Wednesday, January 10, 2007

FEATURE: Parallel Lines

Today we compare and contrast two great videos from Pegz and Guillemots that, when taken together, develop a common theme and thesis that sheds new light on each...

Pegz "What Would Happen"

dir. Callum Cooper

Guillemots "We're Here"

dir. Chris Cairns

If you hadn't noticed, we love the Guillemots. But it isn't just because of Fyfe Dangerfield's high-wire vocal acrobatics or the risk-taking nuances of their production or even the good-old fashioned pop perfection of every melody on Through the Windowpane - it's because the Guillemots have the guts to be about something. They aren't simply here to entertain you with their music, they want to move you - and move you somewhere grand at that.

I know less about Pegz, but if "What Would Happen" is any indication, he and director Callum Cooper are artists of similar conscience. Their video is a skillfully shot, produced and executed music video - combining humor, drama and suspense into one non-stop thriller. The intensity moves from a walk in the park to a dangerous chase through the streets; barely stopping for a suicide attempt, a threesome in the backseat of a car, and the theft of a postman's bike. Yet it's not a video that arrives at a decisive ending either, rather it's a cyclical experience that one could imagine stretching on forever.

Which of course is the point. Pegz question to his protagonist and to the viewer is simple, "what would happen if today was your last?," but the answer is far more complicated. Our hero begins with some good ideas - reconnecting with love, old friends, his hometown and the occasional fun excursion. But things don't really work out the way he intends, as he quickly finds himself drowning in pools, coughing up smoke and narrowly avoiding being run over by trains and cars.

These early scenes suggest that regardless of good intentions, things have a tendency to fall apart. Case in point is the very first positive action our protagonist takes - picking a flower for a girl. As he hands her the thoughtful gift she is noticeably moved, but within the next second something happens that causes her to slap him across the face. Then while he's looking back angrily at what has happened he falls face first into peril. Whether it's something he said or just bad blood between ex-lovers, his act goes seemingly to waste and predicts the course of the rest of the video.

Yet things actually seem to get worse from there. Pegz raps at the end of the first segment, "do you wish you could rewind and start again?/stop playing the harlequin." This is perhaps the essential dilemma - each day is new, but clouded with the past. We can try and live each moment as if it where our last, but that doesn't negate the memory of every other day that has gone before. As the song perceives, it is inherently impossible to "make your mark" while you are constantly "ashamed of the past."

The visual conceit for the work, the constantly shifting settings and scenarios, emphasizes the helpless feeling amidst the unstoppable progression of life - each night that he goes to bed the window reminds us that time moves quickly forward. In our constant search for answers, to live each day to the fullest, we find almost no time to breathe, to think. It's rather simple to shout carpe diem at the top of your lungs, but what next, what to do once you have the day firmly seized in your hand?

The concept of choice is an overwhelming burden in this video. It seems that there is no right or wrong way to go, yet one must consistently choose something. Pegz lays out these difficult decisions quite deftly, "would you save earth, or finish your days work?" Are the two mutually exclusive? Even to answer that question can be an enormous task. Thus we get the horribly ironic idea of a man so unable to deal with the constantly moving world, that he attempts suicide on his last day to live. But the building he jumps from is made up of a thousand other buildings and thoughts he has existed in before. It's as if his entire life has piled up into a mountain of choice and responsibility - with no ostensible escape.

Chris Cairns video for "We're Here" offers clues to a possible way out. The gorgeous cinematography can be hypnotic in it's nearly perfect editing and syncing with the music, yet it would be a mistake to assume that it's nothing but pretty pictures of nature. Though no one is mistaking Dangerfield for Thoreau, his lyrics on "We're Here" are infused with the natural imagery that serve as a jumping off point for the depth of the video.

Whereas Pegz' video is entrenched in the endless details of every day, the onslaught of natural images here seems to imply a more holistic view - something more circle of life-ish. Yet there are small touches that belie the idea that the individual is lost in anyway through this process of big-picture thinking. Apart from the close-ups on plant and animal life in the beginning, there is a certain sequence of passing blue sky during which if you pay close attention you'll notice hundreds of dancing bugs in the air foregrounding the clouds. Later there's a look at a huge mountain and lake passing into night while in the distance two sheep meander on the edge of the water. These juxtapositions of big and small, of multiple processes, reminds one that there is not just one pattern to the movement of life.

Dangerfield's lyrics and the ecstatic climax of the song come into play in an epic manner here. The idea that we have reached "here," implies that there is somewhere to be, but in the context of the entire album and this video it's more of a realization that one is always here, in the moment of decision. Like Pegz in the first video, Dangerfield is aware of the costs of freedom and imposition of choice - we are here and now "free to run and cry." And the first time the chorus features the line, "we're just seconds, seconds in a day," one feels a tinge of that same melancholic overwhelming that our man tightropes on the top of his self-made building.

Yet we run through another verse, and when that line arrives for the second time, the "day" is what is overtly emphasized. Because the knowledge that we are merely tiny parts of this vast incomprehensible life that wants to swallow us whole at every moment also comes with the understanding that we are at least a part of something. Your one second of existence, your blip on the radar screen, would not exist without the "day" - but the "day" does not exist without each and every second either.

The Guillemots ode to natural wonder and beauty is rooted in this release of worry, of the guilty past and an embrace of the human experience as valuable - inherently and undeniably valuable. The man in Pegz video finds peace only for a few moments, and it's precisely when he sits down on a bench in the open air, with a friend, listening to music that he exhales. Rather than attempting to constantly compete with his life (a game which he always loses), it is when he settles down and lets life lead him that he finds some guidance. That's not to say that we should simply sit around and do nothing, but a few moments of contemplation could be huge step towards getting something grand out of our lives.

Guillemots - Through the Windowpane - We're Here

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