The Art of the Long-Take, Part II: Music Videos
The Art of the Long-Take, Part II: Music Videos
This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for a long time, because I’ve stumbled upon something that I think is really cool and beautiful. (Rather, this is the post working up to the post I’ve been dying to write— Part III will hopefully make you’re eyes widen, and I can’t wait.) I want to share my insight and I hope some of you can discover similar feelings. A friend of mine once said that the closest she’s ever come to a “religious experience” has ben through music. While I’m not sure what makes for a religious experience, I can definitely empathize with her. Personally, along with some timeless moments I’ve had abroad, I have been deeply affected by some few but various forms of art, such as songs, paintings, literature, and (of course) cinematic moments.
These cinematic moments can range from whole scenes to single shots to even one line. Like my friend, music means a great deal to me— pair that with film and you’ve got an opportunity to mold very dense content in what MTV coined as the music video.
First my disclaimer: this article does not attempt to differentiate “good” or “bad” anything (song/video/artist/concept/etc) because it’s completely subjective and opinions are cheap (which is why I you’ll never see a review on this blog). Some of the artists I write about do not particularly appeal to me, while others I love. However, they all have something in common that I definitely want to analyze: one-take music videos.
Beginning with the one I’m sure the vast majority of people have seen: Here It Goes Again, by OK Go.
This video caught everyone by surprise, even winning a couple awards. It’s a highly entertaining dance routine performed on treadmills. Essentially a stunt, which is essentially a cool gimmick. As fun as the video is, I am only posting it to differentiate from the others. This is more recorded choreography than a music video, which is to say (without sounding elitist) the video content does not have anything to with the musical/lyrical content, except perhaps tempo. Metronomes, however, do very little in establishing a connection with an audience and creating a moment— tempo is a tool, like acrylic.
Childish Gambino, while he definitely proves he’s a capable dancer and rapper, also does something (or, his director does) on a very different level in his video for Freaks and Geeks. It is a rap both narrative and stream-of-conscious, poetic and obscene. Every word flies out of this guy’s mouth with a vengeance, and his moves and expressions compliment the lyrics. The whole video is one very long, very slow dolly. The empty warehouse creates the frame. If it weren’t for his bright candy red jacket, Mr. Gambino would blend right into his surroundings. In this way, the beginning of the video is very painterly. This is the song that launched him into (musical) success, and it tells a lot about who he is. He starts rapping and dancing very far from the camera, and as we learn more about him, we get closer and closer to his face. He stops dancing around, becomes the linear portrait of a human rather than a possessed jacket or red splotch, and looks right into the lens as he tells everyone he will be “runnin’ the Earth, give me a month.”
If this had been a typical music video, with lots of flashy things and underdressed women, or full of random inserts from a house party (etc. etc.), it would not have been nearly as effective as an introduction to this young, fiery rapper, who’s personality has sold almost as many albums as his music.
If there was ever a soul with a propensity for connecting to other souls via music, it was embodied in Conor Oberst. To remove any predispositions of bias, I’m not a huge fan; but, I certainly appreciate the music and I know the real fans are exceptionally loyal/grateful/obsessive. This being said, Bight Eyes’ video for Easy/Lucky/Free is deeply moving (as is the First Day of My Life video, which almost fits the one-take category).
Formal analysis before content, always. Like Gambino’s video, the framing of the shot creates a vignette framing Oberst in the video, like any painting would. The mise-en-scene looks remarkably like any of Malevich’s Suprematist paintings— really, I can’t seem to get over it. The primary colours are present on an overall white space, and Conor himself is the strong, bonding black. Suprematism and Bright Eyes? It’s a match made in nihilist, atheist heaven/oblivion/whatever.
Oberst is known for his poetic lyrics more than anything, so it’s good to listen to his songs with this in mind at least once. While poetry is art in the form of written word— meant to be read silently or aloud— it is also a visual medium. Words on a page do have aesthetic elements. (If you’ve yet to discover kinetic typography, you’re missing out.) The type/handwriting, the size, leading, kerning, et cetera. Some poems even form shapes. Watching the lyrics bleed out of Oberst’s marker is just as (if not more) enchanting and visceral than watching him sing it. And it’s in one take. It doesn’t matter how rehearsed it was or wasn’t, because the moment is, from the beginning of the song until the end, one cohesive spilling of cathartic lyricism and visual poetry bound by one sound and one scene, and that’s what we connect to.