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Village Voice, Sound Of The City: “The Curious 21st-Century Decline Of Hype Williams.”

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Something about how sucky Hype Williams has been for like a whole decade now, with a focus on the disastrous videos for “All Of The Lights” and “6 Foot 7 Foot” via this making-of footage for Hype’s never-finished version of M.I.A.’s “XXXO.”

On Friday, a link to three-minute making-of video for a scrapped, Hype Williams-helmed clip of “XXXO” appeared on M.I.A.’s twitter. The footage shows M.I.A and a small group of dancers (including Beyoncé choreographer Jonté) painted head-to-toe and gyrating to the song’s hissing, whirling beat. There’s also a tiger. And there’s M.I.A. wearing side-slit leggings and Timberlands and looking really awesome in one scene, and in a metallic, skeletal chest plate thingy looking very uncomfortable in another…

Written by Brandon

May 4th, 2011 at 3:56 am

No Country For Old Rappers


Director Morocco Vaughn shoots the beginning of “Bustin’ At Em,” and all the No Country For Old Men-referencing parts in a gritty, kinda beautiful style that’s perhaps perfected by The Motion Family but is just generally really popular right now. Very easily, Vaughn could’ve made a hand-held, art-movie-street-doc that’s smart, gritty, and tasteful. But that’s easy. Instead, Vaughn moved on and mixes it up with some very conventional “dudes in a warehouse” performance footage and some absolutely ridiculous CGI-soaked shots of Waka swatting bullets fired by video girls.

The idea that there’s a “good” or at least acceptable video that’s eschewed for something far more bizarre is really appealing. Rather than have one “smart” video, or two okay videos, Vaughn mixes styles and takes it all to the next level. He one-ups the now pretty rote, nicely-shot, hood video by merging it with a really clever and out-of-the-box crime movie reference. The warehouse performance footage is a throwback to a kind of spare, performance video that doesn’t really exist anymore. And he pumps the computer-assisted, ridiculous event video full of steroids. The CGI bullets have eyeballs on the end of them. Flocka is knocking the bullets down like King Kong swatting planes. His Fozzy Bear chain comes alive and swats some bullets too. This is Pen N Pixel in music video form.

When “Bustin’ At Em” is stupid, it’s really stupid, and when it’s smart, it’s really smart too. Vaughn and Flocka don’t miss the point of the crime movie they’re referencing, as is often the case when rappers reference Scarface or Goodfellas–they just reconfigure it a bit. “Bustin’ At Em” begins with wizened hood commentary that conflates the narration from No Country For Old Men with (as monique_r suggested), the somber, sincerity you get in the dramatic parts of a Tyler Perry movie. That pre-song monologue—nearly word-for-word from the Coens’ movie—cleverly doubles as a commentary on rap’s perceived, decaying values and lowered expectations, embodied by Waka Flocka Flame. So, it’s appropriate that Flocka portrays No Country’s cold-hearted, next-level killer Anton Chigurh.

Like Chigurh, who blew up a pharmacy to get pain medication, who didn’t use a gun but some evily-efficient, pressurized nail-gun-like thing to commit murder, Flocka wanders the rap scene not only breaking the rules, but obliterating the sense that there were rules in the first place. Dude doesn’t really rap at all, he shouts, grunts, and yells, and sometimes those shouts come out as couplets. But it works. This is the most knowing, character-identification in a video since Kanye West portrayed himself as the moody, bitter Tetsuo from Akira in the “Stronger” video.

Written by Brandon

October 13th, 2010 at 7:29 am

b free daily: “The Surreal Eye”


If you’re in Baltimore, you can go pick up my cover story on Baltimore filmmaker Hilton Carter. His short film Moth plays at the Landmark Theatre tomorrow night. Hilton’s also directed a ton of music videos and commercials, most recently the Blaqstarr video for “Oh My Darling”.

Two years ago, Hilton Carter stood in Paris’ Louvre, transfixed by Paul Delaroche’s 1855 painting The Young Martyr.

No longer a glossy image in the art history texts he studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art, the massive painting was right there, ready to overwhelm and inspire this former Baltimore filmmaker.

“When I stood in front of that painting,” Carter explains on the phone from his L.A home, where he now lives, “I saw the painting for what it is. It hit me.” Delaroche’s painting, which depicts a dead girl eerily floating in the water surrounded by darkness, became the inspiration for “Moth,” Carter’s short film about a drug-addled L.A. girl who slowly sinks under the weight of her addictions and insecurities…

Written by Brandon

September 29th, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Kanye West, Subvertiser: “Power” as Culture Jam


Right after the latest episode of Jersey Shore, Kanye West and director Marco Brambilla’s video/commerical/art project for “Power” premiered in all its epic, underwhelming glory. Basically, “Power” is a less crowded version of Brambilla’s 2008 hotel installation “Civilization,” and like that digital-imagery video collage, “Power” is schticky but awesome. All the “Pop-art” stuff Kanye’s been yammering on about for a few years now? Here’s the apotheosis–for better and worse.

Responses to the video though, have been pretty cold-shouldered. Sean Fennessey–a guy who’s been wrestling with Kanye’s work since the start—thinks the whole thing’s undercooked. Some broad for The Atlantic Monthly called it “a mesmerizing screensaver.”

There’s a bit of a bias against digital art going on here, but the responses also sent me back to undergraduate literature classes, where shiny, grandiose works that wrestled with universals like vanity and the fragility of life got laughed-off in favor of immediate, “what’s it’s like to live at the end of the millennium” type works. Sure this clip is big and ponderous, but it doesn’t shout-out its importance really. It’s sincere and knowing and Kanye’s laughing a bit about the fact that he got this weird-ass thing on television and all over the internet.

Kanye has also been into cultivating memes lately. Whether it’s his blog or award show pranks or outre videos, he makes conversation-stimulating, argument-starting chunks of sound and image to accompany his actually fairly subtle music. He cleverly balances the demands of the music-marketing game of the 2000s with a rarefied, creative spirit. So, he drums-up controversy with a Spike Jonze-directed single-take video that shows his death by shovel and video girl. Or he makes a fairly insane, grabbing from all directions, Neo-classical digital art project and gets it on MTV after the fucking Jersey Shore.

Think about that as the context for “Power.” Is there a more depressing, end-of-days, this-is-why-the-world-hates-us show than Jersey Shore? The Situation and Snooki consumed by their insignificant, bullshit-ass problems (which now hey, include fame!) all scored to soul-less, date-rape rave beats? No one Guido should have all that power.

The context for “Power,” coupled with its message, makes it the kind of take-back-the-night use of one’s fame that has all but disappeared from the pop landscape. Only Lady Gaga tries this hard and she fails way more often. “Power” is basically a culture-jam—rap is pretty much always a culture-jam though—in which Kanye deconstructs MTV commercials and regularly-scheduled programming and the endless, chintzy New Music Cartel stream of shit videos and shit video teasers. “Power” just doesn’t fit anywhere.

You want violence? Here’s the end of the world and dudes with swords and shit. You want video girls? Here’s a chick pouring water on herself like it’s a Nelly video only she’s upside down. You want a “conscious” portrayal of women? Check out those stalwart females to the left and right of Kanye pounding their staffs to the rhythm. And at the center of it is Kanye, wearing a chain nearly weighing him down (wasn’t this the original symbology of chains in rap, a symbol of wealth as well as a tangible reminder of the trappings of all that?), as all the decadence swirls around him, unknowingly about to lose his head. Literally.

West, grew up waiting for the premieres of Michael Jackson videos before The Simpson and wants to–no needs to–make an event video, but he’s got an aggressive, very hip-hop side that makes these videos loaded, and occasionally fraught with meaning. He’s gotta be subversive, but for the first time here, that subversiveness and its intended message aren’t weighed down by the messenger. “Power” is thematically antithetical to the egotism expected from rap but it’s style and construction oppose cheap rewards too.

The self-important slow-motion denies the speedy, histrionic editing of most videos and commercials while also reclaiming a technique that when it is employed, is used to just make, say, Young Jeezy look cool stepping out of a car. By slowing the imagery, you really soak in all the loaded, obvious stuff going on and get smashed over the head with its decadence. Director Brambilla’s technique—shoot a bunch of stunning imagery separately and then slam it all together with the aid of computers—is perfect because it gives the video an unreal, slightly “off” quality that makes it all the more unappealing. If this were staged, somehow shot live, all in one room, there would be human qualities to it, something imperfect, but as it is, each image is made “perfect” and then stacked upon another “perfect” image. It feels strange and just plain off. You get to ponder it and you get pretty creeped out.

The cut to black, a moment before the good stuff happens (Kanye gets decapitated) also seems to be an issue for some. They’re waiting for something to happen, as if the video’s not a big mess of stuff happening. Viewers want the final, epic, shocking moment—whenever I think of videos and a moment like this, I think of the moronic culmination of Jonathan Glazer’s video for UNKLE’s “Rabbit In Your Headlights”–but Kanye and Brambilla don’t give it to you because dude, that’s not the point at all.

The “anti-climactic” ending actually suggests another misread work of bold, capital-A art wrestling with fame and hubris: Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006). Coppola’s film ends before Marie’s infamous beheading, but the sequence of events is set-up so that her trip to the guillotine is inevitable. Like that movie, “Power” has a little too much love for its subject (in Kanye’s video: himself) to visualize the demise, but it’s also a way to reject cheap thrills. And usually, music videos, MTV, and commercials, are all about cheap thrills.

further reading/viewing:
-“Power,” Paintings, Pomposity: The Uncertain Evolution of Kanye West’s Music Videos” by Sean Fennessey for Sound Of The City
-“Subvertising” on Wikipedia
-“M.I.A. and music’s newest marketing frontier: the guerrilla web itself” by Gardner
-Buy Marco Brambilla’s Demolition Man
-“Race & Gender Devolution in ‘Flashing Lights’ Version 2″ by ME

Written by Brandon

August 7th, 2010 at 9:07 am

The House Next Door, Music Video Round-Up: Beyonce & Yo La Tengo

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Sorry about the lack of updates lately, you’ll just have to jump off-site to read my rambling. Trying to get back on-track this week though. For now, there’s another installment of my “Music Video Round-Up” column, this time talking about the wonderfully nutty video for Beyonce’s “Sweet Dreams” and the whatever but kinda cool video for Yo La Tengo’s “Here to Fall” and the transformative qualities of CGI when used properly, in both.

“One part Victoria’s Secret commercial, another part dream logic anti-narrative, and a CGI-assisted freakout all around, Adria Petty’s video for Beyonce’s “Sweet Dreams” one-ups the minimalism of the instantly iconic internet meme and, um, Kanye approved “Single Ladies.” Director Jaka Nava’s video for “Single Ladies” already dropped the sensory overload expectations of music videos for a basically blank set, in front of which Beyonce and her dancers could approximate the singularly-focused energy of a live dance performance. No narrative, no props (save for Beyonce’s robot hand), just dancing.

That odd performance piece couldn’t and shouldn’t be repeated and it’s why follow-up videos for “Diva” and “Ego” at least conceded to a setting, but now Beyonce and director Petty have found a way to make a video even more minimal, even more performance-based—via green-screen and computer-generated effects. Rarely ever is the use of CGI associated with minimalism—it’s more often connected to excess—but in “Sweet Dreams,” CGI’s employed to create a context-less void in which Beyonce and her dancers can blow our minds anew.

The effects in “Sweet Dreams” are used to erase background and setting only to then fill the void-like digital canvas with a hot mess of bodies, clothes, and dance moves. A swirl of sophisticated and “street” dance moves, fashionable nightwear, elegant dresses and, finally, a bizarre gold bodice—it’s an excess of body and action, not filmic techniques. The strange sterility of CGI, that weird dipped-in-Photoshop feeling, is employed to create a new kind of chaos, not really possible without computer effects.”

Written by Brandon

October 19th, 2009 at 1:22 pm

The House Next Door, Music Video Round-Up: Interview w/ Severed Ways’ Tony Stone

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So, my music video column on “The House Next Door” finally returns and I’m going to keep up a regular pace with it and not like, one every four months at the best. The first returning one is a little weird because it’s not about music videos really, but it is an interview with the film director Tony Stone who directed the absolutely amazing Viking, Black Metal movie Severed Ways. Stone and I talk about digital video, Michael Mann, metal’s appeal, and lots of other stuff. If you’ve not seen Severed Ways, please go rent it or buy it, you won’t be disappointed…

“After confusing critics at festivals and brief theater runs over the past two years, Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America—a set in 1007 AD, shot on digital video, heavy metal-scored, Viking anti-epic—made its way to DVD this past summer. Though most certainly not a music video, it’s a movie not only dominated by the interplay between music and images but one that apes the quiet-loud dynamics of the heavy metal music that makes up most of its score. Music is at the movie’s core and in that sense, seems appropriate for “Music Video Round-Up.”

Like an art metal album abruptly but successfully segueing from low-end riffing to Brian Eno-esque ambience, director (and co-star) Tony Stone’s Severed Ways bounces between Malick-esque patience and pulpy, in-your-face bursts of ugliness. Laconic hunting and gathering makes way for heathen church-burning. Wandering in the woods moves to the side for an awesomely unnecessary defecation scene. Imagine the atmosphere of your quasi-historical, Dungeons & Dragons-inspired metal video sucked of all the bombast and almost entirely focused on tiny activities of survival.

The result is one of the most bizarre and strangely moving films of the past bunch of years. And the film’s artfully jagged merger of opposites extends to its creation too; conceptualized, studied filmmaking sent into the Vermont woods, forcing on-the-fly, improvisation. Tony Stone was kind enough to break-down these unresolved tensions and why it was so necessary to go “off the grid” to make Severed Ways and explain metal’s rarefied appeal.”

Written by Brandon

October 12th, 2009 at 4:46 pm

Moving Image Source: The Devil’s Spawn, the MTV Legacy of Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising

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So, over at the Museum of Moving Image’s website, a video essay by Kevin Lee and myself that investigates sixties underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger’s immeasurable influence on music videos is up. From Anger’s weirdo, Manson-family member scored Lucifer Rising to Hype Williams, back to 90s alt-rock and Wu Tang, to Hercules & Love Affair–all in nine minutes. Partially narrated in my fruity-ass voice. This video essay’s been awhile in the making and I’m glad to see it up and ready for viewing. Hope you enjoy it.

Big thanks to Kevin Lee for thinking of me and brilliantly editing and organizing the whole thing. You can watch it above or go to the website and watch it and read along. If you’ve never seen Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising, well it is on Google Video.

Written by Brandon

August 17th, 2009 at 12:22 pm

The House Next Door: "Music Video Round-Up" Young Jeezy’s "My President" & Relics of Cynicism

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I talk about the Young Jeezy videos “My President” and “Crazy World”, as well as Killer Mike’s “Pressure” video. I’d also like to note that very quietly–a surprise in the hype-everything world of rap–that “My President” director Gabriel Hart has tacked-on a terrible, terrible intro to the video. He’s also re-edited it, and so we get less Bun B about to cry with excitement and just a general fucking-with the rhythm. I wrote my review when the original only existed and rather than re-write or qualify it, I tossed-in a few lines about the re-edit and kept my initial reading:

“In light of Obama’s election and it’s positive implications for our country (made more than ideal by big moments like the impending closure of Guantanamo Bay and minor ones like not totally clowning McDonald’s worker “Julio”), politically-engaged protest art has the odd effect of feeling passe and cynical. Fully aware dissent don’t end when something good happens, the premiere of Young Jeezy’s “Crazy World” video a week or so after Obama won the presidency, felt decadent and irrelevant, a relic of knowing cynicism that we could now look beyond, right? Right? RIGHT?”

Written by Brandon

February 18th, 2009 at 8:30 am

The House Next Door: Music Video Round-Up (Beyonce, Sea & Cake, Glen Campbell)


“Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)” doesn’t really have verses or even a chorus, it’s all-hook, moving from one high-energy Beyonce shout to another, never really letting up. The titular hook’s rushed through in the same double-time as that keyboard line on-speed and Jake Nava’s video similarly starts and doesn’t stop. It’s all performance on basically no set at all, Beyonce kinda lip-syncs, instead focusing on her and the other two dancers’ Bob Fosse “Mexican Breakfast” walk-it-outs with minimal lighting tricks with minimal cuts.”"

Written by Brandon

November 19th, 2008 at 5:28 pm

The House Next Door: Music Video Round-Up (The Videos of M83)

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“Like “Graveyard Girl,” it ends with the outsider—or in this case, outsiders—getting the guy(s), but their video-ending make-out session with dread-locked roller-bladers is an age and community acceptable transference for the characters’ love for one another. The parents-acceptable culmination of the homoeroticism and doubling hinted at in the first scene, where the girls change in front of one another, intercuts with tight close-ups of each of them, making their bodies indistinguishable.

For all that Film Studies stuff though, Husson makes the same statement in other parts of the video in more playful ways. The appearance of the Siren-like skaters turns into an absurd Big Lebowski homage, which makes way for a brilliant and inexplicable cut to the girls downhill skating, perfectly matched to the song’s airy bridge. It doesn’t make conventional sense, but it’s perfect.”

Written by Brandon

September 25th, 2008 at 2:22 pm