I know I said opinions are cheap, and they are, but… I love Robyn. The video for Call Your Girlfriend is the primary reason why. (The other just being her DGAF attitude.) First thing to notice: it is shot in anamorphic, that’s a ~2.4:1 aspect ratio. This has been said to be the most similar view to the human eye, thus making it easier for the audience to get lost in the story on screen. Then the lighting: we get a full panoramic view of the warehouse through the video (and a lot in the first 15 seconds)— I don’t spot a single C-stand, so I assume it’s all overhead at first. This changes drastically throughout, so a lot more on lights in a second. Before I go there I want to point out that, as in Childish Gambino’s Freaks and Greeks and Bright Eyes’ Easy/Lucky/Free, Robyn’s clothes match her environment, the warehouse. This isn’t an accident, nor is it simply the obsessive compulsion of a fashion-savvy singer. This is a cinematic trick used to bond the subject to their surroundings. Robyn, her music, and her dance floor are one visual, visceral entity. (Cool, yeah?)
Now back to lighting. The music shifts and the beat kicks in with some fancy projector lights on the floor and in the air for Robyn to dance through. It’s very high contrast. But then, the overhead lights drop out and the lens creates those fantastical anamorphic flares that cut across the picture and the dancer/singer herself. Let’s call this stunning-cinematic-feature #1: lighting. The video goes from linear picture to painterly impression with the opaque blues, purples, and pinks. This is another cinematic concept which I cannot wait to write about in more detail in a later post, but to put it simply: replacing line (high contrast, form-rich imagery) with colour (lower contrast, higher saturation imagery) is the visual-conceptual movement from exposition of information to exposition of emotion.
The video continues with Robyn’s music, dancing, acting and the dance floor constantly evolving in response to all of the above. The lens flares sporadically slice across the screen and the background fades in and out with the shift from balanced to colourful lighting that accompany different musical phrases. The drop and build starting at 2:23 is brilliant. This is the pick up to the bridge and also the most abstractly lit portion of the video. It is here that Robyn busts out what her choreographer and stylist Maria “Decida” Wahlberg calls, “old school RAVE dancing UK – style #1989.” (I highly recommend her blog!) A heavily saturated blue light erases everything around her, sometimes casting her in silhouette. It is highly abstract in terms of narrative (i.e. emotional) use of colour. Her figure disappears, reappears, and likewise the dancing is, while choreographed, purposefully loose and fluid. The colours change appropriately, warming, cooling. It’s visceral. The open viewer is captivated amidst Robyn’s electric dance catharsis.
Stunning-cinematic-feature #2: camera movement, especially the “cant.” This is a term that refers to the off-setting of the camera angle so that it is not level with the ground, so it is “canted.” Sometimes it’s simply referred to as a “slanted angle” or “dutch angle.” (For the sake of my own sanity, there will never be a post about film jargon, either.) When Robyn dips her head back and gracefully comes forward again, the camera follows her— and I have a hard time not turning my own head with them. Because music especially (without lyrics) is so completely subjective and deeply connected to emotion, I’m not going to say, “This symbolizes some-bull-about-inner-turmoil.” However, this is a highly emotional moment, and it’s better off left to the individual interpretation of the viewer. The impression this musical moment (1:22 − 1:26) leaves, though, is deepened by the visual attachment of the video with everything from the expression on Robyn’s face to (especially) the camera movement.
Capturing all of Call Your Girlfriend in-camera (as in, zero special effects with CGI) is an incredible feat.
“We didn’t plan to do an one take video but on the set we realized pretty soon that it would work, thank’s to Robyn’s artistic expression (that makes her the performer she is) and also a lot thank’s to our Camera man, the Director Of Photography Crille Forsberg’s work, and of course Director Max s trust in all involved.” — Decida
The entire music video is an encapsulating cinematic moment created thanks to the single-take. Any cuts put the audience at very high risk of falling out of the video’s enchantment. Robyn is completely captivating here. A single long-take is the perfect packaging for taking in the entirety of the moment and keeping it with you always. Cuts do just that: cut up the moment, so that bits are lost in memory. Inserts and cut-aways definitely have very important places in the editing of film and the telling of a story. The long-take simply has a different kind of narrative use. It creates moments and affects how we remember them— something that every filmmaker should keep in mind. I’m willing to bet director Max Vitali is aware of all of these things and he deserves some serious credit. It’s because of directors like him I know the art of the music video is not completely lost to overproduced, under-conceptualized glamour shoots.
“This video is all about expression. We wanted the feel of dancing on your own, dancing like nobody’s watching. She has an electric stage persona and we wanted to capture that.”