Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Beastie Boys - Root Down (1995)

*** (of four)

You'd think the Beastie Boys exhausted all their Ill Communication video-making energy with the Spike Jonze joints "Sabotage" and "Sure Shot." Their appearances in Evan Bernard's video for "Root Down" are limited to black-and-white concert performance footage, all basically from the same show with limited angles.

But what Bernard lacks, re: artist footage, he makes up for with rapid-fire stock clips - color and black-and-white, quickly cut and with the screen sometimes divided into horizontal and vertical twos, threes and fours. My favorite sequences involve New York subway map clip art and vintage funk/breakdancing.

There's also graffiti artists at work and less-germaine extreme sports footage of the snow- and skateboarding varieties. It's fun to watch, but it's one of those videos where, if you've seen the first two minutes, you've seen the entire thing.

The Rembrandts - I'll Be There For You (1995)

*1/2 (of four)

Wow, what an awkward, annoying video this is. You might not be old enough to remember, or you just might have been plain off the Top 40 page at the time. But ten years ago, this full version of the "Friends" theme song got played once an hour every fucking single place you went, no matter where you went. And, if you've forgotten, well, you're a fortunate soul.

Here's what happened - this struggling group of perky musicians was lucky enough to have this puff of utter treacle picked as theme to a major sitcom. The "Friends" people were lucky enough to have their show blow up as a major hit. Some radio programmer was lucky enough to think to home-tape the minute-long version of "I'll Be There For You" and singlehandedly put it into rotation.

The record company was lucky enough to get asked by countless other radio stations for a full-length single of the song, which had been limitedly released several years prior and promptly sunk without a trace. The song was lucky enough to shoot straight to #1. And the rest of us were unlucky enough to then hear it several thousand times in 1995 and beyond.

"I'll Be There For You" became a surprise hit, and the video was a total rush job. On a white soundstage decorated with black geometric shapes (a triangle AND a hexagon on the same set! after Labor Day!), the Rembrandts, all in black and white suits and wearing sunglasses, perform while the entire "Friends" ensemble cast improvises physical comedy antics around them.

Maybe it's intentional for the sake of "humor," or maybe it's because these guys have never been in the spotlight, but the band looks agitated and sometimes downright pissed off the entire time. The whole affair stinks to high heaven.


Printed here as a service
for future sitcom stars who
might find themselves
acting in a music video
for their show's theme song.

If you're ever in this situation, folks,
these all go on the future-reference

-Courteney Cox gives piggyback ride to Matthew Perry

-David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston dance tango

-Aniston and Cox each steal a pair of sunglasses from guitar players, trade with each other

-Perry runs and hides behind hexagon

-Perry and Matt LeBlanc begin to dance tango, look at each other as if the same-sex dancing is awkward, shrug off notion, continue dancing tango

-Schwimmer pokes around piano player's sheet music, gets hand smacked away

-Aniston gazes into tambourine as if it were a mirror and she a vain, vain lady

-LeBlanc and Shwimmer come up behind piano player, lift him out of his chair, carry him away

-Perry feigns injury to own hip with tambourine

-LeBlanc and Schwimmer sit down at piano bench, decide they can't play, pick up comically small bongo drums instead

-Cox and Aniston give guitar guys reacharounds, grope their instruments

-Cox knocks out drummer with drummer's own sticks, takes over timekeeping duties

-Kudrow heads behind hexagon with third guitarist, emerges with his guitar strapped to her, proceeds to mime like she's playing it with her teeth

-Schwimmer operates camera

-Perry pretends to play acoustic guitar face down

-Aniston operates other camera

-Kudrow does spastic dance with tambourine

-Show lasts another nine seasons, spawns successful season-on-DVD-for-forty-bucks merchandise line

-Rembrandts sell kidneys for gas-bill money






Starship - Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now (1987)

* (of four)

JULY 1987 - At the age of nine, I am enamored of Top 40 pop radio. My favorite songs are "Don't Dream It's Over," "I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight," "The Final Countdown" and, number one with a bullet, Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now," the flagship single from the soundtrack to the Andrew McCarthy comedy Mannequin. I see the music video on VH1 every time I visit my dad, and I crack up laughing.

APRIL 1988 - I beg my mom to rent Mannequin on VHS from an electronics store named Tipton. I tell her it has my favorite song in it and that from the music video I can tell the movie is going to be wildly hilarious. We watch the movie, me and my mom and my little brother. None of us like it. But before we return it to Tipton and check out a compilation of WWII-era Donald Duck shorts, I put my tape recorder up to the TV speaker and record an obnoxiously low-quality copy of NGSUN. Listen to it a few more dozen times.

JULY 1995 - Over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, VH1 runs a History of Music Videos A-Z marathon. The weather's absolutely beautiful, but I stay inside for three days and pick which videos to record for all-time safekeeping. "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" makes the cut, as does 1986 Starship #1 "Sara." I do notice, at the age of seventeen, how fucking horribly the NGSUN video has aged, but I still think the song's cool.

SEPTEMBER 2005 - I karaoke "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" at a bar called Maryland Yards with my heavily tatooed, cropped-haired friend Lashonda. She's fifty years old, we're both drunk, and our harmony is downright painful. I resolve to never sing Starship with Lashonda again - from now on, it's "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" or nothing.

NOVEMBER 2005 - Sitting at home on a Tuesday, I come across a VHS tape labeled "Music Videos '95." Sixth in the lineup is "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now," bottom right corner branded with the white-and-blue "AtoZ VH1" logo. I get the urge to fire up the laptop and give this Starship video the epic full-circle treatment it deserves. But, to my surprise, it's actually not as embarassingly fall-down funny as I remember. Its unintentional humor quotient peaks about a minute in.

The scene is, Starship guy-singer Mickey pulls up to a closed department store on his motorbike. In the store window, a freeze-framed Grace Slick plays the role of mannequin. Clips from the movie Mannequin show Andrew McCarthy happening upon his mannequin and watching her come to life. He skids backward, Kramer-style, and falls on his ass.

Cut to freeze-framed Grace coming to life in front of Mickey, who raises his eyebrows to the camera in exaggerated fashion.Both reactions are overblown, but one of these guys went to acting school and the other didn't. The other just coasts on his Mel Gibson Lethal Weapon 1 hair and silky-smooth voice.

There are a couple other funny parts - including a Spinal Tap-level solo played on a jagged, rectangular pink guitar by a Dana Carvey lookalike in plaid, paisley pants. And there's the dramatic conclusion, in which Mickey shrugs and joins Grace in freeze-framed mannequindom.

But watching this video in November 2005 gives me more or less the same reaction as me watching Mannequin in April 1988. It's just a big, tacky letdown.

Dream Academy - Life in a Northern Town (1986)

**1/2 (of four)

Name of this song doesn't ring a bell? Think of the anthemic refrain "Hey-oh Ma-ma-ma / Hey-eee-doo-bee-die-yah / Hey-oh-ma-ma-mee / Hey-ay-ay-ie-yo," sung by dozens of voices while African kettle drums pound away. It reads pretty obnoxious on paper, but "Life in a Northern Town" is one of the more recognizable, anthemic, distinctive and actually distinguished one-hit wonder pop songs of the '80s.

Dream Academy - fueled by production from Pink Floyd CEO David Gilmour - features a vest-wearing lead singer who looks half like George Harrison and half like the lead singer of Men Without Hats. The female backup singer, wielding an oboe, looks like Linda McCartney. So the entire affair is pseudo-Beatles-esque*, in a subdued '80s way.

The video, unexciting but watchable, features slice-of-life stock footage of rolling street shots of middle-class houses, river crossings and street signs. After awhile, you feel like you're looking out a car window on a road trip that's never going to end. Add to the mix old home movie footage and that telltale shot of JFK in the motorcade immediately pre-head wound.

There's also plenty of footage of George Without Hats, Linda McCartney and the rest of the band play-synching from an empty, dimly lit rehearsal hall. You know, for a video from such a synthesizer-ridden decade, it's reassuring to know there's a live violin player and kettle drummer and clarinetist to compete with the closeups of the guy playing the same three notes on his Casio. But don't worry - there are plenty of those closeups, too.

courtesy of Rate It user Scriptfis

"The video is a poignant study
in wet wintry industrial monochrome**."

* = This marks the first time in eleven years of writing that I've ever attached the prefix "pseudo-" and suffix "-esque" to the same word. I don't plan to make a habit of it.

** = Note the lack of commas in Scriptfish's punctuation. It speaks urgency.