videos and YouTube itself. Jamie Kennedy and Stu Stone, in their popular song, whittle down mainstream rap to its bare-bone Akon-ic theme, "I wanna f%#* you." Director Blunty emphasizes this cartoonish aspect of contemporary hip-hop videos by placing his in a Lego-world, but his critique doesn't stop there.

He begins the stop-motion extravaganza with a nod to the webcam that has made everyone a potential YouTube star. In many ways this emphasizes the amateur quality of the proceedings, as if anybody can make a popular rap song these days. That's not to say Kennedy and Stone aren't talented, but the song is more entertaining for it's satire than for musical chops. The fact that artists can so readily copy styles and be successful has led to much less creativity throughout the industry (though the occasional Clipse record keeps hope alive).

The Legos also hearken back to the White Stripes famous "Fell in Love With a Girl," and the rise of simpler artistic expression in indie videos (though by simple I do not mean to imply less work, one can only imagine the hours spent on the stop-motion movements of the Lego men). Hip-hop videos are lavish events that usually fail to provide any substance, and here Blunty mirrors all the humor and fun of your typical rap video - but places it in a much more subdued context. The treatment of women as objects reaches silly proportions, and in this the video surpasses the song in terms of incisive commentary.

It's most likely that most of this is unintentional and coincidental insight made on the way to production of a funny viral video. But just as we chastise hip-hop videos for their underlying subtext of misogyny, we should celebrate those who accidentally (or intentionally) skewer that same misogyny. And with 1.5 million views and counting on YouTube, Blunty 3000 has undeniably and inexplicably made a culturally relevant statement.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Power in Numbers: Eskju Divine "Hold On"

Eskju Divine "Hold On"

dir. by Jessica Laurén

The animation is plastered mostly with dull browns and blacks, with the sky only occasionally flashing a hint of blue hope. What ensues is a complicated array of computer generated explosions of man-made creation - from bridges over water to railroads across countryside. Yet even as these buildings tower around the abode of the natural world, the black birds persist on, flying higher and higher to escape the influence of the ever-present invisible man.

The band sounds almost like early Coldplay but the video is on par with some of Radiohead's finer animated projects. These scenes don't just blend into one another, they melt, splatter and combust from frame to frame. The gradual discoloring of the environment, and the steady flight of the bird, is contrasted with the rapid pace of the editing and drawings early on. But from the depths of the sewers the birds storm back with such speed and resilience that the even the mightiest of technological marvels falls under the weight of a natural struggle for survival (but at the cost of some splashes of red blood-like liquid).

In addition to the aforementioned dullness of the colors, the scenery is intensely bleak and desolate. The only person we see is a white barely noticeable figure that occasionally appears on street corners or on abandoned gravel roads. Whether the figure represents the omniscient, or simply the presence of human "civilization," it's a rather ominous image of hopelessness. But just when you think the birds will succumb to the same feeling (one bird appears similarly white or invisible), they gather as a group and resist.

The most affecting scene of the piece involves a stark shot of a flock of birds flying across the screen vertically. They are almost in a perfect small "v" formation until one bird decides to fly off to the right, on its own, and disrupt the symmetry of the movement. Yet it is in this graceful departure that the bird signifies the importance of free will and individual thought. Instead of flying towards the light it will dip back into the fray to find help and hope in other birds. Through the courage of one, an entire group is inspired to fight back. They won't go south for safety this year, but choose to firmly re-establish their place on earth. Rather than meekly disappearing into the memory of dilapidated buildings, the director asks us to reassert our beauty - which can only be possible through collective effort.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Sordid Nights: Amy Millan "Skinny Boy"

Another female Broken Social Scene member makes a pretty good music video about high school love and the inevitable aftermath...

Amy Millan "Skinny Boy"

dir. by George Vale

"skinny boy, all bones no lies"

Rather than opting for simple nostalgia, Director George Vale infuses this trip down memory lane with the two most important aspects of adolescent life - lust and drama. He of course gets his cue from Milan's song, which fondly recalls "lips I could spend a day with" as a symbol of an overall loss of innocence - and a yearning to reclaim those youthful feelings which seemed to exist only as extreme highs and lows.

Vale cleverly represents Milan's thoughts by projecting them behind her, in fast-motion, while silhouetted figures reenact her memories. But the actual memory has a storyline of it's own, which is why the video stays compelling throughout. The boy and girl are speeding through a lazy summer romance in bowling alleys, abandoned houses and late-night empty parking lots. Yet they aren't the only characters in the story, as there are friends and places which serve as insightful looks into the experience of teenage life as a whole.

The inclusion of consistent shots of neighborhood streets and group activities reminds us that the romantic element is only half the feeling being described. It's the freedom of those open roads and the empty spaces around the bed they lay upon. The silliness of the bowling alley is as vital as the sexual high of the backseat make out. And the lightning fast clips that play behind Milan are reminders of how quickly it all passes - how in an instant it is gone forever.

The majority of the video is in celebration of those times anticipating the "kiss," or the subsequent maturity. There is little emphasis put on the couple's actual physical contact until the end of the video when the director attempts to catch that moment when it all comes tumbling down. In the collage of images we also realize that there may have been more than a few complications in the idyllic romance. Whether there are hints of infidelity or simply some hurtful gossip - what ensues isn't always pretty. The lyrics are suggestive as well in mentioning "prostitution," "loneliness" and "swords through the back door." Friends fight, and the look on the face of the girl, as a flashlight is shone on her, is one of sheer pain and anger.

But Millan and her director are not advocating some silly "wait till your married" campaign. Sex is merely a metaphor for the inevitable growth from youth to adulthood. The precise moment of maturity is not inherently related to how much or how little experience one has. In fact the most memorable moment, and most memorable shot, of the video is the final one. The two lovers lay awkwardly on the edge of the bed with the guy face-down and the girl snuggling for warmth next to him. It's a beautiful image of youthful impatience and excitement, which passed so quickly that the boy barely had time to get his pants off.

The video makes no judgment of the entire story, but rather celebrates it's inevitability. The lyrics and visuals in the beginning are affecting precisely because we know that the feelings represented won't last. No matter how long one seeks to prolong it, there will be an eventual step-forward out of childhood. And in that transitional period, in the backseat or on a dirty mattress, there is a wonderful sense of dread and pure enthusiasm for life. You may lose your ability for innocence, but you never lose you capability for enthusiasm. No matter how old you get, you never know what's coming around the corner - life never ceases to be full of surprises. And it feels good to know that.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Country Roundup # 1

We introduce a new monthly feature dedicated to bringing you interesting recent videos (some good, some bad) from the much maligned world of country music. This week spotlights Dierks Bentley's new "Long Trip Alone" and offers brief looks at videos from Ashley Monroe, Keith Anderson, and Chris Thile.

Dierks Bentley "Long Trip Alone"

dir. by Charles Mehling

When Dierks Bentley begins a country video in a Mexican jail with his hair shaved, it's hard to know what exactly to expect. But thankfully director Charles Mehling (yes, a former member of the Brian Jonestown Massacre) adds subtle depth and complexity to this seemingly simple story about the value of companionship.

The opening jail shots are close-up, tense and shaky, adding an air of suspicion and dread to the proceedings. But we soon realize he's getting out and not being put in, and gradually the shots are expanded to wider angles. As Bentley steps out of jail the director pulls back all the way to show him standing in the middle of the screen, under the sunlight. It's an image of freedom, but also one of loneliness - Bentley's now stranded in a country he doesn't know, without a way back home.

We are aware early on that this man is on a journey to return home to his wife, but it isn't immediately clear how he got where he is and what the significance of said journey really is. On paper it reads rather mundane - guy gets drunk in Mexico, gets into a fight and consequently spends the night in jail. Yet as Bentley travels the Mexican countryside we get a thoughtful portrait of the people who help him along the way. It turns out that he isn't quite as lost as he originally thought. A man lends his hand to pull Bentley into a truck, another gives him a job and others help him find his way home.

But on the bus back Bentley is asked to prove his citizenship. He fortunately has a passport and makes it safely across, but through his window we can see a group of people who are not as fortunate. As the song plays, "it's a long way alone," the significance of the words seem to apply to bordering nations and cultures as much as to two people. Perhaps it's a call for cooperation across borders, or maybe it's simply meant to add realism to Bentley's journey - either way one can't ignore the significant presence of the Mexican countryside and it's people.

Of course in the end Bentley is mainly concerned with returning home to his wife. When he opens the door we are expecting a hug or a kiss, some grand culmination of the search. But what we get is emptiness and an unheard message. Which calls into further question why Bentley was drunk in Mexico in the first place, and why he would be so angry as to get into a brawl. By not fulfilling easy expectations throughout, Mehling makes an otherwise regular country video into something far more compelling.

Ashley Monroe ft. Ronnie Dunn

dir. by ?

This video is about as pointless as the song itself. It's always strange to begin a love song with a line like "I could go out tonight, and find some stranger/it wouldn't be wrong," especially when it seems like all your lover does is sit around and produce paintings of you. But let's assume there was some sort of fight that has provoked this outburst, it's still unclear what exactly is being said with the words or visuals. If there was some huge fight over the man's infidelity, would she forgive him in a few hours after seeing a painting? And if it's not about something like that, why is she threatening him with infidelity?

It's especially confusing that she confesses she is "treated like a queen" and that she is "in love" yet she roams the streets and he sits on his bed thinking only of her. She doesn't want to be with anyone else, but as she walks down the sidewalk every guy she passes sings just like her man, is handsome and she believes many of them could treat her just as well as her current mate. She doesn't mention anything really unique about him, or any clue as to why she wants him but instead lists all the reasons she could go to someone else - which inevitably is only going to make him doubt his own worth for the rest of the relationship! I'm just saying...

Keith Anderson "XXL"

dir. by Trey Fanjoy

WTF. Hip-hop videos get a lot of (often deserved) flak for being overly misogynistic and mostly meaningless - but is nobody watching country videos? Even more baffling is the fact that Anderson ever felt compelled to make a song strictly about his masculinity, which necessarily calls into question said claims. Furthermore, and most importantly, this video lacks any wit, cleverness or skill at all. Contender for worst video of the year.

Chris Thile "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground"

I just kind of like this White Stripes cover, plus they play it on CMT once in a while.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Eye Candy #4: Bromheads Jacket, Pluxus, Unklejam, Wintersleep, and The Procession

Some recent videos that caught our attention...

Pluxus "Kinoton"

dir. by Daniel Norby

Director Norby doesn't make a single cut, but it's the delicate composition of the cinematography and the syncing with the song that carries your attention through the last frame. The use of shadows and natural light creates some really nice shots and the girls skilled but imperfect dance moves are entirely endearing.

Unklejam "Love Ya"

dir. by Paul Gore

Though Gore delves into some of your typical rap/pop cliches, his near one-take style also provides some starkly unique and far-out images that are both visually and conceptually impressive. The group itself, poised for some crossover success in the States, is posing throughout (the guy in the hat does nothing but pose) but bring great energy to every shot.

Wintersleep "Jaws of Life"

dir. by Sean Wainsteim

One of the more interesting videos of the year so far. Using clever animated, stop-motion and live-action tricks the video fuses a sort of dystopian vision of the future - or perhaps the present - with dark comedic undertones. But unlike Theo Faron in Children of Men, our protagonist ignores the signs from his animal brethren as he goes about his day. Overall humanity comes off looking fairly stupid as the rabbits take up driving and birds personify business men. But it also gives me chills to imagine our influence ever transferring onto animals in this way, no matter how ridiculous that might seem. I mean how soon till the natural world starts living by our example? If birds evolved would they really walk around in useless ties? Umm. Nevermind.

The Procession "Don't Hesitate"

A fairly simple video that perfectly captures the nostalgic sensibilities of the song, which happen to be pretty good. Reminds me of the Oxford Collapse video from last year, just good clean indie Super-8 fun.

Bromheads Jacket "Lesley Parlafitt"

dir. by Zero Below

A short but sweet take on small-town English life from one of those "buzz" bands. It's a rather sad portrait of a man who expresses his frustrations with his own insecurities through random acts of violence. The song itself sounds more like Art Brut or the Arctic Monkeys than The Libertines, which is a good thing, but it's kind of too short to really do anything special.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Breathless New Wave: The Cinematics "Keep Forgetting"

In Moh Azima's video for "Keep Forgetting," The Cinematics live up to their name with rampant referencing and some very pretty cinematography...

The Cinematics "Keep Forgetting"

dir. by Moh Azima

In 1959 Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows and Alain Resnais' Hiroshima, Mon Amour debuted at Cannes. The following year Jean-Luc Godard released Breathless to international acclaim. It was with this triumvirate of international successes that French New Wave cinema was ushered into the collective conscious. In crafting this lush video for The Cinematics, director Moh Azima references all three films and the movement as a whole - as if to say he hasn't forgotten the tremendous impact those directors have had on the history of film.

It's almost exactly what you'd expect from a band so aptly named - arty, serious and highly self-referential. An early shot shows our heroine staring at a bunch of televisions with her own image on them; she blows kisses at herself. It's sort of the joke and force of the video, a homage that is somehow about homage. The cheesy cameo by a band member in the phone booth is a classic concept of both film and music video, but the slow-motion panning close-up on the same singer later, as the women runs on the street behind him, is far more singular. She seems to be inescapably running through the back of his mind, like the referenced old-school films.

Like many of the New Wave artists Azima intentionally confounds the plot so there is not a necessarily identifiable sequence to the narrative. Yet we can still pull out certain ideas and moments from the energetic work. The opening title sequence, with the girl running along a deserted highway, is as noir as it is Godard - but it establishes the aesthetic of the piece. It's a constantly moving chase scene in which a woman chases and is chased by her own shadow. In a sense she is unable to forget, no matter what she does or where she goes, something about herself. Perhaps it's a concrete memory, but it seems almost as likely that it is simply the constant reminder of her existence, her aging and her growth as a human being.

Unfortunately for Azima, the Cinematics song does not provide the strong backbone or reference point that the video could use at it's lagging point, about three-fourths of the way through. Apart from the "keep forgetting" theme there is little that the band actually contribute to the weight of the concept - and yet their look and sonic sound is somehow a perfect fit with the frenetic pace and style of the directing. The pounding drum hits at just the right moments, and the electrified guitars move in unison with the skillful editing. The wonderful stairway shot, where the actress hits every step on the way down, implies that the video isn't going to let-up even for a moment. It's a very cinematic sequence, but it doesn't develop into something larger by the end.

Hiroshima, Mon Amour, which is perhaps the least known of the three major films mentioned earlier, is actually the closest thematically to this video. It details the way in which memory, time and feeling enfold and collapse over and into one another in the wake of grand love. In that film Resnais complicates our perceptions of the timeline by flashing back and forth using vague heavily romantic dialogue. Azima implements similar visual clues here (to lesser effect), out of which the climactic slow-mo shot seems to shine brightest.

But Hiroshima was also obviously about history and the uncertain quality of knowledge - the way our own memories never match up with what is generally "known" about particular historical events. Azima doesn't reach these depths, but his framework is largely based on a similar mood of vague memory and concentration on the past - though in a much quicker and glossier visual style.

Yet this is not a remake or even a studied homage to any one film, and it's not about just one concept, idea or story. It envelopes an entire period in order to distill a portrait of the greatness that embodied those films. While it lacks the resonance of any of those works, it holds our attention simply on the basis of stylistic ploys. As one perceptive Antviller points out, the very final shot, a slight zoom into a still-frame, is very close to the final shot of Truffaut's 400 Blows, a film that is very much about the passing from childhood to adulthood. In a similar sense "Keep Forgetting" is Azima's love letter to his own childhood, a remembering of those moments when he fell in love with cinema - and a hope that he might transfer some of that spark onto a new audience.

The Cinematics

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Depth of Focus: Radiohead Pt. 2

We continue our look at Radiohead's oeuvre with the post-OK Computer era videos. While they hold firm the connection with the modern world and technological existence, these videos showcase a changing sensibility as the band moves further into the 21st century...

Click here for Part One, which contains every video from the early years of Radiohead.

Idioteque (2000) Kid A

dir. by Grant Gee

First off, this is a fairly terrible copy of the video. None of these vids where meant to be seen on YouTube, but without it we wouldn't probably ever see any of them, so let's move on.
The song that the band plays is an alternate take from the version that appears on the album, which is partially why it's so interesting to watch them come up with it. Though Yorke once again takes center stage, it's nice to see Johnny Greenwood and the rest of the guys doing there thing. You get a real sense of how spacious and layered the tracks on Kid A really are.

Motion Picture Soundtrack (2001) Kid A

dir. by Stanley Donwood & Shynola

This is not necessarily a full-fledged video, since it is chiefly a collage of pieces done for the promotional campaign of Kid A, but it is at parts gorgeous and at others maddeningly thick. Much of the images resonant quite well with the music of the album as a whole, which fluctuates between these polar opposites of fiery heart and cold distance. One can almost imagine the video reflecting the production of the songs themselves, moving from a volcano of conceptual ideas into a multi-faceted and highly produced snowstorm.

Pyramid Song (2001) Amnesiac

dir. by Shynola

A visually engrossing journey through one of Radiohead's finest moments. Director Shynola takes Yorke's references to Dante and imagines a future society that might find our current one akin to hell, resting on the floor of the river Styx.
But as our protagonist (first video to not feature any members of the band) passes street lamps and stained-glass windows, he or she does not hesitate at the gates of suburbia. The deathly air surrounding this whole thing is no accident; this is a character considering suicide. As we pan out to see the air tube connected to nothing, we are confronted by pretty little lights in the sun. Does it mean our happiness aligns only momentarily? That we are destined to reach it only again in memory? Maybe, maybe not. It's a pretty sweet image though.

Knives Out (2001) Amnesiac

dir. Michel Gondry

Gondry used similar spinning cameras, changing sets and multiple characters to great paranoiac effect in Eternal Sunshine, so it's not surprising that he has said this video is more about him than Radiohead. It's actually a very poignant look at what it might feel like to lose a loved one. The romantic elements are quiet familiar to any fan of the director, but there are also cues coming from the song which is clearly about some sort of separation between people.
It's a mood that suits Thom well, and even if this is among Radiohead's strangest videos, this is probably the lead singer's best performance. The scenes on the train are especially memorable for their humor. All of which is made more impressive when you know this was all done in one take.

I Might Be Wrong (2001) Amnesiac

dir. by Chris Bran

This continues the trend of featuring at least one video per album that is highly influenced by the actual cover art of the record. The cat like creature who seems to consistently cry is stuck in a maze of dead ends, where what seems like a light in the distance is only a reflection of something in the past. Thom does his thing, but overall the video is a bit stale at parts - and the intrusions of the real-world seems oddly out of place.

Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors/Like Spinning Plates (2002) Amnesiac

dir. by Johnny Hardstaff

More a short film than a music video, Hardstaff uses the bubbling cauldron of "Pulk..." to blueprint the creation of his monstrous machine for "Like Spinning Plates." It looks a whole lot like the Matrix at times, or one very large needlessly intricate record player. Either way babies are being brainwashed and having souls sucked out...I think.

Go To Sleep (2003) Hail to the Thief

dir. by Alex Rutterford

While the world collapses around them, these suits scurry aimlessly to and fro between work and death - too busy to listen to the voices of the "loonies" on the park benches screaming for some change.
The rose growing from concrete reminds me of Tupac more than anything else, and I imagine if Radiohead and Tupac put something together it would have been way better than what Linkin Park and Jay-Z came up with.

Sit Down, Stand Up (2003) Hail to the Thief

dir. by Ed Holsworth

At first this video is kind of funny, in a SNL Micheal J. Fox kind of way, but that's before we get some gruesome images of the consequences of the "raindrops."
Holsworth is fairly obvious about his politics, but he makes some very subtle suggestions as well. A protest sign against the "American dream" reads like a surgeon general's warning and a few seconds later the sparks from fired missiles look almost like the Fourth of July. It kind of caught me off guard to think this was made almost five years ago...not much has changed.

There There (2003) Hail to the Thief

dir. by Chris Hopewell

One of the most popular Radiohead videos, Hopewell creates a fanatasical land which holds a less than friendly underbelly. The video features marvelous set design and intricate coloring with Thom delivering yet another classic performance.
It feels a lot like a fairy-tale (reminds me of that Nickelodeon show David the Nome) and has a fairly certain moral to it. Though the complication arises in deciding who the good and bad forces truly are.

I Will (2003) Hail to the Thief

dir. by ?

A live performance that made it's way around video channels for a while, I include it only to offer some perspective on the contrast between the first few videos and the last. A lot has changed about the band but the crowds still remain. And no matter how hard Yorke and his directors may try to convince us that he's a creep, in the end him and his band mates come off as rather nice, likable guys. Well, they also play some pretty incredible music, so that helps.

House of Cards (2008) In Rainbows

dir. by David Frost

There is an inherent fragility in "House of Cards" - a simplicity which hints at deeper tones of beauty. A gorgeous, soothing ballad made up of humble parts, yet filled with apprehensive ideas. It is precisely this combination of romance and anxiety that director David Frost captures in his revolutionary new video for Radiohead's tune. It's a vision of humanity disintegrating into bits of digital information - albeit with grace and beauty. [Read full review]


Like Spinning Plates (alternate) (2002) Amnesiac
dir. by Laurent Briet
One of the most spellbinding music videos ever committed to tape. Like Hardstaff, director Briet finds notes of creation in the opening sounds of the song. What exactly is being created is of less certainty. But globes, worshiped females and birds seem to imply the history of creation itself - and the way in which it seems conditioned to, once again, inevitably suck our souls out.
The effect used here looks even more Matrix-ish than the previous one, so it's clear that the song lends itself to very exotic imagery. It's no coincidence that these are two of the more dense videos Radiohead has produced. While the music plays backwards, Thom sings forwards - and yet he creates a melody that seems backwards. Yet even beyond the depth of this particular track, the fact that these two epic visions emerged in this way is proof of how influential the song is in the creation of a video - and further proof that Radiohead are making some of the most arresting and inspiring stuff around.

I Might Be Wrong (alternate version)
dir. by Sophie Muller
A rather frantic piece from the director of your favorite and least-favorite Gwen Stefani videos. It was filmed after the Internet-only release original, but failed to make a huge impact due to it's hyper-stylized cinematography. I actually think it highlights the rather spooky elements of the song quite well.

Rabbit In Your Headlights (1998) Unkle ft. Thom Yorke
dir. by Jonathon Glazer
It obviously immediately will recall the Karma Police video but it quickly moves into far more disturbing areas. Watching this man get run over by cars is really hard, especially when it seems like many of them are doing so intentionally. But in the end we are inspired by his resilience, his refusal to give into an environment bent on his destruction, instead forcing his will upon those objects which hold him down.
Glazer uses yet another Christ-pose, which may just be a coincidence, but calls for a deeper analysis of the work. And every time I hear Thom say "rabbit" I anticipate seeing that giant horrid animal from Sexy Beast popping around the corner.

El Presidente (1998) Drugstore ft. Thom Yorke
This is kind of ridiculous.

I Will (2003) Hail to the Thief
Of all the fan-made videos we found on YouTube, this is one that was the most thoroughly engrossing - even if it's not the entire song.

Thom Yorke "Harrowdown Hill"
dir. by Chel White
One of our favorite videos of '06. Not surprisingly it fits rather well with the rest of the Radiohead videography despite bearing only the name of Yorke.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Depth of Focus: Radiohead

We introduce a new feature which takes a studied look at the video careers of elite directors and musicians...

This is our collection of Radiohead's music video history. Stretching from 1993's Pablo Honey all the way to 2003's Hail to the Thief, we spent hours hunting through hundreds of poor live recordings and earnest fan-made videos on YouTube to find these originals for you. While this is not an entirely complete list (a series of shorter productions from Kid A are missing), it represents every major release as well as a few videos that only the most die hard fans will have seen.

We offer no overarching analysis of the band's video output, but it's clear that in choosing the first entry in our Depth of Focus series we quite deliberately settled on a group whose videography has few equals in terms of overall quality and creativity. From Jonathon Glazer to the ever-present Michel Gondry, the majority of Radiohead's videos are helmed by highly skilled individuals with esteemed artistic vision. These are videos that are as entertaining as they are substantial. But of course you'd expect nothing less from the greatest rock band in the world.

Start Shouting

Creep (1993) Pablo Honey

dir. by Brett Turnball

Looking back, this is really probably the band's least creepy video. Though it uses a number of interesting filters and lightning techniques the most impressive moment of the entire thing is when Thom belts out the climax of the song - which is probably the way they wanted it.

Note: The US version of this music video was directed by Corinne Ray.

Anyone Can Play Guitar (1993) Pablo Honey

dir. by Dwight Clarke

Actually filmed before "Creep," most of this one is silly, but it does succeed in mocking celebrity band culture and in presenting the band as an alternative. Once again Thom steals the show with his now famous hyper kinetic straight-jacket convulsing.

Pop is Dead (1993) Pablo Honey [Japan]

dir. by Dwight Clarke

Umm. The first in a series of bad hair days.

Stop Whispering (1993) Pablo Honey

dir. by Jeff Plansker

This is when things get interesting. If you look past the obvious distractions (ahem), there is genuine commentary emerging from behind the camera. Like the song itself, director Plansker asks us to take a broader view of the world - which actually entails noticing the smallest of details.

My Iron Lung (1994) The Bends

dir. Brent Turnbull

Though the band's sound and style of live performance has changed quite a bit over the years, this is a welcome glimpse into what an early Radiohead show was like - and it captures the energy fairly well.

Fake Plastic Trees (1995) The Bends

dir. by Jake Scott

The first truly great Radiohead video works around a rather simple concept - the band riding around in shopping carts in a sterile supermarket. Yet the clean imagery conjures some bleak thoughts. Pushed around with our backs to the world, led forward by the eye of our parents, we are trained from birth to seek approval and attention in love. And it isn't just our family, society and the men behind the cameras are equally complicit in our needy psychological development.
But as Yorke sings, it can be tiresome spending your life pleasing others. And it isn't just a fake plastic romance we're dealing with, it's a fake plastic world in which everyone hides behind images in order to feel any sense of worth.

Just (1995) The Bends

dir. by Jamie Thraves

Like something out of Beckett or Kafka, this masterpiece of suspense and absurdity is all the better for it's non-ending. Yet despite that famous inaudible whisper, a more significant moment comes earlier when the young man inexplicably trips over the older man laying across the empty sidewalk. The younger man begins compassionately asking the fallen if he's alright, but then quickly turns to anger once he realizes the man is not hurt at all. As people crowd around they shift between offerings of help and mad questioning of the stubborn man. These people are initially quite "civilized," but in their rabid pursuit of knowledge they lose all customs and inhibitions. And though we know from his mouth movements that the man probably isn't whispering "the horror, the horror" - he is waking these folks up to something rather dark and frightening about their guarded hearts.

Lucky (1995) Help!

dir. by ?

The opening shots of cute little kids in war torn neighborhoods sets up the violence of the middle passage - the bombs and killing are a direct result of a poverty-stricken upbringing. The final black and white still images emphasize that these kids are truly stuck in an unfair cycle. How do we free them? By buying this album of course! We could have done without the celebrity appearances bridge, but then again knowing Oasis is on-board totally makes me anti-poverty.

High and Dry (1996) The Bends

dir. by Paul Cunningham

uk version dir. by David Mould (1995)

So near the release of Pulp Fiction in '94, this might seem like a blatant attempt at cashing in on a popular trend (there are some seemingly obvious references), but Cunningham and the band have some tricks of their own planned. It's a story of trust and betrayal, where couples and shady businessman alike suffer the consequences of doubt, and where the only true moment exists in a chance encounter between Yorke and a young kid in the restroom.
The band itself supposedly stumbled upon this cafe before deciding to shoot the entire project here, and we get a real slice-of-life feel with the multiple characters and road-stop imagery. Which is actually the same reason the diner seen in Tarantino's film works so impeccably.

Street Spirit (1996) The Bends

dir. by Jonathan Glazer

Glazer went on to direct an absolute stunner of a film, Sexy Beast in 2000, but his visual tricks and jaw-dropping technique rarely have been on fuller display than in this gorgeous work. Pinning slow-motion and fast-motion in the same shot is a breathtaking maneuver, but it's the ballet-like aerial flight that really sends this video soaring.
There's more than just nifty editing and cinematography here though, the pose Thom strikes at the end is more than a little cross-bearing. It also mirrors him sprawled on a car and falling through the air at the beginning of the black-and-white vid. But how does one make the transition from falling to floating? By immersing "your soul in love" of course.

Paranoid Android (1997) OK Computer

dir. by Magnus Carlsson

By this point it's fairly clear that Radiohead (and their directors) see the world as a strange, confusing and painful place to grow up. There are drunk homeless men lining the streets, a man cries while a giant zero flashes on the screen above and even the angels fly mechanical helicopters (god loves his children indeed). The off-beat animation depicts a world where greedy men will stop at nothing to keep their power & masculinity intact and the tree of knowledge comes with a hefty price. All of which makes one want to just escape it all - climb up a pole somewhere. But there are also beautiful mermaids in the sea, friends to share taxis with and a shining sun beneath the bridge. Or at least that's what I tell myself.

Fitter, Happier (1997) OK Computer

dir. by James Engwell

Though this was never going to get a lot of play on MTV, it stands as a very effective and chilling representation of the themes in the track. Just as the rising piano and fuzz represent the cracks in the framework of our ideals, here we get distorted images and blurred vision. It isn't just that our robotic adherence to the norm is void of real happiness, it's also increasingly harmful and meaningless.

Karma Police (1997) OK Computer

dir. by Jonathan Glazer

The first half of this video is highly claustrophobic with it's faux-one-take and dimly lit swiveling camera work. We are thoroughly in the mind of our unseen driver, unable to escape once the door slams shut and Yorke enters. Glazer hints at the sinister intimations in the chorus, "this is what you get," by painting Thom all gangster-like; with a black-leather jacket and cold demeanor. Perhaps he's out to right a wrong or maybe he's just messing with this guy. Yet in the minute when he "loses himself," he hesitates and succumbs his power. The man outside jumps on this opportunity and everything is lost - including our backseat self-confidence.

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No Surprises (1997) OK Computer

dir. by Grant Gee

Maybe my personal favorite, it puts the emphasis on the music and lyrics through twinkling lights and literally putting the words on the screen (not to mention Yorke's face front and center). It's a simple video for a deceivingly simple song. But the words are backwards, and they scroll past almost too fast to read. Yorke's writing is pretty clear here, the world is upside down and drowning people in it's blandness. But in repeating the phrase "no alarms and no surprises" so many times it's clear that all the blame can't just be put on a government that doesn't speak for us. Thus here we have him looking in a mirror, realizing that he is the one that must pull himself out of the water - speak up.

Let Down (1998) OK Computer

dir. by Simon Hilton

This unreleased video shakes a lot of power out of what seems like the left over symbols and words from the OK Computer cover art. Playing out like a elementary chalkboard lesson, it utilizes the same powers of suggestion embedded in socially structured suffocation for the purposes of promoting free-thinking.

Palo Alto (1998) Airbag/How Am I Driving?

dir. by Grant Gee

This is an interesting video that continues many of the themes we've seen cycling through the OK Computer-era. It also focuses closely on the effect of music on people while quietly suggesting a dillema between making high-tech music and what seems to be the stifling progression of technology.
That last shot looks a lot like Sidney Lumet's Network too, which is a connection I hadn't previously thought to make. That's a damn good movie.

Continue to Part 2, post-OK Computer...

For A Dream

M. Ward "Requiem"

dir. by Santi G. Aguado

Emerging from the dust bowl of the west, 2006's Post-War was a slide show of fairground romances, traveling men and the whispers of some far-off sunlit mountaintop. When critics describe M. Ward's music as classic, it isn't simply in reference to the sounds - Ward paints portraits of characters that would slip easily into the wide-open sky's of American settlers and pioneers.

Yet they are as timeless as they are nostalgic, essentially more about a mentality than any one period in history. With the video for "Requiem" Santi Aguado depicts a man who is the real world match for Ward's world-weary voice. He isn't a prospector moving west, but he's a veteran, and someone who has lived a quiet yet astoundingly beautiful life.

We know it was beautiful because Aguado's cinematography is so damn pretty. The cover of Post-War recalls old photographs and family heirlooms with it's flags of rustic browns and reds, and here it seems that the director used these images as a reference point in building his video. He pieces the disparate parts of the lyrics into a photo of a man looking off into the distance, holding some vast knowledge in the twinkle of his eye.

Beyond all the referencing and musical majesty that Ward displays on record, his greatest skill may be in storytelling - or more specifically - character development. Aguado matches and underlines that ability with a deft directorial touch. We get momentary shots of a number of things like shifting hands, a pair of glasses and a watch. Alone they do little, but as the video builds steam the character comes to life out of the ashes of these objects. Like the sparse literary style of Hemmingway, we don't often think of people in terms of complete images, rather we hold onto a few key ideas from which we can recreate a person on cue in our thoughts.

Ward sings "his heart was stronger than a heavy metal bullet," and yet what we see is a rather modest, plain-looking man who seems to wander aimlessly alone. But of course Ward speaks of his heart, and it's when our protagonist belts out a solo on his accordion that we get a glimpse of that passion. But there are other clues as well - a loyal dog, a war medallion and a briefly seen heart-shaped photo locket are all powerful symbols of this man's heavy metal life.

The coolest effect in the video is the laying of pictures, taken within seconds of each other, one on top of another while the camera pans in on them. It not only has the feel of older films and flip-books, but reminds us that photographs and the like have an actual life within them. In remembering someone we can't bring them back, but with the help of a song, some objects, pictures or even just words, we can help others (and ourselves) see a small part of that person and the world he or she lived in.

The dilapidated and uninhabited environment that Ward and the director create for their character emphasizes the limits of memory and imagination. But though we might feel sorrow in reliving thoughts of someone's passing, we gain so much in recalling what has gone - their walk, their smile or even just the way they played the accordion. It's proof that our lives do extend past death, if only in the hands of those who remember us. Ward's passion in singing that climactic line is a recognition of the essential need for this type of remembrance, because so many people on the fringes of society end up living quiet, beautiful yet ultimately forgotten lives.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Evangelical Matter # 4

More pop melody than tragic opera, Six Feet Under was a show that constantly contradicted its surface images with a deeply layered subtext. Today we take a look back at the drama through the lens of it's music...

On Our Way To Fall: Music in Alan Ball's Six Feet Under

(Final Sequence) "Breathe Me" by Sia

created by Alan Ball

Alan Ball’s criminally under-appreciated HBO drama, Six Feet Under, was as much about learning to live as it was about coming to terms with death. And though the tagline for the final season was “everything ends,” the show was also a series of new beginnings.

The Fisher family is severely haunted by the loss of father and husband Nathaniel Fisher in the very first episode, but in their subsequent half-decade healing process they are also uncovering personal identities, goals, and meaning. And even as the characters age through five seasons of life’s cycles, it always seemed that the show itself wanted to push them towards eternal youthfulness.

The multi-faceted themes of the show are partially reflected in the soundtrack choices made by each episode’s directors. Whether or not creator Ball had a hand in every one of these selections it’s clear that there are threads that run through the entire series' musical backdrop. This perspective is particularly relevant to the idea of growing youthful, and within it there are a number of examples of the power of song to uplift, change and provide escape from our perpetually sinking lives.

In naming the entire series “six feet under” it was clear far before the first frame that tombstones would be carved. The strange fact that this family owned, operated, and lived in a funeral home only supported that inclination. Moreover, there was a prominent sense (especially in the younger Nate Fisher’s case) that with each passing day the characters were slipping further and further into their own future graves.

It’s not entirely surprising then that the first song we hear (other than the theme) in episode one, season one, is from an opera. In French composer Georges Bizet’s Carmen (1875), the track "L'amour est un oiseau rebelled" is part of a larger meditation on the volatile nature of love. Here the song is juxtaposed against a faux-commercial for a “Glamorous Hearse” (these initial “commercial breaks” were later dropped in favor of more varied dream sequences and quite a few musical fantasies), which reflects the dark humor of the show as well as amplifying the implication of impending disaster. The tragedy is complete a few moments later when the elder Nathaniel is abruptly killed in his brand new funeral vehicle. In a sense the Fishers are consistently struggling to come to terms with the erratic spirit of life itself.

The operatic mood is sustained throughout the next five seasons, with particular early emphasis through the use of Vivaldi and Mozart. Yet the most unforgettable musical moments are decidedly more pop in nature, from Peggy Lee to Kelly Clarkson. Even as the show presents itself as a dark, brooding indie production, its use of mood is far more varied. The inclusion of lighthearted, uplifting or pop radio music (as well as the twisted humor of the narrative and dialogue) belies the tragic undertones of the work. The aforementioned Lee, a '50s pop jazz icon, is a thematic link for the character of Nathaniel throughout the rest of the show, providing background music for his scenes with Nate especially, and establishing him as a carefree yet romantic figure. This is a consistent choice on the part of Ball, but there are many other times when music, plot, and visual poetry sublimate a mundane current of tension into something far more powerful.

In season two Nate revisits his old flame Lisa in Seattle while recovering a body for Fisher & Sons. He takes his younger sister Claire with him, and during the trip the two have one of the few serious moments of bonding they’ve shared since Nate returned from Seattle (also since the death of their father). As they exit the car outside Lisa’s place, Yo La Tengo’s “Our Way to Fall” plays rather prominently over a close-up shot of Nate observing her house. It’s a fairly romantic song, with whispery vocals and hushed sounds; the lyrics recalling a moment of first love. Nate and Lisa were of course previously involved, and sparked by this moment, they will be involved again later.

Yet the song selection at this juncture is far more perceptive than simply foreshadowing the future or recalling the past; it underlines the emotion that Nate must be feeling upon approaching this place as well. He has recently had difficulties with his current girlfriend Brenda, and returning to Lisa reminds him of the innocence and youthful energy of the past – something Nate is constantly seeking throughout the show. This marks a major turning point in Six Feet Under, because what Nate decides to do in Seattle will come back to literally haunt him for the rest of the series.

In the season three opening episode “Perfect Circles” Nate is face-to-face with a completely new life that springs out of that desperation in Seattle. Coldplay’s “A Rush of Blood to the Head” is played twice in this episode, mainly as an indicator of the extreme shift in Nate’s life. His entire path has been altered before him seemingly overnight. The song also serves to prominently highlight the shift towards more popular selections that occurred as the show gained viewers.

Yet the inclusion of Beck, Steely Dan, and others can only partially be attributed to the ratings (if that). Even as the budget grew the show continued to demonstrate a keen eye for unique and meaningful song choices. At the conclusion of the very same season Hank Williams gets the limelight with “Jambalaya,” featuring the chorus “son of a gun, we’ll have big fun.” It shines as a wry underscoring of the dramatic tension between Ruth’s (Nate’s mother) wedding and the death of Lisa – which has driven Nate to the edges of suicide.

There are other musical themes that relate directly to characters, like the Peggy Lee commentary on Nathaniel Fisher. Though almost every character gets a chance to sing, David is most memorably associated with show tunes. Bands such as Built to Spill, Stereolab, and Yo La Tengo accompany scenes involving Nate and Claire, mirroring both their youth and their optimism (initially, in the case of Nate). Claire especially tends to be surrounded by indie music, further emphasizing the rebellious/artistic spirit that seems to drive her to and away from art school. In fact the majority of the memorable songs in the last half of the show are Claire’s moments.

Season four’s “Parallel Play” episode finds the Fishers holding a garage sale, attempting to rid themselves of many painful memories. At the end of the day they pile everything that is left and set it aflame. Claire turns her boom box up as Radiohead’s “Lucky” comes slipping out the speakers, and the entire family gathers to watch the cathartic burning (which includes Lisa and Nate’s old bedsheets). While Thom Yorke croons that his luck “could change” and that he’s “waiting on the edge,” one could feel hopeful, but there is always a hint of doom in his words. Thus it’s not completely surprising that the bonfire helps only momentarily, with the rest of the season sinking deeper and deeper into turmoil.

The turn in musical focus from Nate to the younger Claire is the same turn the narratives and themes take in the show. In the end the show passes the mantle to Claire, hoping to find some future in her spirit and creativity. In the second to last episode the mood is almost completely taken over by the dark angels of the present – Interpol, Juana Molina, and Arcade Fire.

The Arcade Fire song is notable because it was written specifically for the Six Feet Under soundtrack (later nominated for a Grammy), and appears at one of the more climactic moments of the entire show. As Claire comes back from her horrific experience in the desert, Brenda is giving birth to Nate’s child and there is inexplicably a hint of optimism in the air. Much of this comes from the song, which plays through the end-credits. As lead singer Win Butler sings, “something ain’t right” a chorus of voices answer rather triumphantly, “yeah yeah yeah.” It is precisely this moment that Claire looks out into the night and first realizes that some cataclysmic change in her life might need to be made if she is going to avoid the fate of her brother.

But it’s the episode before, titled “All Alone,” that is the most musically intriguing of the five-year drama. It also happens to be one of the more gut wrenching, with the death of Nate fully realized. In a flashback Claire recalls the day Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain killed himself and Nate comforted her with a joint. Cobain’s “All Apologies” plays on her stereo, and this marks another pivotal moment of bonding between the two. It’s clear that music is a definitive way in which these two characters could relate, but it’s also a moving tribute to the power of the singer to unite. Like Tupac or Morrison, Cobain represents a figure that moved beyond music to become almost saintly after his death. Nate, like his father, continues to exist in the show as a ghost in the minds of those he touched.

Later, during Nate’s funeral service, Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” plays (it was Nate’s request) while the guests enter. As you watch the scene you can’t help but notice how fitting the song is for Nate particularly; a man constantly troubled by thoughts of death, faith, and guilt. Nate has also literally been near death’s door since his AVM diagnosis a few years prior.

During the same episode, as Claire and her new boyfriend Ted take a drive to escape the pain, Ted puts on some Kelly Clarkson. Even amidst her extreme grief Claire has her indie-radar on and questions Ted’s musical taste, but his rebuttal is quick – sometimes pop is exactly what you need to release these types of emotion. There is a small smile on Claire’s face, which is mirrored at the very conclusion of the show as she drives off into the sunrise to the sounds of Ted’s mixtape.

But Six Feet Under revealed that there is much more to music than simple escapism. From David’s show choir to the random outbreaks of song and dance throughout, the series often threatened to break into an all out musical – and for good reason. For a show that seemed to be decidedly fighting the masses - emerging out of left field with oddball characters and an entirely unconventional premise – it was always really about finding one’s place in the unity of everything. What could be more unifying than a sing-a-long? At the end of the episode Claire puts on her headphones and listens to that Nirvana song again, with the final lines, “all in all is all we are.”

Monday, January 15, 2007

Eye Candy # 3:The Noisettes, Jay Chou, Five for Fighting

A few new videos that caught our eye over on the Antville message boards...

Five for Fighting "World"

dir. by Todd Strauss-Schulson

Though not nearly as endearing as the homegrown sincerity of Terra Naomi's video, F4F are at least going to get this a lot of airplay (you can always watch it on mute if you want). And what the song lacks in melody and composition, the video makes up for in skillful direction - the little boy and the fireworks is especially poignant. But I could have done with a little less zoom on John Ondrasik's face.

The Noisettes "Sister Rosetta"

dir. by Ollie Evans

A great song from a great new band that gets an equally, if not more compelling video treatment. The band brings the energy level up a notch with their exuberant performance (her voice is amazing!) but it's the risk-taking animation and editing that really catches your eye. The finale is superb and the transitions between the hand-drawn and live-action sequences are so good they require multiple viewings.

Jay Chou "本草纲目"

dir. by Jay Chou

What begins as a rather typical hip-hop video quickly transforms into a highly stylized and fun dance piece. Chou's pop isn't usually my cup of tea but the video works for the most part by using sophisticated shots and interesting characters. People should use talented dancing kids more often. It's still sad that they had to include the entirely worthless slow-mo intro with the girls though.

Parallel Lines: U2 vs. Dylan

Two stylistically similar videos from the resident kings of rock 'n roll go head-to-head, and you might be surprised who comes out on top...

U2 "Windows in the Skies"

dir. by Gary Koepke

Bob Dylan "Thunder on the Mountain"

dir. by (anyone know?)

The recent deluge of lip-sync videos hasn't lessened the wow-factor upon seeing the technique used really well. Here we have two professionally made big-time productions that achieve nearly flawless illusions, and give the die-hard music nerd a nice novelty treat (if you know where every shot in the Dylan video comes from I'm looking right at you). But is there more to these visuals than showing off simply awesome editing skills? Maybe...

The most obvious factor that separates the U2 vid from the Dylan one is the use of a wider scope of musical history in the former. I've heard critics comment on the self-congratulatory nature of "Windows in the Skies" in that it reeks of U2 boasting "music's greatest acts are singing our song, we're cool!" Well one expects nothing less from Bono Vox, but let's be fair here, Dylan's video is just as masturbatory in a "I've been great for a really long time" kind of way. But whether or not the respective artists came up with these treatments, they still exist as separate works of art under the guidance of a director. Thus they deserve to be examined independent from the egos of the musicians involved.

"Thunder on the Mountain" is a fairly brilliant song, and features some of Dylan's most depressing lyrics on the modern world yet. It's also filled with wit and a lighthearted smirk, with some truly clever couplets threatening to overshadow the gloom factor. Yet while the music video reveals many sides of Dylan, it doesn't uncover much about the song. Though the majority of the lyrics are obscure and hard to relate, like any Dylan song one can at least attempt an interpretation.

One might argue that in this context the song becomes a reflection on Dylan's entire career, and certainly the opening lines can attest to this possibility, "Thunder on the mountain, and there's fires on the moon/A ruckus in the alley and the sun will be here soon" could be from any era in the songwriter's long career. But in focusing on the historical picture of Dylan the director partially negates the insight of this song, pulled from 2006's Modern Times, which comments directly on our current state of affairs (even making an Alicia Keys reference). So while it may be a fanboy's wet dream of a video, it lacks any clear assertive point - which clearly isn't what the career of the greatest songwriter is about.

The U2 video, on the other hand, has something definitive to say while using the song as support and amplification for it's message. It's also one hell of a fun video to watch with it's inclusion of both raucous performing and groovy dancing. Central is this concept of performance, which provides the link between the power of the music and the "people" who might be moved by it.

The spreading red veins that take root in the instruments and bodies of the musicians are the vibes of "love" reaching out to the world. In the song Bono's line, "Can't you see what our love has done" takes on both painful and positive connotations. Here director Koepke is exclusively searching for the good that can emerge from music; the undeniable power of ecstatic self-expression. It's important that these are mostly live performances, because it is in the immediacy of the playing, singing and dancing that we find the most joy. We see ourselves in those moments, and we understand something true about the feeling behind the music.

U2 appear at the end of the video as fans themselves, faces in the crowd just out to enjoy the sounds. While one doubts that The Edge gets a chance to see concerts uninhibited very often, the scenes are included to remind one of the connectivity of music through time. Every artist, no matter how large, is also a fan of music him or herself. We can't help but be inspired by others, and that final image of budding flowers includes Sinatra and Jay-Z as much as me or you. Music is truly an infectious thing, and for all their posing one can't deny the effect that artists like Dylan and U2 can truly have on the world. It's for celebrating our collective love of music that "Windows in the Skies" gets a rousing ovation.

Download: My favorite Dylan song (right now) - "Love Minus Zero/No Limit"

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