Friday, February 16, 2007

Love, Blood and Trucks: The Decemberists "O Valencia"

Colbert-conquering indie gods The Decemberists rightfully decided to forgo the fan-made videos and instead release this mammoth project directed by the same guy behind the very successful "16 Military Wives"...

The Decemberists "O Valencia" (Director's Cut)

dir. by Aaron Stewart-Ahn

In the wake of Justin Timberlake and company's 9 minute epic unleashed earlier in the week, The Decemberists unveil their own mini-movie music video for the previously released "O Valencia." In the director's cut (a shorter version was released on MTV earlier) the story of a head-over-heels man and his lover is extended to include more violence, more drama and more strange eyebrow movements from guitarist Chris Funk. What emerges is a brilliantly shot fairly entertaining production, featuring a surprising performance from Colin Meloy and one too many tacked-on endings.

The compositions of Stewart-Ahn's shots are the most impressive aspect of the video. When Meloy goes to pick up Francesca she stands in the middle of the sidewalk and at the crossroads of the multiple highways speeding behind her. Her mind is not only full of thought, but she is about to make a rather important decision. Later, as they exit Meloy's turquoise truck at the motel, there is a slight zoom from the back of the truck towards the green doors of the motel. The insides of the motel rooms are thematically color-coded in yellows and greens, and when Meloy stands heroically with his fist-clenched these two colors are directly contrasted. The green may represent the naivety and hope with which Meloy's character approaches the scene, the yellow being his inner fear (cowardice) and the reds and grays used in the end could be the realities of the situation (there is a strange red light emanating from behind the villain's vehicle as well).

Meloy's character overcomes his fear and has a moment of grand power, breaking through the yellow door, before eventually wilting to the sheer numbers of his opposition in the dark night. Yet it seems what is most important is that he was able to stand fearless in the name of some cause, even if just for a moment. Or it might very well be that all of these choices where purely stylistic in nature. Regardless Stewart-Ahn directs with a keen eye for aesthetically pleasing compositions and interesting color combinations.

There is also a Wes Anderson/Guy Ritchie-type feel to the director's style. The red jump-suits are straight-out of The Royal Tennenbaums, but more significantly the types of cuts used and the low-angle shots of large groups reminds one of both directors' films. He also retains some of Andersons flare for 'dramedy', though he errs on the side of straight parody for the most part. The decision to create a story of unrequited love to contrast with the almost Romeo and Juliet-like undertones of the lyrics is a good one, and the video would have benefited greatly if it ended with the discovery of Francesca's letter. Unfortunately Stewart-Ahn stays true to the absurd tendencies of the affair and sets up one more scene 2 months later.

To his credit the director manages to tell a rather compelling tale in a short time frame (the words on the screen help quite a bit), without letting the dialogue distract from the narrative or song too much (something JT's video failed to do). It's also a video that seems to fit the aesthetic of the band and their music as well, which in itself is a rare accomplishment. The final diner scene though is unnecessary and ridiculous, even as it concludes the themes of fate and violence that are in the air from the beginning. But in a sense Meloy does succeed in "burning" the whole city down in the name of his love, as he promises in the song. All major parties are dead by the end, and only his hopeful green truck rests untouched outside the restaurant.


Matthew said...

Oh sheesh, why is that final diner scene necessary! They could have stopped after the end of the song and they could have stopped after the letter and it would have been great, but the diner? Gah!

Aaron Stewart Ahn said...

I'm speechless. I really appreciate this.

I wish you'd written up my video for "Stable Song". That's the one I like the most and hear the least about. And is very Wes Anderson free. And Guy Ritchie, nah. I've seen one movie of his and didn't care for it.

Don't like to go into too much detail as to why things happen, but as originally planned those two additional endings were to have come out episodically on the band's website, standalone. As it is, it's a miracle we're even seeing this now as the video almost got lost in the restructuring at Capitol.

Imran said...

Hey Aaron, thanks for commenting, I loved the Stable Song video, but unfortunately we didn't have a chance to post something on it last year. We might revisit it in the future as a "classic" video. And I'm thankful that this video wasn't lost among the rubble of that restructuring because it's clear a lot of great work went into this production. Keep up the good work, peace.

Aaron Stewart Ahn said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Imran said...

Even though you've decided (or have been advised) to remove some of your comments, I appreciate you taking the time to discuss this with us here.

Even when parts of your artistic vision are compromised by money and power, the mark of a great director is being able to adapt their personal aesthetic to fit the situation. In the case of the Decemberists video, the fact that we where able to spot some deeper ideas and themes amidst the finished product means your vision was not completely lost. And I think the Death Cab video shows us that if given the freedom, you can do great things.

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