Music Videos and Beyond, Art or Ad or Both?

Mac DeMarco: My Kind of Woman on

(Leg note: Fibula? Still broken. Ligaments? Totally snapped & repairing. Ability to walk or drive? Zero. Please bear with me as I continue to struggle to write through a pain-killer and lilac wine spritzer fog.) I completely forgot to write about my journey to the foreign borough of Queens a few months back- a pilgrimage to the often heard about but never visited The Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. I don't know what I was expecting...mostly I guess I wasn't expecting much since many of my Queens experiences have left me disappointed and lost in near surburban-esque sprawl of graveyards, and houses with fences (& yards!), as landing strips feel a little too close- hunkering airplanes in descent forming a claustrophobic ceiling between the cities low slung blocks... As I walked under the endless elevated train and down the blocks that feel like New Jersey, a huge, sleek, angular beacon sat perched between the old building bricks of Queens, slyly tucked near old (and even current) working NY film studios! The reason I wanted to bring this place up now of all times is because there is a new exhibit there that I think is really pivotal in the realm of film & art- and also media & consumerism- crossover: music videos.

Music videos don't just mark the MTV generation of short attention spans they are also the threshold of tons of different media centered exploits extending from the original Scopitone video jukeboxes that began the marriage of music/advertising/and image outside of commercials (speaking of which there is an AMAZING article/book review about the birth of music & ads & digital media over at n+1 that is sooo worth a read, the parallels to film are striking and totally engaging) to even the youtube generation of short snippets of ideas and sounds being broadcast to larger and larger outlets as technology hurtles forth. Music videos also have a legacy of being open to budding auteurs, to taking stylistic, conceptual and even technological risks that cinema would be unable to gamble on.

In terms of music videos, the video isn't the product being sold the "music" is, making the director freed up, the music oftne acting as a wedge for holding open whatever crazy idea is rattling around in the director's brain. In fact, the DVD compilation series Director's Label from Palm Pictures are a perfect example of the art of the music video and the way they act as springboards for so much extra on the DVD of Michel Gondry's first edition with Director's Label (my favorite of his music vids embedded above!) includes a VHS demo of one of his crazy ideas that he mailed to Beck in attempts to solicit a music video job (he tied shoes to his shoes, walked backwards, and reversed the tape making it seems as if the disembodied shoes were leading the way- a simplistic twist turned into a second if a huge production), a continuing collaboration that has resulted in amazing visions.

The exhibit at the Museum of Moving Image (a space I promise to write more about at length later!) is called Spectacle: The Music Video and seems to take a very physical approach to a very fleeting medium. Composed of props, recreated sets, screenings, an original Scopiotone and even a lounge where you can access a digital archive of videos you personally want to see, it seems to set out to make people take pause about the work, ingenuity and evolution of the music video. I can't speak for the actual exhibition but I am really excited that it exists, elevating the hard work of music video director's into a historical, artistic, and filmic canon of sorts. I also appreciate that artists (like Allison Schulnick whose hobo clown work is largely unknown outside of her music video for Grizzly Bear pasted above) and innovators (Sledgehammer, the legendary Peter Gabriel song that made claymation, stop motion, and analogue animation a household viewing experience) are being presented to the masses in this slightly exalted form...a thing we think of as a sort of commercial or low art being elevated to something so much more, solidifying the creative link between disciplines that we sometimes discount thanks to the heavy fog of capitalism.

Actually, that n+1 piece I mentioned above discusses the "selling out" of musicians in a way I think plays out almost the opposite when it comes to music videos? Musicians are often criticized for lending a song to a commercial in order to make money (an increasing reality thanks to the "decade of dysfunction," of the early 2000s where the digital revolution choked the revenue out of album sales). Music videos on the other hand really are advertisements for music, a way of expressing a particular image of a performer to increase appeal of the creative product they are selling, and lately it feels as if the music video is becoming even more of a genre and money maker with very little shaming on behalf of the (well paid) director! The trend of longer length video/short films (oftentimes littered with product placement beyond the musician) of pop music seems to be in full force providing money for newer, edgier directorial talent and a larger platform for their work.

Sigur Rós - Varðeldur from Sigur Rós Valtari Mystery Films on Vimeo.

 Gaga & Beyonce, Janelle Monae's ongoing sci-fi saga, and Kanye's Runaway Opus, all push the music video & film crossover and do so in ultimatley profitable ways blurring the lines between advertisement, music, film, popstar, artist, seller out or buyer in, and through new platforms that have only recently become available (iPad apps for Daniel Johnston and Bjork showcase the music but through image based, interaction that even begins to blur the lines of any media or genre we have a name for, and projects like Sigur Ros' ambitious music video /art/album comp take the traditional video but upgrade the beauty, afforded by the content being available for purchase)....I doubt the Museum of the Moving Image touches on this new frontier of consumerist film-art-music-video-extended ad-new platform music video but it is definitely a current reality that will shape the future of these media and also shape the future of audiences, auteurs, artists, and rockstars in ways we can't begin to envision! Exiting times in a post-MTV world!



Donna K. is a recent transplant to the Midwest where she can be found exploring culture at large through film programming, writing and her general interest in the world- both on and offline.