Monday, July 30, 2007

Dirt Don't Hurt: Bonnie Prince Billy "The Seedling"

Click below the trailer to watch full-length video...

Bonnie Prince Billy "The Seedling" [Full Video]

dir. by Aran Reo Mann

The trailer for Bonnie Prince Billy's latest video is rated "R" for "coarse language and sexual situations." This could very well be a perfunctory detail meant to identify the clip as a preview, or perhaps placed against the red background it foreshadows the horror filminess of the piece. Yet the choice of words, specifically "sexual situations," is hard to ignore when the first verse of a song about making seedlings grow ends with "My full-sized child is fully unclothed."

The other, more limpidly vital detail of the trailer is the phrase uttered anonymously by a satirically creepy voice, "god made dirt, and dirt don't hurt." It's a phrase you've probably heard before, the type of thing your grandparents might say, and is generally interpreted as a sort of positive axiom. (It's also often translated on schoolyards as the "five-second rule.") Yet here it sounds reticently sinister, as if the unseen narrator is mocking that second half of the rhyme: "dirt don't hurt." Or it could just be silliness.

The actual video is even darker than the trailer promises. After some beautifully scenic and aquatic imagery - which immediately brings to mind life cycles, i.e. "the miracle of birth" - we are shown an ominously empty rocking chair. The exact origins of the rocking chair are up for debate, but it has often been viewed as a symbol of parenting - perhaps a result of its association with the old nursery rhyme "Rock-a-bye Baby" (which itself is rather unsettling, "down will come baby, cradle and all"). Thus this vacancy implies bad, non-existent or perhaps "ghostly" child-rearing.

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When the seat is finally filled, it adds no measure of comfort. A faceless man sits in almost complete darkness, singing his song with his deathly bright lips. Blue lips would normally suggest a voice from beyond the grave, but the fluorescent sea of life in the opening challenges this assumption. There is also something sensually abashing about putting such emphasis on the lips - conjuring images of unfulfilled desire.

In a parallel narrative a mysterious character takes his lantern into the forest to steal a bit of nature's beauty for himself (he chooses mushrooms, which can be both nutritious and poisonous). He hordes these living things in his bedroom, and uses them to create his own world. Whether Bonnie Prince Billy is singing of actual "illegitimate" children conceived in secret or making an analogy to songwriting, there is something about this creative process that keeps the artist up at night. The little girls who awake in his test-tubes almost all look to him for guidance, but the final shot of the video features one such exiguous creature stare directly towards the camera - as if cognizant of her confinement and now ready to be released.

Director Aran Reo Mann, who may or may not be related to Michael Mann (probably is), worked with the famous director on art direction in his films Collateral and Miami Vice. The gorgeous use of color and shadow here is perhaps the biggest link to those movies, yet whereas blue tends to represent either isolation or safety in Michael's films (including Miami Vice), it is used more ambiguously in "The Seedling." There are effulgent jellyfish in that pretty ocean, but it's a beauty that will sting you upon embrace.

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