CRITIQUE: PART 2. TURNING THE KNIFE ON MYSELF
(If you can put the quality up to 720, makes a difference…)
If you read Nofilmschool.com which I highly suggest you do, you’ll probably have seen the almighty shit-stirring fest provoked by one Sarah Balchik (smart money on this being the infamous Salah Baker more from Salah here) UPDATE: Maybe the money isn’t so smart after all, seems like it really is someone else with the same initials who launched an all out attack on lots of things but in particular Philip Bloom. It was vicious and you can make your own mind up whether it was right or not. Personally, I don’t. I posted one comment and got nailed by Sarah with this little nicety:
Real Original. I think I’ve read that about a million times from other guys wasting their time posting instead of creating. Why aren’t you out there creating now. who said the camera is the only thing that matters. Stop being a cop and go create.
Boom. Ouch. This made me laugh actually, and if you dug around really carefully in all the vitriol there was a similar line being spoken to the one I’ve been trying to promote recently: namely just being prepared to be a little more realistic and critical of the bland. One of Sarah’s sticks used to beat our plucky Brit with was the argument that he stays in his comfort zone. That’s a pretty duff argument. I know plenty of directors who you could accuse of being one trick ponies, their work being broadly homogenous. There’s a music video director called Sam Brown who does beautiful, beautiful work but you can always tell that it’s his. Edouard Salier, another music video director, happily admits this himself. These guys are successful, do great work, and are constantly in demand. So what if you know what you’re going to get? It’s a duff argument. Personally, I like to try something different every time, but that really is just me. There are so many different styles, genres and techniques there’s plenty going on to just refine and develop one style.
Now, back to Sarah (Salah?) and her comment. The fact is, I am out there creating. All the time. Which brings me neatly to this post and the reason for writing it. In my post on critiquing I took a bit of flak and that’s fine, I expected that. The danger when critiquing is that, inevitably, the focus falls on the one critiquing and this is why so many choose to hide their identity when commenting. Having a leg to stand on is, apparently, quite important. So, here’s a recent piece of work, a music video. I’m going to explain how it came about, the ambition for it, and then I’m going to critique and any and all of you can lay into it, attack it, shred it, tear it to pieces as much as you like. Go nuts. Feel free to express exactly what you think. Sound good?
Take it off is a collaboration between new dance/pop act and Super Massive Raver who I’ve been working with for a while now. Their original treatment for the video was fairly conventional with the usual ‘beautiful people in a club’ vibe. I’m quite heavily invested in SMR and wanted to do a video that reflected the off-kilter, bizarre way he views the world. This was a low budget video (around 2k), not micro budget, but close, but these days music video budgets tend to be a little bit meaningless. Suffice it to say it was ambitious. The idea was to recreate the ‘Dawn of Man’ sequence from 2001 but in a tacky TV over-the-top seventies sci-fi way. The monolith would be a gigantic speaker and the monkeys would evolve into early clubbers. I originally wanted a desert landscape, like the original but that was impossible. I wanted masks with articulating mouths so you could actually see the singer’s mouth moving in the early verses. That was impossible. I wanted someone else to shoot. But that was impossible. I wanted latex skin that would be a real shock to see splitting open. That was also impossible. Music videos are always like this, you just compromise and compromise and keep going, hoping that the overall idea doesn’t get lost somewhere in all of it. The problem with most low budget music videos is that they run out of ideas about 2 minutes in and just limp to the end. It’s really important to keep the ideas evolving right to the end so that a trigger happy audience watches all the way to the end. So, with the help of a great little team, some daft set dressing, some funky costumes and cheap masks we arrived at the overall production design look and feel for the video.
So. The critique. Firstly it’s important to be aware of what I look for in music videos. Production design, inventiveness of the idea, execution, performance, and above all, whether the video improves the song.
Firstly, the opening is nice, it’s unusual, it roots you quite quickly in a world where the monkeys’ appearance is correct, despite being completely daft. It echoes the original and has that pseudo grand feeling of seventies sci-fi. However, the video as a whole is not particularly brilliantly shot. [I shot it myself and, as I've always said, I'm not a DoP. Directing and DoP'ing a video yourself is a big ask, and not something I enjoy.] Some of the shots are too hot and you can tell. It’s at its most successful when its handheld, some of the lock off shots are just a little flat. The masks are a blessing and a curse. They give you something very interesting in closeup, but for the performers they take away that vital connection between the performer and what they’re singing. This is particularly bad in the second verse where the video feels like it’s just padding, getting us to the rap verse where we get to see a different phase of the idea. It would have been nice to see more of a change in the monkeys, articulated better when they begin to feel the effects of the music. The Super Massive Raver monkey character is strong but he masks the fact that some of the dancing, particularly in verse 2 is a bit ropey. The woozy, slow mo breakdown is a welcome break from the lock off setup of the speaker and is probably the strongest part of the video, leading nicely through the ripping of the clothes to the ‘sexy’ group section. More could have been made of the ripping and skin shedding, taking the idea to a more extreme dimension, making it more visceral. When we can finally see people’s faces it’s a relief, and the sharper routines, coupled with the different looking colour palette, help mask the fact that we are still in the same location, doing exactly the same thing. The faceoff is a nice idea but the big ‘boner’ reveal is handled badly. It feels crammed into a section of the song that can’t handle that much story. The final routine is slick but we seem to have lost one of the strongest elements of the video, SMR himself. He’s there in the clichéd low angle fisheye crowd setup, but he needed closure to his story. One more location, or a variation on the setting would have been welcome. As always, the achievement of getting something with this many cast members, and its own distinct production design, for the money, is a good achievement, but it’s still lacking many elements that would have elevated it beyond that. It doesn’t quite push hard enough into the difficult, weird places the closeups of the monkey masks seem to be asking for. For that reason I give it 3 out of 5. A good effort, but that’s it.
That’s my review. Now go nuts. And if you take that as an opportunity to attack me, that’s okay too.