Monday 3 December 2007

Short Film Blog-a-thon - Three videos by New Order

This post is part of the Short Film Blog-a-thon being hosted by Only Cinema and Culture Snob.

Music video is the perfect place for young filmmakers to educate themselves in the ways of filmmaking. Perhaps not so much in terms of narrative storytelling, but certainly in the areas of visual creativity and editing. These are the things that caught my attention during the 80s when videos became the dominant form of marketing for music.

Among all the "by the books" performance clips, there was a wealth of fun. Those great Peter Gabriel videos from "So", the weird spastic moves of David Byrne in "Once In A Lifetime" and a whole mess of things you've never seen before in those Godley & Creme directed videos. And later in the 90s, anything Michel Gondry touched...

But the ones that sprang to mind when I thought of music videos in regards to the Short Film Blog-a-thon were three clips by the same group: New Order.

Blue Monday

Why is that dog standing on a table? Why is that woman standing in a bucket? And why are there tennis balls flying around the band members' heads?

"Blue Monday" is one of those videos that is essentially a random set of images thrown together in time with the music. But when the visuals are
this arresting, interesting and fun, you don't care. It's remarkably effective at attaching the song to images which will last in your brain well after the video has finished. And isn't that exactly what those marketing types are looking for when they create a promotional video?

The flip-book animation works wonderfully with the staccato and staggered beats of the song - both the shapes and squiggles moving about the full screen as well as the smaller animations jittering on the pages being flipped in those little books being held by the band members. And by the end of the song when those tennis balls (which we've already seen under the feet of that dog) are orbiting and bonking everyone's heads, you realize you haven't missed any deep profound meaning...You just suddenly want to see the whole damn thing over again to catch stuff you missed.

Here's the full video:

True Faith

In the same spirit as the random visuals of "Blue Monday", New Order's "True Faith" takes it a step further by ramping up the silliness - there's just no rhyme or reason for what's happening. Not a shred of relationship to our reality, but at least there's no attempt to create it.

It's also a step up in attaching the music to the visuals. You likely won't forget the punching bag-like figure using sign language. Or the red, blue and yellow bouncing guys who time their movements to the music. Or the slapping...

And speaking of timing to the music, this is one of the best videos I've seen at using the beat of the song to drive the actions and antics of what's on screen. It helps propel the song forward and sucks in the viewer for the length of it.

The video also uses some effective snippets of the band performing live. They are just long enough to allow yourself to imagine you are among the silhouetted throngs in the audience, but short enough to leave you wanting more. It's a common theme with these videos - immediately after watching them, you want to see them again.

The full video:

Perfect Kiss

And then we get to the Jonathan Demme directed "Perfect Kiss". Completely opposite from the above two videos, this is simply a band performance in the studio. But it's one of the best out there.

As far as I can tell, this isn't a lip synched mimicking performance - what you hear was created live by them in the studio during the filming (though there was likely some mixing after the fact). For all the labels attached to the band and their music ("cold", "detached", "synthesized", etc.),
these folks can play and pull out great sounds from their equipment. Peter Hook's bass playing in particular is fantastic and is used more as a melodic line than a bottom end time keeper. That job is held by the keyboard lines and synthesized beats - though they don't appear difficult, there was a great deal of thought put into them beforehand to create the sounds that are triggred throughout. Bernard Sumner's guitar comes in later in the song to great effect as well. Dammit, there's even cowbell!

One of the secret's to the band's music is the layering of the sounds - both synthesized and played. It serves to engage the listener and creates an ebb and flow that makes their songs (at least for me) seem shorter than they are. Demme decides to film the performance in mostly static close-up shots of either the band members or their instruments (fingers on keys or strings) and I see this as a way of emphasizing that layering of sounds to the overall song. Only later in the video does he cut to a wider shot and a few medium ones.

Another contrast to the two videos above is the seriousness of it all. It's a single focus - the performance of the music - and the band members are there to do their jobs. The lack of any smiles, warmth or any kind of emotion from the group fits the tone of the song and the general theme of their music.

The full video:

For a band that removes emotion from their music, these three videos certainly manage to put a smile on my face every time.


Ed Howard said...

Nice job, Bob, thanks for contributing. Reminds me why I still love New Order so much when virtually every other 80s synth-pop band just sounds embarrassing today.

Anonymous said...

The rapid speeding-through-life in "Bizarre Love Triangle" is really great, too, but I might also point to "Round and Round," in which a series of very attractive female models sit very naturally in front of a black-&-white camera, while little split-second bits of surprising imagery like milk spilling or apple chopping appear in color only every several seconds. It's surprisingly psychedelic for a video that's mostly near-static, black-&-white shots.

Bob Turnbull said...

Thanks Anon...I found "Round and Round" on YouTube and remember it from back in the day when it was new. It's amazing how I actually could recall all the expressions and awkward hand gestures of the models even though I haven't seen it in probably 15 years or so...