Friday, March 30, 2007

Ring the Alarm? Beyonce Releases More Videos

There's nothing wrong with Beyonce making 13 videos for one album, you can never get enough B' right? Well only as long as they are actually good videos...

"Freakum Dress" dir. by Melina

Beyonce is releasing 7 new videos for her B'Day Anthology Video Album (DVD), on top of the, count 'em, 6 she has already put out to promote the music from the multi-platinum B'Day. If you couldn't already tell, we talk about her a lot here because we genuinely like her, and we especially like any artist who is putting good energy into the video industry. In fact a "video album" is a brilliant concept, and one that gets video nerds like us super-excited. The potential for a project like this is sky-high.

Yet sadly there is something strangely disturbing about the way this is coming together. Maybe it's because 7 of these videos (including this one) were directed simultaneously (by Melina and Beyonce), or perhaps it's the fact that this DVD will only be available through Wal-Mart - but this looks a lot like a commercial ploy rather than an artistic statement. Though we haven't seen every video from the new collection quite yet, Beyonce has provided one-minute previews or stills from all the videos, and they all look like more of the same.

"Green Light"

"Suga Mama"

"Kitty Kat"

Minimalism has been a popular trend in hip-hop/r&b videos for a while, but after a few times it starts to look a lot like a sign of laziness rather than a creative tool. Almost all of these new videos feature Beyonce and her back-up dancers dressed glamorously in front of large screens and various simple props. The scenes rarely, if ever, add anything to the themes of the song and simply serve as eye-candy (though, in fairness, there is an attempt to make each video distinct). The video for "Kitty Kat" is perhaps the silliest, with Beyonce crawling on the floor with a huge green-screened cat - which we're assuming is supposed to be sexy.

Sex is of course the main selling point for all these videos, and one could argue that Beyonce (along with most of her contemporaries) has always made videos that are more about developing an image than saying anything meaningful. In fact, in that regard it is quite impressive that she was able to film and put together all of these in such a short time - many stars release two videos a year which are of less quality than these. But none of that really excuses selling this DVD (at Wal-Mart) to millions of eager Beyonce fans who already own the original album. Maybe the rest of the clips will actually turn out to be quite different from what the previews suggest - but we're not holding our breath. The fact that Beyonce did make a few interesting videos for this album, including "Irreplaceable" and "Ring the Alarm," just emphasizes how much better these other ones could have been. It's not like she was strapped for cash - she makes that very clear.

We recently saw this clip of Beyonce presenting Michael Jackson with a lifetime achievement award at the World Music Awards. The singer talks about how much MJ has meant to the industry and how she is personally inspired by his work. The sad truth for her is, despite whatever criticism you may have of Jackson, the King of Pop would never release this many sub-par videos on a single DVD. Beyonce still has a bit to learn before she assumes the throne.

Beyonce previews her new videos on TRL

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Speak Up! The COMRAD's Behind Coparck's "A Good Year for the Robots"

Our exclusive interview with the directing team behind this very good music video...

Coparck "A Good Year for The Robots"

There are many reasons why Coparck's "A Good Year For the Robots" is among our favorite videos of the year. From the art direction to the acting, every aspect of the work is carefully and beautifully executed. In fact, we where so obsessed with the video that we sent the band our Wizard of Oz-themed essay just to get their opinion on the matter.

In return we were given the privilege of discussing the finer points of the project - including the Tin Man, Ricky Gervais and robot love - with the men behind this compelling vision: directors Wouter Stoter and Daniel Bruce, of Holland and South Africa respectively.

Obtusity: The lyrics of the song prominently feature robots, and directly reference Philip K. Dick's novel as well. How much was the band involved in this process and how much of the vision was kicking around the director's head beforehand?

Wouter: First off, about the direction. COMRAD is a collective of about 10 directors who work in The Netherlands. The Coparck video was done by me and Daniel.

We had been talking a long time with Odilo (singer) before this came out. The original plan was to make 12 videos for 12 songs. There are some basic themes on the 3rd album of Coparck that we wanted to show in these clips. For this song we wanted to do something with the idea of the song, robots and love.

Daniel: In the process of this video we had a lot of contact with the band. Every new idea we had, we discussed it immediately with the band. We started out with a more cinematic/ fiction story with a guy falling in love with a robot girl, but then we decided to make it a documentary about a robot that wants love. It's more emotional and fits the bittersweet feeling of the song.

Obtusity: Did you always plan on using dialogue and external sound in the video?

Wouter: When we decided to make it a documentary, we decided it should have people talking about Alex, because we didn't want Alex to talk and still explain something about the story.

Is the reference to the Wizard of Oz (tin man getting a new heart) an intentional move, and if so, what is the relationship of the song, the band and the director to the story of the Tin Man and the others on the yellow brick road?

Wouter: Somewhere after we had started developing the film and were already heavily in the midst of preproduction did we actually realize that we were making the story of the Tin Man. We even wanted to put more subtle emphasis on it with props and dialogue because we liked the analogy and thought that it wouldn't come across enough but, clearly, it did.

Obtusity: One of the most engaging aspects of the video are the philosophical questions it raises. How important is the external expression of emotion to the artists involved? What is it that music and video provide that other forms might not?

Daniel: Expression is the reason we feel alive. Not just because we make movies, but it's in every aspect of life. Music and video are ways to express emotions and create personal worlds of your thoughts. It's a great state of being.

Obtusity: What was the idea behind using a faux-documentary style?

Wouter: The mocumentary style was adopted for a number of reasons. Creatively because the magic of the film lies in the contrast of treating something totally absurd and unrealistic as real and then to let real people/actors comment realistically about that. That’s why the cast is also made up of very normal people. Another reason why we went ahead with the style was budget, we only had enough money to shoot on video and as a rule we thought, if we are going to shoot on video then it too should become a style choice that fits into your concept otherwise you get a cinematically shot film that just doesn't look right because it should have been shot on film. So, most docu's are shot on video so therefore it fit into our concept and style form to do so too. Also, we believed that as a music video it would be relatively original to shoot it rough and documentary-like.

Obtusity: Was anybody a fan of Ricky Gervais' The Office?

Daniel: Who isn't a fan! But when you shoot a documentary style in an office with English actors it's impossible not to refer to the Office. But it was never our initial idea. We, being Dutch, just wanted it to look international and we knew some English actors, so we went for that.

Does the video have a negative or positive view of technological advancement? Or is the use of robots simply a symbolic structure?

Wouter: Positive if we can live with them and they serve us margaritas on demand, and negative if they try to take over the world!

We started out thinking of robots as the replacements of cheap labor. In the future this will be done by robots, who then will get discriminated instead of the immigrants who get it now, and in an even further future they will rebel against humans for treating them so bad. So, in the end they will take revenge for what humanity has done to nature.

Obtusity: What about the actual shooting of the video; what kind of camera was used, who are the actors in the video and where was most of it shot?

Wouter: The shoot was hardcore and, just like its style, it was very documentary-like. We shot the film on XD-CAM, which is pretty much the same quality as a digital-beta camera only a little softer. All the scenes in the office we shot with a Pro 35 adapter, which gives you the opportunity to fit 35mm camera lenses onto it and therefore achieve the same soft depth of field and a slightly more filmic look. Exterior was shot on the same camera but without the adapter and only a zoom lens. For the interviews of all the people, we used a mini DV camera.

Daniel: The shoot was very documentary-like so we shot it over a wide span of time and largely shot from the hip and improvised, crew and actors alike. 2 days in London (exterior) and 2 days in Holland (interior).

The process took forever because we started developing it before we had the green light, then everybody took a break to do other projects and then we came back to it, so I don't know how long, but it seems very long. Actually putting the film together was done in a couple of weeks. Our budget was very low, around 15k.

What kind of direction did you have to give the lead actor, and
how easily did he fit into the role of Alex?

Wouter: We wanted a contrast between before the operation and after. We gave him therefore 4 kinds of expressions and a specific walk to do before the operation, then and gave him the freedom to express himself fully after the operation. For the rest, everything was largely improvised; walking around and finding elements or people to create scenes with.

Obtusity: Are there plans of revisiting Alex in a later work? If not, what do you imagine happens to the guy, and what are his chances for successful romance?

Wouter: Nina and Alex survived until Nina got him home that first night and discovered that they had left out certain "bits" and "bobs" during Alex's construction. They broke up and Nina fell in love with Cynthia the Scottish floor manager instead.

Alex is now trying to restore his old memory chip because he now knows what heartache is.

Daniel: We didn't expect that really. We always thought that robots couldn't have heartache because they were programmed to love forever!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Recognizing Your Saints: The Concretes "Kids"

Director Dito Montiel's feature debut serves as an ideal base for discussing the Concretes video for "Kids," from their upcoming third album Hey Trouble...

The Concretes "Kids"

dir. by David Mullett

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints is a brilliant film recently released on DVD starring Robert Downey Jr. and Shia LaBeouf and directed autobiographically by newcomer Dito Montiel (who also wrote the screenplay and a novel of the same name). It details Dito's struggle to come to terms with his harrowing New York childhood in a style that will easily remind you of Mean Streets, Do the Right Thing and countless other stories about the funny, tough and ultimately scary process of growing up in rough American neighborhoods (or any place for that matter).

Like those other films (stick Saturday Night Fever in there as well), the film is as much about nostalgia itself, as it is about the actual events recalled. In this respect Montiel is especially adept, as he represents his inner thoughts and recollections through a variety of creative voices and images. Revisiting his long abandoned past is not an entirely fulfilling process, things have changed after all, but one does sense he feels a rush of emotion nonetheless - something close to an echo of his adolescent dreams.

That echo, though, is not a dull metallic note but a rapturous collage of music and color. From the Puerto Ricans who love Journey to the Black Flag-inspired band Dito nearly starts, there is an undeniable connection between memory and music in the film. The video for The Concretes "Kids" delves into similar territory, and even if the stories aren't quite as shocking, they still compellingly reflect the influence of music on our personal histories.

In this sense music isn't just a background element of a scene, but the actual conductor in the construction of a thought. Lead singer Lisa Milberg recalls rainy days where she and her friend stayed in and listened to records all afternoon, or passed their time cutting and pasting together construction paper art. Then later, as the song nears its climax, the screen is filled with paper raindrops. The piano notes of the music are literally connected to these specific memories.

Yet Milberg isn't actually nostalgic for those old records, all of which she can probably still listen to whenever she wants. It's the time period and the small events of those days which she misses so much. In particular it is the friendship she had with this girl that the songs represents for her. She sings, "music just sounds better with you," and highlights how inseparable certain feelings and thoughts are from certain tunes. She reaches back to those times by reliving the song, and within those notes she finds fragmented projections of her youthful happiness. Music helps her recall the importance of those feelings, even if she was just a "kid" at the time.

The video begins with a paragraph on childhood and the moment when "everything changed." One wonders how much collective human thought has actually been altered by the influence of music, or more specifically record players, boomboxes, walkmen, videos and iPods. Is it easier to "remember," now that we always have an accompanying soundtrack? Even without those devices some of our heads are constantly humming and buzzing with our favorite melodies; how much can a song impact the way we actually experience a moment, both at the time and in retrospect?

These questions are especially interesting in the context of music videos. Any video fiend or film buff knows the relation between image and sound is a truly beautiful and mysterious thing. Over time our memories can often actually become, as Milberg desires, "just a chorus." Things meld together into one blurry mess of lost feelings and ideas; the chorus has little power without the accompanying verses. But when we actually sit down and listen to a song from our past, we can't help but be flooded with images that remind us of why these times were important to us in the first place. Our memories and dreams literally become music videos.

But there is something even more essential about this connection between visuals and sound. While on the plane ride back home, Dito Montiel puts his headphones on and stares at a young child a few seats ahead of him. He had previously written a book about his time in New York, but the songs are his gateway to actually seeing his childhood. We need to not only remember our past, but be able to visualize it - to relive it. If only so we might never forget what hope looks like.

Trailer: A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints

CORRECTION: We had incorrectly referred to Victoria Bergsman as the lead singer in the original post. Bergsman has in fact left the band and Lisa Milberg, a founding member of the group, is the true lead singer. We apologize to The Concretes for being so sloppy.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Sun Also Rises: Richie Spice "Youths Are So Cold"

Richie Spice's video hints that no single person is responsible for the circle of depravity in his homeland, but that everyone has a responsibility to make sure kids never grow up feeling cold and forgotten...

Richie Spice "Youths Are So Cold"

dir. by Ras Kassa The Guru

Beginning and ending with shots of children on the streets of Jamaica, Richie Spice's video for "Youths Are So Cold" is a revealing look at the depressingly cyclical situation of his homeland. Just as the song laments a suffocating system of poverty, violence and lack of education, director Ras Kassa The Guru shows us a visual world of underground alleyways and insurmountable walls. And while the environment is specific to one country, the message of the video is relevant for anyone, anywhere in the world.

The camera comes in through the roof above Richie Spice in an early shot, and from this moment forward we are within the confines of Spice's world. The narrative focuses on a couple of violent acts in the name of monetary gain, but it does not attempt to romanticize these depictions. Though the young boy who stabs an innocent girl in order to obtain her cellphone is clearly in the wrong, his situation is far more complicated than we can imagine. Not only has he likely grown up in poverty and hunger, as Spice sings "searching for food for the pot, they'll do anything to fill that gap," but he has little faith in society to provide any opportunity for him to transcend his upbringing. A bespectacled white man observes events from a bridge but doesn't move to help, and the subsequent police brutality simply reaffirms the kid's feeling of worthlessness.

Spice comments on the sun shining each day, but the video underlines his opinion that it's simply an "illusion" of happiness; turning the bright colors of a freshly painted wall into dull grays. Within the same scene, as a teenage boy paints those walls, there is an elderly man staring blankly at the camera next to Spice. Life can turn so quickly from the hopeful sunshine of youth to the bitter regret of old age, and this is perhaps the greatest pain that Spice feels. He stands somewhere between the two other characters, at the crossroads of his life. What he realizes is that too many lives are spent solely on survival, rather than pursuing and utilizing the optimism of childhood.

The youth are both literally and figuratively left out in the cold in this process. Spice believes it starts with access to education, but it is equally important to consider what children are actually being taught in classrooms. Even kids who go to school their entire lives end up "cold" and disillusioned as a result of being educated to consistently doubt themselves. Somewhere along the way the spirit of life is suppressed and the fire put out. The goal is to raise everyone out of the slums of hopelessness, but step one is expressing our emotions openly rather than walking blindly over bridges; so that we might inspire the younger generations. With this video Richie Spice has made a valiant first move.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Dawn's Strange World: Forever Thursday "How Can It Be"

You know that song that has been floating in your head since you first saw a JC Penney commercial during the Oscars? Well here's the music video for it, so you can continue your obsession with the real thing...

Forever Thursday "How Can It Be"

dir. by Joel Pront

The whimsical tone of Australian band Forever Thursday's debut single is given a simple and elegant treatment in this charming new video. Beginning with lead singer Melanie Horsnell staring quizzically at the morning sky, what follows is her child-like exploration of the world waiting at her feet. She is initially surprised by the realization she makes staring up at the rising sun - but soon she is skipping and dancing along the seams of the day.

The video also doubles as a day-in-the-life of a recording band, holed up in a secluded house attempting to express something of themselves through music. We watch them as they slowly come to life as if taken over by the power of the song itself. By the end we are fairly convinced that the recording process can be both tiresome and endlessly fun. And more importantly, that each day holds a million possibilities. Sometimes it just takes one look around to realize the vastness of the day, and the power of the ideas in your head.

But the JC Penney spot is still more fun, and accomplishes nearly the same effect, albeit far more bluntly.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Think For Yourself: Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip "Thou Shalt Always Kill"

Dan le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip "Thou Shalt Always Kill"

dir. by Nick Frew

A completely addictive, sensible and hilarious rant that recalls The Streets and early LCD Soundsystem. The video is equally fun and incessantly watchable, confirming all initial reports that Scroobius Pip is the man. The real genius of his work, as with most great critiques, is that he takes no prisoners. He doesn't just stick-it to music fans, politicians or any other easy-target group; we could all take his advice and think for ourselves a bit more. [via Antville]

Rock, Paper, Scissors: Hadouken, Eatlitz Band

Two videos from across the ocean which utilize minimal technology to maximum effect...

Hadouken "That Boy That Girl"

dir. by Bob Harlow

Mixing the frenetic style of M.I.A. with punk tendencies and a host of other contemporary brit-rock groups, Hadouken still emerge looking and sounding entirely unique in their video for "That Boy That Girl." The paper cut-outs and bright pinks/neon greens bring to mind 80's excess or 90's graffiti art, but the visuals are completely creative and contemporary. The colorful energy of the video is perfect for the witticisms of the track, which both criticize and embrace stereotypical indie-culture. Sounds like a potentially huge underground hit in the States.

LISTEN: Hadouken "That Boy That Girl"

Eatliz Band "Attractive"

dir. by Yuval and Merav Nathan

This Israeli super-group sets their video for "Attractive" in a very non-glamorous cardboard wonderland. But the set design is nevertheless a thing of beauty, telling an extravagant tale of high-sea adventure without anyone ever actually setting foot on a real beach.

The singer is lured out to a dark place by sirens, where she plays some music and defeats a cyclops. Perhaps the storm that follows is her punishment for the Odysseus-like hubris of her words, but soon she wakes up safely back ashore her strange homeland. The sun is up, and all seems well. But what has she to show from her journey?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Get Serious Like Crazy!: Natasha Bedingfield "(I Wanna Have Your) Babies"

The brilliant new single from Ms. Bedingfield gets a hilarious video treatment which transcends it's small visual faults by developing an interesting theme...

Natasha Bedingfield "(I Wanna Have Your) Babies"

dir. by Dave Meyers

On 2005's "These Words," Natasha Bedingfield laid bare her considerable pop talents and penchant for undeniably catchy melodies. The song erupted across Top 40 radio despite blatantly referencing non-hip literary icons Byron, Shelley and Keats. But her singularity was born precisely from the wit of her words, which used the songwriting process to illuminate the value of unique self-expression. The infectious quality of the song was the literal validation of the writer's theme, "these words are my own, from my heart flown."

It was the direct and abrupt sincerity of that chorus, "I love you, I love you, I love you," which made the track ultimately so endearing. On her latest pop masterpiece, "I Wanna Have Your Babies," Bedingfield once again toys with our perceptions of what can and can't be said in public. But as Dave Meyers' video comically reinforces, this time she is also manufacturing a critique of relations between the sexes. And she does so with heaping amounts of that same charming wit.

The video is cheesy and somewhat gaudy, but the tone matches the song note for note. Bedingfield uses her sex appeal to lure different men, but it seems obvious from the start her goal is childbearing - and not love. Each of her first three suitors fails to embrace this same ideology. She pokes fun at the hypocrisy of men who use women for sex but are adverse to the notion of fatherhood, but this concept is only loosely dealt with.

After all Bedingfield isn't entirely attempting a serious critique of male society here. One could argue that she herself is superficially picking up men in this video whom she thinks would make adept mates, rather than searching for a "connection" of some sort. But in truth her enthusiasm for motherhood is both a literal desire and an intentionally bold statement for effect. It's part of a weeding out process in which she observes her potential partner's reaction to her exclamation, before deciding to go forth. It's only the meager coffee shop employee, who isn't scared of fatherhood, who gets the kiss in the end.

Bedingfield isn't necessarily looking for someone to impregnate her immediately (though it's obviously on her mind), but she does want someone who isn't afraid of responsibility or of strong-willed women who know what they want and speak their mind. The apex of the song rests in her delivery of the lines "I keep on faking, so my heart don't get broke/I'm in the big (x4) ocean, in a tiny little boat/ I only put the idea out there, if I know it's going to float." She nails the hesitancy and doubt we all experience in expressing our feelings. It seems much easier in retrospect to reply to an abrupt "I love you," than to be able to confidently answer "I wanna have your babies." But Natasha Bedingfield is tired of playing those games, she wants to scream her every desire at the top of her lungs. If you can't handle her openness than you aren't worth her time. We could all use a dose of her confidence.

Listen: Natasha Bedingfield "I Wanna Have Your Babies"

Zombie, Zombie: Dolores O'Riordan "Ordinary Day"

Dolores O'Riordan "Ordinary Day"

dir. by Caswell Coggins

In Nicolas Roeg's 1973 film, Don't Look Now, the typically romantic setting of Venice is turned into a chilling environment for supernatural events. A relatively young married couple takes a vacation to Italy after recently losing their only child in a freak drowning accident. Yet once they arrive a series of strange occurrences begin, culminating in the ghostly appearance of their young girl (running through the vacant streets in a creepy red hood).

Director Caswell Coggins sets this spooky video in the equally enchanting alleys of Prague, but it seems to be the tourist off-season once again. In other words, it's anything but an "ordinary day" for ex-Cranberries vocalist Dolores O'Riordan. After (or before) a tumultuous and sleepless night during which she may or may not have been visited by an angry teenage girl, O'Riordan looks out her window in the morning to see a mysterious small girl standing in the middle of an otherwise empty cobblestone road, wearing a bright red jacket. She puts on her trench coat and decides to investigate the increasingly cryptic situation. But as soon as she approaches the girl, she vanishes, and a cross-town chase ensues.

While the lyrics of the song are addressed to a separate person, one gets the sense that O'Riordan is in fact singing to herself. Like Gwen Stefani in "What You Waiting For?," the singer seems to seek personal artistic motivation through memory. The girl that appears in her house late at night could very well be herself at a younger age; spewing the anger and passion that inspires her music now. When she runs through the streets of Prague she is seeking something more internal than external.

The color palette of the video is mostly dull grays and blacks, with the occasional muted green or blue hue seeping in. This makes the eventual appearance of the bright red jacket such an effective moment, albeit a familiar one to fans of horror/thriller films. Collins also switches camera styles between the outdoor and indoor shots, adding a sense of suspense to the chase sequences and creeping around corners in the residence. The characters themselves are deathly pale, and the make-up only reiterates the chilling atmosphere of the clip.

Yet this isn't a scary video by any measure, just one that plays with a traditionally frightful set-up. The fear that is overcome here is an inner fear of responsibility and accepting oneself, rather than a scraggly old demon. As a horror film Don't Look Now hasn't aged particularly well, but as a symbolic journey towards coming to terms with the past, it still has its moments. O'Riordan's video isn't concerned with actually revealing who the little girl in the red coat is (or whether or not she even exists), what matters is the path that the singer is forced to take across this foreign city. Whether or not the artist draws the root of her inspiration from an outside source, in the end she finds her own beauty in the emptiness of that park.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

March 20th, 2007: A Day to Remember

Occasionally we feel compelled to step out of our narrow video focus and simply just talk about our first love, music. Today is one such day...

LCD Soundsystem "North American Scum"

dir. by Ben Dickinson

Today saw the release of four of the most hotly anticipated albums of the year, and we simply can't contain our excitement about at least two of them. So rather than discuss the amusing low-tech video for LCD's lead single "North American Scum," we'd much rather sing the praises of the high-tech brilliance of the Soundsystem's latest album, Sound of Silver. It is quite simply, as Pitchfork put it, "as close to a perfect hybrid of dance and rock music's values as you're likely to ever hear."

LCD Soundsystem Sound of Silver

Beyond its technical skills, this is an album full of heart and meaning. It is James Murphy's lyrical peak thus far, and features some of the most emotionally affecting songs of the year. Coming near the exact center of the album, "All My Friends" is an especially memorable lament on the loneliness of growing older and being disconnected from youthful naivety.Sound of Silver must now be considered among the defining albums of the genre which Murphy helped create nearly a decade ago. So go outside, drive to your nearest record store, and buy it.

Panda Bear Person Pitch

And while you're there, pick up the new Panda Bear as well, despite what you might think about the video. Person Pitch is an utterly unstoppable collection of infectious folk/electronica from one-half of the iconic Animal Collective duo, which will surely recieve oodles of praise among the reviewing community in the coming weeks (on top of the blogosphere thunderstorm it has already created).

Listen: Panda Bear "Ponytail"

Andrew Bird Armchair Apocrypha

The two other notable releases of the day where Andrew Bird's Armchair Apocrypha and Modest Mouse's We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Both works are solid and valuable additions to the veteran musicians oeuvres, but there is a parched feeling left at the end of each, as if something vitally important were missing. In the case of Bird he makes up for a loss of his early lo-fi charm with an excess of wordy witticisms, and the Mouse try and do the same with the addition of ex-Smith Johnny Marr. But what we ultimately miss is the excitement and guts of these artists' earlier albums, the type of albums that are tied to unshakable memories and emotions in our hearts. Neither of these works seem to succeed in that way.

(Ted Leo & The Pharmacists Living With the Living also came out today, but we haven't had the chance to hear it yet. Like we said, it was a major day in music!)

Listen to all these artists over at The Hype Machine

Trapped In The Drive-Thru

Weird Al "Trapped in the Drive-Thru"

dir. by Doug Bresler

Genius? Perhaps. But not quite as amazing as the original. In many ways this parody is a tribute to the strange yet undeniable brilliance of R. Kelly.

Eye Candy # 12: Golden Dogs, Joell Ortiz, Secret Mommy

Three underground artists with impressive new videos...

Golden Dogs "Construction Worker"

dir. by Arno Salters

Starting with simple tools, director Salters constructs a highly colorful and elaborate set that fits perfectly with the feel of the song. The D.I.Y. aesthetic of the coloring markers and construction paper compliments the "indieness" of the band and highlights the playful energy behind the song. The video focuses on this theme of "construction," but the most impressive moment comes as the female singer twirls around her bandmates while playing her tambourine and singing the final chorus. It might intentionally seem like a simple video, but their is much artistry in its composition.

Joell Ortiz "Hip Hop"

dir. by ?

There isn't much to this piece, yet it succinctly captures the force of Joell Ortiz's words. He begins his rap about contemporary hip hop on the street corner - the spot where young MC's first hone their craft. Then he moves into the studio, showing off his impressive record collection, and busting rhymes about rising from poverty with his headphones on. He ends up on a sparse stage, performing his track to a raucous live audience. What these three venues speak to is the raw and unfiltered power of hip hop done right. It isn't about the glitz and glamor that many of Ortiz's peers wallow in, but instead here we are reminded of why artists are drawn to this genre in the first place. Hip hop, both musically and visually, is about explaining your personal struggle, showing the world your individual voice and experience, and in the process actually inspiring some social change in your environment.

dir. by Andy Dixon

The glitched-out excellence of the video for "Kool Aid River" hinges on the same touchstones that make the song such a surprising success. Secret Mommy (a.k.a. Andy Dixon) composed the music and the video, and the interrelation between the images on screen and the beats of the song make this a thoroughly entertaining abstract experience. We recently had the chance to speak with Mr. Dixon about the video.

Being the director, musician and artist in this project, what was the specific process like putting it all together?

Dixon: "The album is composed of tons of improvised sessions with friends, that's why you see another person in the video, but everything is sequenced and created by me. Some of the drawings are actually contained in the artwork of the CD, but large amounts were done specifically for the video.

I actually created the entire thing in flash - the whole thing is a series of JPEGS, each frame crafted one at a time. I used stop-motion photography and then added layers of images, sometimes up to 700 layers. It was a painstaking process."

Read the rest of this interview with Andy Dixon at Videology...

Monday, March 19, 2007

Open Your Mind: Roger Moon "Alice"

A spiritual and psychedelic trip through the night of three people, who are mysteriously connected...

Roger Moon "Alice"

dir. by Seaton Lin

The concept of the "third eye" is often exclusively associated with religions like Hinduism, Taoism and Buddhism, but it is also a common image in New Age philosophy and meditative practices. It is sometimes believed to be a symbol of enlightenment and a dormant power which can be awakened through careful meditation or pious faith. Most of these schools of thought associate this "inner eye" or "all-seeing eye" with an area right above the nose between the two natural eyes, which corresponds to a part of the brain known as the pineal gland. In the 1960's scientists discovered that the pineal gland was responsible for controlling our bodies' circadian rhythm, "a roughly-24-hour cycle in the physiological processes of living beings" (1).

According to some, this gland is thought to be triggered by light, and works with other parts of the brain to control things like thirst, hunger and sexual desire - on top of it's role in developing our 'biological clock.' In the video for Roger Moon's "Alice," one of the three main characters is shown early-on with what appears to be something like a "third eye" - induced by the streetlights of the city. He is drinking, watching what appears to be pornography, and seems to be suffering from severe headaches. Though this man leads a lonely and uneventful life, on this particular night something profound is happening to him.

He eventually dies, along with the female character, but there is more to his experience in this video than that. The "inner eye" is also associated with telepathic ability, and the transference of knowledge, feeling or emotion. There is an undeniable connection between all three of these people, even though they seem to be complete strangers. Images of fire, liquids and light seep through each of the different environments. The young man, who begins feeling his own headache, is eventually lifted to a superior spiritual state by this strange sense of connective feeling.

But the shot that directly precedes his awakening is one of photo frames on a single white wall. There are a large number of family photos arranged together on this wall that he appears to look at right before his experience. Beyond the supernatural or mystical elements of this video, there is an underlying emphasis on human empathy. A lot of people must die seemingly alone, every night, just like the two characters in this work. But simply exiting the world without a witness cannot disconnect you from your inevitable place in humanity. Perhaps what truly lies dormant in our mind's eye is the ability to feel and understand our place in this larger group. No one ever really dies alone. And there is something unbelievably comforting in that thought.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Escape From Suburbia: The Mint Chicks "Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No!"

The Mint Chicks "Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No!"

dir. by Sam Peacocke

This is a simple video for a simple song. And both are brilliant in their subtle and efficient use of space. The singer implores his love to come out and take a chance with him, and promises that he isn't "too young to love." The video puts further impetus behind his words by emphasizing the mundane confinement of a life without risk. She slowly moves from the darkness of her home to the bright lights of the open field as her vision of the world increases.

It begins with a nearly shut door, emanating light from inside; hinting that we will soon see what people so feverishly hide behind bedroom doors. Next we get the protagonist laying on the floor of an empty room - eyes closed as if she is only now waking up to the realities of existence. A wolf suddenly appears and she decides to see where it leads her. She passes a robotic housewife, a man on the toilet, stagnant lovers and two men wrestling in front of a statue of Mary as she strolls along the sidewalk. The alternatives to following this big bad wolf down the street seem horrible, and she has almost no choice but to follow, hood on (we couldn't help but make the connection again). The tentative fear of humanity leads them to do some fairly strange and boring things.

The lyrics of the chorus bring to mind high school romance ("come over to my house") and underscore the central themes of the piece. We could all use some of that naive courage of our adolescent emotions, no matter what our age. One imagines the boy who stands despairingly at the edge of his roof hasn't experienced much of life at all, and thus he is shocked to see someone pass him by so freely. Sometimes all it takes is a simple walk through the neighborhood to realize how beautiful and exciting life is outside of your protective bubble. Or as The Mint Chicks so aptly put it, "Come on girl, just go out!"

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Thrill of the Pursuit: Lisa Lindley-Jones "Step Back"

A stark and powerful new video on the oddities of attraction, from Lisa Lindley-Jones and the W.I.Z....

Lisa Lindley-Jones "Step Back"

dir. by W.I.Z.

As Lisa Lindley-Jones stands somberly in a nearby alley, holding a bright flare and only partially obscured by shadow, her police officer pursuer walks by without even a glance in her direction. The two are so close at this moment that it seems nearly impossible that he wouldn't notice her, but it appears to be the case nevertheless. Yet perhaps he doesn't really want to catch her. And even if much of the video implies that she may actually want to be caught, here she makes no move to alert him of her presence either. Is she saddened by his lack of perception? Or is the thought of capture suddenly unpleasant and scary?

Early in the video the duo seem to just barely miss each other, and at times it appears as if she is indeed after him as much as he seeks her. They crawl along the same wall, open the same doors and cross each other's shadows - but always a step behind or in the wrong direction. As Lindley-Jones runs forward, the officer literally runs backward (a stunning visual). She hides in spots that his flashlight finds, and he seems far too tentative in his hunt to be entirely sure he wants to make an arrest.

Lindley-Jones spends a lot of time running away and hiding, but if her actual intention is escape, she isn't very good at it. In one particularly memorable scene she is seen sprinting while looking back in laughter, her dress flowing in the wind and her smile illuminating the black and white tones of the shot. She carries her torch as if to keep the officer in pursuit, while it also protrudes like a weapon meant to scare him off.

The director uses a silent film style which recalls early Maya Deren and abstract film. Like those pre-talkie movies, which many consider the finest ever made, the strength of the piece relies on the power of the images to relay information. The surreal quality of the classic herky-jerky camera cuts adds a layer of mystery (and fear) which proves to be highly relevant to the themes of the work. At the same time this is a music video, which means it has the added assistance of the song and its lyrics to provide clarity.

It begins with a backwards "Fin," which is something different than the opposite of the end. It implies a strange conclusion, or a lack of real resolution. The opening of the jacket leading into the beginning of the narrative mirrors the "step back" theme of the song. Lindley-Jones walks into the frame as if she is retracing alleyways in her memory. The rooms he inspects are in fact part of a museum, with her human form standing in the corner as a marble reminder of what was. But the final movement is a regression down the alley, and underlines the inconclusive nature of the memory.

In many ways the two slowly move away from the statuesque hesitancy of those early encounters along the walls, towards a more playful open interaction. She skips along the side of the building and he begins to run feverishly - even falling at one point. The tension is mounted in this way, so that we are in constant anticipation of their meeting up and till the point where they nonchalantly pass each other.

So why didn't this work out? What is it that eventually prevents something from happening between the two? We've suggested it is the fear of commitment and expressing one's feelings which hinders the couple, but there are deeper levels to the psychologies of these characters. At one point the woman is juxtaposed with an image of flying birds, and her movements suggests an inherent need for escape and free expression. The officer on the other hand is decked in the stifling uniform of the law enforcement, holding a mechanical flashlight while she carries the more dangerous fire. The building itself almost looks like a prison with it's meager windows under the moonlight.

Yet human beings, and especially in terms of their sexual and emotional make-up, are far too complex to be labeled as having only one particular type of desire or urge. The woman rings a bell in the middle of the video, as if calling her mate to dinner, and exerts a certain amount of control over the situation herself. Simone De Beauvoir argued that we all seek to be both the object and the subject in matters of the heart. The problem may be that the man is unable to let down his guard in the same way, he is consistently presenting an image of power and enforcement. It creates an aura of fear which plays with the Gothic sensibility of the camera work, and puts a wall between the two. She often looks despairingly at him as she stands motionless for him to grab - his inability to catch her creates doubt in her own mind.

We fear taking that next step, even if it is the step we've hunted for so long. We also simply love playing the game - almost more than we love winning. The chase is a thrilling experience, even if it fails to fulfill. Lindley-Jones and her director highlight the subtle eroticism of the mating dance - "oceans flow" around the sun and hands caress stone walls. The tragedy is perhaps that there must be an end, whether positive or negative. Despite the joys of love there is something to be said for the unique pleasures of flirting - the anticipation of love. Yet we seek more, and that's why each time we revisit these memories, no matter how high the peaks, we still end up feeling dissatisfied.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Eye Sores #1: R. Kelly, Panda Bear, Kings of Leon

This counterpart to our Eye Candy series highlights new videos which are especially painful to watch...

R. Kelly feat. T.I. and T-Pain "I'm A Flirt (Remix)

dir. by Benny Boom

The funniest thing about this horrible new video from the king of R&B and horrible videos, Mr. R. Kells himself, is that there is actually very little flirting involved on the part of the three male leads. Kelly spends most of the video posing in these particularly gaudy glasses (which may or may not be a reference to Jeff Goldblum), while girls incessantly crawl up to him and place crowns on his head. T.I. does his usual suave ambivalence thing (but at least considers the enjoyment of his female partners) and T-Pain just looks plain ridiculous attempting to convince anybody that a stripper would ever actually love him back.

The frustrating part about it is that for such a silly (yet addictive) song, this video actually had some thematic potential. It might have been interesting to watch T.I. and T-Pain compare their "skills" or perhaps compete with Kelly for the attention of these "playerettes." At the very least it could have been a humorous and fun music video, which is how I originally imagined the track. This is one of those videos which actually makes the song less appealing, but I think it's safe to assume we'll still be dancing to it in the club anyway.

Panda Bear "Bros. (Edit)"

dir. by Frank Macias

Most of us don't realize how much goes into making just a decent music video. Apart from a great concept or a stunning visual conceit, a good video needs strong acting, pinpoint execution and methodical post-production work. But having an excellent song to work with can always go a long way towards fixing any minor problems you might have in those other categories. Sometimes it's just enough to sit back and let the melody do the work for you.

So it comes as a bit of a surprise that this Panda Bear video is so bad. "Bros." is going to end up on quite a few year-end lists for best songs of 2007 (including our own), and is among the most accessible things anyone from Animal Collective has ever done. Yet it's also clear why this project doesn't work. It fails to deliver on any visual level while burying the beauty of the song in a series of boring (and repetitive) psychedelic melds between shots of a cat and a showering man. It was an interesting 6 minutes for a die-hard fan, but one questions whether anyone else will actually get through the entire thing. Which is a shame, because this is a song that deserves to be heard.

Kings of Leon "On Call"

dir. by Adria Petty

We saw Kings of Leon about 3 years ago at Bonnaroo, and they weren't this bad. They had an energy and an aura of nonchalance about them which was refreshing, and their sound was something which was, at the very least, unique. We haven't heard the new album so we can't comment on that, but needless to say this track isn't strong enough to save a video which does little to sell the band, has no compelling narrative, and is without a single memorable scene. It's essentially a waste of time. And VideoStatic was spot on with the Marty Feldman comparison.

Friday, March 09, 2007

When a Man's an Empty Kettle: Coparck "A Good Year for the Robots"

One of the most fascinating videos of the year comes from the Netherlands...this is how you tell a narrative through music video...

Coparck "A Good Year for The Robots"

dir. by COMRAD

If you've ever read Frank Baum's children's books, beginning with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz published in 1900, you know that the story of the Tin Man (a.k.a. The Tin Woodman) is far more tragic than Judy Garland and company let on in the classic 1939 film. There's a reason he's made out of tin and needs constant oiling; his heart is missing in more ways than one.

Turns out the Tin Man was in love once, and was in fact a non-metallic human being named Nick Chopper. As his name implies, he made a living cutting down trees in the forest of Oz. But once the Wicked Witch of the East gets wind of Chopper's romantic feelings (in later versions of the story she is either jealous of or in love with the Woodsman herself) she curses his axe, which subsequently begins chopping off his body parts. Each lost limb is replaced by a tin replica made by a local tinsmith, but the one part that he never receives is the one he needs the most. He wakes up one morning heartless, and now physically unable to love the girl he originally sought so dearly.

Near the center of Coparck's video "A Good Year for The Robots," a party is thrown to get Alex the robot a "heart." It's a different story in a different context, but the connection made seems deliberate on the part of the director. In alternative interpretations of the story of the Tin Man, his gradual dehumanization is attributed to the growing threat of industrialization at the turn of the century. Coparck's video is filled with commentary on the subject, and in many ways it is the central theme of the work.

Of course the other literary touchstone for the video is the rather blatantly referenced Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). The story that inspired Blade Runner raised fascinating questions in its time about not only technology, but more dramatically the treatment of marginalized groups in society. Written in part as a response to the horrors of the Holocaust, Dick uses the idea of nearly-human androids to explore the underpinnings of real discrimination on the basis of small difference.

In the process of becoming "more human" in the video, Alex the robot is exposed to a series of horrific images of chaos and violence, as well as heartwarming footage of lovers and babies. He emerges energized and full of feeling; skipping along the roads he once mechanically trudged. But the majority of his co-workers are less than thrilled by Alex's transformation. They generally preferred the stoic and efficient version that one co-worker called "a retard" prior to the operation. In many ways they liked him as an unfeeling and focused employee because that is precisely what they are.

The director establishes the monotony of this environment in a myriad of ways beyond the excellent performance of Alex. From the opening shot, which finds him walking straight along with a speeding train behind him, the technological blandness of the video is established. There are a lot of horizontal lines throughout the video. There is also a particularly fun shot later when Alex enters the doctor's office seen through a strange mirror which pixelizes everything - emphasizing his inhumanity right as he seeks an operation to change that. Furthermore the cameraman shoots in a documentary-style that reminds one of quintessentially British productions you might find on Channel 4 in the afternoon. This also plays upon (often in a quite humorous way) common stereotypes of uptight English people, which is ironically contrasted to a robot who seeks emotions. At one point Alex is shown entering a subway as everyone else exits.

As much as this video works as a Blade Runner-esque critique of discrimination and persecution of minority groups, its heart is elsewhere. What is essentially being lamented is the hypocrisy of a hyper-controlled society which seeks progress at the expense of self-expression. The suits at work support the Alex who walks the straight-and-narrow down the middle of the street, rather than the hugging and laughing man who emerges from the operating room. But perhaps what they fear the most is what they feel inside of them, or what they have seen humanity previously do with extremes of emotion.

The explosions of Hiroshima and the race-riot beatings that Alex witnesses (along with his subsequent truly frightening anger) remind us of these possibilities. We remain reserved in order to separate ourselves from these horrors that might lurk within, but in doing so we also grow more distant from the other clips he sees in the slide show - namely those of love. What is seemingly embraced is the entire spectrum of human emotions, despite the risks, as the Tin Man sings in that famous movie, "just to register emotion, jealousy, devotion."

But like most truly great works, the video asks as many questions as it attempts to answer. In the finale we see Alex reading Dick's famous book himself in the dark, and we wonder how long it will be until he begins to question his own "humanity." Do we really even want him to be more human? At the same time we wonder what the consequences of "unpeeling the armor" will have on the romantic relationship between Alex and his admirer. After all, he doesn't have a real heart in there. Right?

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Eye Candy # 11: DJ Mehdi, Christina Aguilera, Air Traffic

Christina heats up the screen, Terry Timely gives us another gem and DJ Mehdi releases one of the most beautifully silly videos of the year...

Air Traffic "Charlotte"

dir. by Terry Timely

This fun and stylish new video from Mr. Timely is a resplendent tribute to the often chaotic process of artistic inspiration. The beauty is in the details, from the objects in the microwave to the dancing moose head on the wall, it's as absurd as it is strangely poignant.

Christina Aguilera "Candyman"

dir. by Matthew Rolston

Christina Aguilera is starting to carve a nice little niche for herself between artistic creativity and commercial viability. Here she underscores the playful sexuality of her lyrics by using a swing-era setting that perfectly matches the tone of the music. And she still looks smoking as ever.

The song is hot, and precisely because it sounds unlike anything else on the radio right now. The opening sets up Christina as a pin-up like doll, but as the video progresses her words become more explicit and her clothing more overtly sexual. She answers any questions of female objectification by blatantly exploiting her man for his physical features and capabilities. Both sides are only in this to have a good time, and there's nothing wrong with that. Aguilera has always been an artist who has sought equality through the unadulterated expression of her emotions and desires.

But beyond simply playing up the strengths of her track, this video reinforces the star-power of Aguilera. Her last two videos have been excellent, but in the denouement of this one - in which she belts out the final line - the director cuts through the many faces of Christina while she holds the note. It's an overpowering reminder of the range and sheer power of the singer's voice.

DJ Mehdi "Signatune (Thomas Bangalter Edit)"

dir. by Romain Gavras

An absolutely hilarious and superbly acted farce. The song isn't as successful but that doesn't really matter when you're subject matter is "car stereo wars."

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Way Down In the Hole: Bone Thugs-N-Harmony feat. Akon "I Tried"

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony ft. Akon "I Tried"

dir. by Rich Newey

Right now I'm watching Season Three of The Wire on DVD, and there's a character who has just been released from prison after 14 years of serving time. Though he's previously been involved in some shady work, he's looking to go clean. Unfortunately there aren't many options for a guy who dropped out of high school to live a life of crime, and eventually, after trying his hand at a few things, he retreats to the drug business. This character made some poor decisions early in his life and he suffered the consequences, but the cycle of "rehabilitation" that our culture has set up seems a bit pointless.

But the story of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's video is far more depressing than an ex-con who can't find his way back into society. As Akon smoothly puts it in the chorus, this is about those who actually try to pursue something worthwhile from the beginning - but end up stifled by the system nonetheless. Director Rich Newey over-dramatizes an instance of mistaken identity, but he's pursuing a fairly strong point. What is being lamented in this scenario is not simply racial profiling or flat-out racism, but the more troubling assumption of guilt in the mind of the victim himself. It's the fact that he runs, and keeps running despite his innocence, which stings the most.

The greatest lesson that The Wire teaches (aside from how to make great television), is the blurry quality of what we typically call "morality," and that uncontrollable elements like environment can have a huge impact on the arc of someone's life. Drug dealers can be educated businessmen, and police officers can be immoral egomaniacs. Growing up around crime and poverty can not only habituate you towards the lifestyle, but can imbue one with a lack of faith in society as well. So when one watches, hears and experiences stories of institutional racism on a regular basis, it's hard not to assume its presence when faced with a similar situation yourself.

Bone Thugs-N-Harmony are reportedly working on a full-length movie with Newey, detailing an imaginary history in which the group never rose out of the streets of Cleveland to become icons of the R&B world in the 90's (source). This video focuses on a similar moment of truth, in which a youngster's life is on the verge of going a very different route. He gets lucky, like the rappers once did, but it's unlikely he will soon forget how close he was to the edge. "I Tried" isn't a perfect work by any measure, but it holds a sense of urgency which makes it a better-than-average attempt at social commentary through music videos.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Mining the Secret Garden: Patrick Wolf "Bluebells" & "The Magic Position"

In celebration of Patrick Wolf's monumental new album, we examine the videos that have accompanied the latest two singles from the release...

Patrick Wolf "Bluebells"

dir. by Jaron Albertin

Patrick Wolf "The Magic Position"

dir. by Jaron Albertin

This isn't the first time the artist has cried wolf. On his 2003 debut album, titled Lycanthropy (the ability to assume the form and characteristics of a wolf), Patrick Wolf included the tracks "Wolf Song" and "To the Lighthouse" (a novel written by Virginia Woolf). Far from cheap promotional ploy, Wolf's self-referential writing always seemed at home with his constant struggle to capture his huge personality within his art. His 2005 follow-up, Wind in the Wires, was yet another beautiful transformation for the singer, but still hinted at a far grander beast within.

So it comes as no surprise that Wolf and director Jaron Albertin chose "Little Red Riding Hood" as the thematic base for the second video from his latest epic, The Magic Position. In many ways this record marks the climax of a cycle that began with those earlier works. Here we find the artist finally coming to terms with his inner "wolf" - expressing the freedom he previously only dreamt of. Yet Wolf has not entirely dropped his Gothic undertones, and director Albertin recognizes the inherent fear associated with self-transfiguration in "Bluebells."

A number of interpretations of the "Riding Hood" myth have attributed the red-colored hood and wolf imagery of the Brother Grimms' popular version to a metaphorical sexual awakening. It has also been read as a cautionary morality play, in which talking to strange men (or perhaps prostitution) can lead one to catastrophic results. In the hands of Wolf and Albertin it encompasses (or challenges) both these themes while remaining a significantly personal experience for the singer. At the center is the fear associated with the forest, and what might lurk in the unknown shadows of our mind.

Wolf, dressed in suspenders and with vibrantly colored red hair, looks like a child trapped in a man's body more than a man in children's clothing. He either languors around his secluded cottage dreaming of something lost in his past or wanders aimlessly through a forest searching for that truth in the sunlight. But he shuts his curtains to the fireworks of the night, attempting to keep certain thoughts out.

Much of the video seems to personify the brief track that directly precedes "Bluebells" on The Magic Potion, rather than the single itself. Wolf speaks of swallowing keys and locking doors on the similarly titled "The Bluebell," as well as watching fireworks from a distance. The two tracks work together to create the gloomy environment from which Wolf will eventually escape.

But for the moment he seems intent on avoiding escape, setting his "compass spinning" in lonely confusion. He not only swallows keys, but in an early scene the singer walks towards his piano but doesn't open it to play. He always wears his green hood outside as he retraces old steps, as if intentionally immersing himself in his nightmares. But as hard as he pushes himself into the bleakness of this "last December," he can't avoid hopeful thoughts of spring flowers (bluebells).

The menacing red hood is suddenly lit by piercing white lights, and Wolf finds the strength to uncover himself. One senses that rather than falling into love, the artist is rediscovering who he was while in love. He walks out of the red riding hood, dressed in his typically unique style, and looks almost sinister as he moves towards the camera. Here he overcomes his fears as a scared child in the forest, but also embraces the power he holds as an adult. And though he may not be able to travel back in time, he can now express those suppressed feelings through song, and in a sense relive the moment. Wolf has said the album recalls a period of intense love he experienced for two years. Thus he finds himself at the piano, playing his heart out. This is the "magic position" that his lover has led him to.

The next video, for the title-track "The Magic Position," aptly begins with Wolf in the exact same stance - albeit playing an imaginary instrument this time. The singer has also described his new songs as an attempt to capture the naivety of love, in a positive sense. Albertin harnesses that feeling of unbridled enthusiasm, which seems almost opposed to the measured tone of "Bluebells," by producing this colorful and absurdly abstract vision. Wolf taps on the helmet of a fallen motorcyclist, takes cellphones from people and urges random folks to sing and dance with him.

The video is shot on an intentionally sparse set, which works like a play more than a film. The color wheel and multitude of characters speak to Wolf's exuberant love for life in this "position," and his wish to spread that feeling to everyone through his voice (the bird that flies out of him). He puts his inner child on full display, no longer afraid or ashamed of who he is or what he wants.

But there is also an element of visible fabrication in this world, as if the director wants us to be cognizant of the show the entire time. With the paper-thin props and over-zealous acting we are hardly ever fully immersed in this fantasy environment. Instead we know that it's a performance, but a very attractive performance nonetheless. Much like Wolf's dyed hair or the joyful violins of the song, nothing can hide the world-weary quality of the singer's voice. Yet the emotion is real, and the fact that we only "sing in the major key" for short periods at a time only makes these moments of happiness all the more affecting.

In the liner notes for Lyncanthropy Wolf wrote, "In the face of a full moon, barriers, bullies, intellectuals, boogiemen, fear and failure, you grow." He's not done progressing as an artist, but these videos give a glimpse of the radical transformation that Patrick Wolf has gone through since we last saw him howling in the night. And so far, he looks great in red.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Speak Up: Director Dougal Wilson on "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time"

Videology recently gave us the chance to discuss the absurd brilliance of "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time," one of our favorite videos of the year, with its talented director Dougal Wilson...

Jarvis Cocker "Don't Let Him Waste Your Time"

dir. by Dougal Wilson

The quality of Wilson's vision is rooted in his ability to capture the appeal of Cocker's songwriting while maintaining his own fresh perspective. From the subtle humorous touch to the extravagant disco finale, Wilson creates a fun ride that matches the song in wit and replay value.

How much of the concept behind the video was influenced by the song itself?

Wilson: Well the song seems to be Jarvis giving advice to womankind, it’s kind of like his philosophy on how women should be treated, and I thought it was an interesting thing... So i made up situations where that might happen - like maybe he could be a psychiatrist or a grandmother or something - but I decided that would be weird. London taxi drivers however are known to be rather talkative, and I thought it would be amusing if he were a cabbie spouting his advice whether or not people wanted to hear it.

What was the idea behind the people being nearly run over?

Wilson: In the Naked Gun movies there was a scene inside of a car where they started driving through stupid places and people jump out of the way, so I thought it would be even more funny for Jarvis, who is a really dry and witty guy, to be this absent-minded driver singing over his shoulder without paying attention to the road.

We didn’t have a lot of money, so I rounded up a lot of my friends... The taxi was really just a HD camera tied to this contraption. It was kind of like a rickshaw with really bright lights on it.

How did you meld these shots with the eventual perspective from inside of the car?

Wilson: We obviously couldn’t put Jarvis in a real car so we had to shoot the outside of the car separately and then work out the rest very precisely. So we had Jarvis in the studio in a little taxi we bought and I really wanted to do the scenes in the windows through back projection because I hate green screen, but we couldn’t afford it so we had to use a green screen. I still wanted the sensation of movement within the stationary taxi so we had the car rocking back and forth and lights moving past the windows as we shot.

How was it working with Jarvis Cocker and who choreographed those stellar dance moves at the end?

Wilson: He’s quite a fun chap and I was relying on him to have some of those signature dance moves at the end. I realized one of the iconic things about Jarvis Cocker is the way he moves his body - as in those Pedro Romhanyi videos like Common People - so it seemed a shame for him not to move at all. That gave me the idea to split the taxi open and have the disco ball drop from a string.

Jarvis was very nice and the only thing he wanted or demanded was having a small figurine on the dashboard. It was this Mexican man with bags of rice who symbolizes good luck.

What is it about making music videos that excites or challenges you?

Wilson: I like music and I like being able to contribute to the world of music, especially since my first career of rock star didn’t quite work out... (laughs)

In music videos the budgets are small and it’s difficult sometimes to work things out, so it’d be great to have more money. But the less money you have the more freedom you actually get to do what you want. And I just love being able to put my ideas out there like that.

How exactly did you end up doing this for a living?

Wilson: I studied physics at university because I wanted to be an astronomer or an astrophysicist. But I think like a lot of young people I wasn’t entirely sure of what I wanted to do. Once I studied it I didn’t think I was cut out for it.

I was always interested in drawing and making models, and had always been in bands with my mates playing pop music. So then I thought I ought to find something that was more in tune with those things. I initially got a job doing adverts, working as a copy editor at an ad agency, and I realized that there where people who filmed ads for a living – and some of them also did music videos. Mainly I was never aware that I could do that, but then like loads and loads of people I was inspired by Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze. I saw their videos and they really caught my imagination, so I started writing ideas down in my spare time and thinking about characters.

One last question, was anyone actually hurt in the filming of this video?

Wilson: A girl on the pavement fell over and broke her knee, and the guy who looks like he’s run over on his bike was actually nearly run over. With the bright lights and all it was hard to see everything in front. Also we hit a tramp at one point, or this guy hired to play a tramp, and he wasn’t too happy about that. So I guess it was a shoot filled with danger actually... (laughs)

Short Director Bio:

After a number of successful commercials, Dougal Wilson made his music video debut in directing Master H's 'Magic K' in 2001. Since then he's steadily built a reputation for ingenious and highly creative videos, from Chikinki's 'Assassinator 13' to the Streets 'Fit But You Know It.' The later of those won him Best Video of the Year at the Creative and Design Awards in 2005. He also took home Best Director, an award he won the year before as well, and has previously received the Gold and Silver Lion at Cannes.

february 2007 - ©videology 2007

Friday, March 02, 2007

Parallel Lines: Ciara vs. Beyonce

Two of the reigning kings of hip-hop and r&b release gender-defying videos in the same week, both songs are street-pop gems, but only one has the guts to truly tackle what it means to act "Like a Boy"...

Ciara "Like a Boy"

dir. by Diane Martel

Beyonce ft. Jay-Z "Upgrade U"

dir. by Melina/Beyonce

"Ladies I think it's time to switch roles"

The crucial moment of Ciara's "Like a Boy" video comes 40 seconds in. Ciara the boy and Ciara the girl share the stage at the same time, each decked out to look like the extreme opposite of the other. While one seduces in a short slinky dress, the "boy" impresses in a sharp pin-stripped suit. A hat is passed between them, both played by Ciara, as if to suggest a unity between the two. Is the only difference between men and women then, beside certain body parts, a choice in attire?

Well there's also that tiny imbalance in the way each is treated and represented in society. Beyonce's "Upgrade U" wants to tackle that first issue of treatment by playing with ideas of representation similar to Ciara's. The irreplaceable diva not only dresses the part here, but mouths the verses of male counterpart Jay-Z as well. Yet while this shows off Beyonce's growing acting ability, it proves to be the only real risk taken in the video.

The piece would be improved ten-fold if there were but one cut back to "male" Beyonce during her verse that begins "you need a real woman in your life," but instead we are left with typical shots of what a "woman" is supposed to look like. Or perhaps it would have been even more fun to see Jay-Z in the role of his girlfriend, thrusting his hips to the beat while singing lines like "ran by the man, but the woman keep the tempo." Yet for some reason female cross-dressing is considered sexy, but male cross-dressing is not (though those eye-liner wearing emo-kids are aiming to change that).

But in truth Beyonce's song isn't all that empowering to begin with, and the video only makes matters worse. Yes she is suggesting that her presence would improve the social stature and overall quality of life for her "partner," but the reasoning behind why it would be an upgrade is somewhat troubling. Her main point revolves around wealth, which is important considering Beyonce is a woman who makes more money than 90 percent of the men out there. The video consequently showers her in gold and platinum to prove how much she is "worth." There is also a very effective scene in which Beyonce fearlessly tames a passing phallic lizard (reminds me Bjork's "Alarm Call"). Yet at the same time she speaks of hustling to "keep" and "feed" her man, which suggests that she is still in a submissive position seeking approval. She also describes herself as a complimentary piece to an already formidable puzzle, rather than an equal part of the structure. More like a shiny diamond necklace than a full-on entertainment empire (which is something Beyonce can actually provide).

The song begins with Hova challenging Beyonce to prove to him what she can offer, "how you gonna upgrade me?" The fact that Melina puts these words in the mouth of the female is a very effective way of mocking Jay-Z's trademark bravado. But the director goes on to put a lot of other suggestive things in Beyonce's mouth (from a whistle to a chain) that really negate that opening position of power. Rather than taking this opportunity to mock the problematic points of male hip-hop culture, Beyonce bows down to it, offering up cars, jewelery and her own body as proof of her worth within the system.

By the end of the video she's back sitting on Jay's lap while he casually confirms his position of superiority. And if we take another look at the gender-bending scene itself, Beyonce is wearing huge hoop earrings the whole time anyway. On the other side Ciara actually inhabits her male persona. She grabs her crotch, shows off some excessive tattoos and even busts out dance-moves JT would die for. She puts her foot on the squatting male version of herself, and proudly displays her tight abs and over-sized boxers.

Director Diane Martel creates an environment of constantly shifting gender where half-way through it no longer matters whether Ciara is a boy or a girl. This is paramount to the idea of equal treatment (as if it were some "theory") because it establishes the hypocrisy of our gender standards. When you walk down the street and whistle at a lady in a skirt and respectfully ignore a man in a suit, you don't have the opportunity to actually see what's under those pants. We treat people kindly or offensively, sometimes based only on their choice of attire or how they wear their hair.

From every perspective Ciara's song is far more serious than Beyonce's. Even the soaring strings and screwed vocals add a menacing mood to the track. But the video succeeds, despite the inclusion of some overwrought dance sequences, because it is a striking attack without being angry or too aggressive. The final shot of the all-female dancers is of them pointing at the screen, as if presenting a challenge to the audience and male portion of the hip-hop community. But this is immediately followed by Ciara planting a playful kiss on her boyfriend. She doesn't hate men.

She isn't asking a revolutionary question either, but simply pointing out a double-standard that we all know exists but choose to ignore. Ciara doesn't really want to be a boy, she just wants to be treated and respected like one. She also knows that being a powerful woman does not mean rejecting all things "feminine," but requires the guts to stand-up to a system stacked against you. Though Beyonce's video might end-up getting more play and kudos for its flashy visuals, Ciara's - for at least 3 quarters of the time - is one of the more gutsy and powerful mainstream releases of the year.

BONUS VIDEO: Beyonce ft. Shakira "Beautiful Liar"

Beyonce ft. Shakira "Beautiful Liar"

dir. by Jake Nava

As an added, umm, "bonus" here's yet another new Beyonce video (over-saturation? naw, it's Beyonce!). This time she duets with that other famous hip-shaker, Shakira, and the results are less than you'd expect. Though the song nearly matches that great "Baby Boy" single, the video looks very 80's (which is not a compliment).

It's nearly unimaginable that someone could make a boring video starring Shakira and Beyonce, but the director manages to do so. Most of the blame falls on the lack of creativity in the set design, and the overall cheap look of the project. It opens promisingly in the smokey haze, and later there is an interesting sequence of bamboo-pole dancing, but half of the thing looks like it was shot in one of those family portrait studios. The midriff-baring duo looks great bellydancing in black, but that scene appears too much like a strip-club inside of a pyramid to be taken seriously.

Much like the latest Timbaland collaboration, it seems the director and artists spent little energy on making a decent video for what they knew was already a sure-fire hit. Disappointing to say the least.

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