The xx: Islands

This video, for the track “Islands” off the xx’s newly-released debut album, isn’t easy to watch.  Obviously, the most dominating aspect of the music video is the persistent repetition in choreography.  For the majority of the video, a group of dancers perform the same seven-second routine repeatedly, complemented by a slow zoom out, while the three members of the band are shown in different positions each time.  With each repetition, the band members appear more and more helpless and trapped.  Also, the kiss that once began the choreography eventually transforms into detachment, and then the male dancer shown left alone.  At this point, the set of the video has become a chaotic mess, with various parts of the set actually in flame.

The painful repetition and the resulting breakdown shown in this music video can be interpreted in many different ways.  For one, the mindless repeated movements of the dancers can be seen as a criticism of mainstream music, whose videos are often characterized by this choreography.  More so, however, the video is making a statement about repetitions we experience in life in general.  The members of the band are surrounded by people doing the same things over and over.  This is a metaphor for the feeling that the things happening around us on a daily basis are almost choreographed, a feeling that we’re like Truman from The Truman Show.  Furthermore, the male and female dancer illustrate the danger of repetition over time within our own lives.  These two characters, who begin each sequence by kissing and then carrying out the routine, symbolize a long term relationship.  Because their relationship consists of the same thing over and over, they eventually lose interest, and it all falls apart.  The song’s lyrics depict this as well “I’m yours now, so I don’t ever have to leave.  I’ve been found out, so now I’ll never explore.  Basically, continuous repetition is something to avoid in life.

Film Review: The Abyss

James Cameron’s The Abyss (1989) is a high-budget film filled with special effects similar to many of Cameron’s other films.  Written and directed by Cameron, the film features aliens, but they are not the main focus of the film, unlike in Avatar (2009) and Aliens (1986).  The film is about the sinking of an American nuclear submarine after it comes in contact with an alien underwater spacecraft, and the subsequent rescue effort planned by the military involving Navy SEALS working with a civilian diving team, led by Bud Brigman (Ed Harris).  The rescue team is operating out of an underwater base that is connected to a much larger ship on the surface of the water.  A hurricane hits and the ship and underwater base lose contact from each other.  The diving team’s base is severely damaged and they are stranded underwater, all while one of the SEALS has developed High Pressure Nervous Syndrome and is acting erratically. Cameron depicts the chaos and fear of being stuck deep under the ocean very well, and multiple scenes leave the audience feeling claustrophobic.  The special effects used for the aliens are impressive considering the year the film was made, and the alien ship is an incredible sight.  There is a great deal of action between the people on board the underwater base, and the ocean itself, as the cold and pressure of the water become the enemy of the crew, in addition to the insane navy SEAL.  The sequences when the divers leave the underwater base in their scuba gear are particularly hectic and jarring.  These feelings are created by the darkness that surrounds the diver, which gets increasingly more dark the deeper they go.  Another aspect of the film that is anxiety producing is that the aliens remain a mystery for practically its entirety, the audience is mostly clueless as to what their intentions are.  Through these techniques, Cameron creates an edge of your seat film unlike any of his other work.

Chas Lennon

Old Jews Telling Jokes

This is an interesting website I came across. It’s a whole site of, as it is complexly described, old jews telling jokes. It’s not just a YouTube of jews though, each joke is shot and framed professionally. It’s a very interesting project that I felt belonged on this blog. Also, who doesn’t love an old yiddish man telling a joke about hospitals? No One. In the words of Woodie Allen, “Not all comedy is Jewish, but all Jewish is comedy.”

Sia’s “Clap Your Hands”

Sia’s music video for “Clap Your Hands” from her upcoming album, “We Are Born”, is odd to say the least. Sia’s typical quirkiness and creativity can be seen through the video, which resembles a child’s art project. Sia’s head is placed on top of various puppets, which take the form of a dancer, a koala bear, a construction worker, and possibly a bird (it’s kind of difficult to tell). This reminiscence of the Muppets and Gumby, is partly creepy and partly nostalgic for me. The crazy puppet costumes, paired with the happy, soft-electronic pop music oddly enough create an exciting, upbeat video. It is difficult to connect the different segments of the music video, as they all seem unusual and unrelated, and even more challenging to determine the meaning of it. The segment where one of the puppets seems to die and turn into a frog hopping from one lily pad to the next confused me most, as I cannot figure out if there is any particular meaning behind that. I also found the main puppet, with long pink hair holding onto a flag and seemingly humping it, odd and confusing. The video caught my eye as it is definitely original, to say the least.

It is interesting to me how in a time when everything is electronically enhanced and technologically savvy, Sia has decided to stick to a simple-looking, aesthetically odd video, that totally goes against the grain of modern society. I suppose the fact that her face is placed on these odd play dough-looking bodies requires modern technology, but the way it comes across to the viewer is not in a particularly modern fashion. Compared to most music videos out there, Sia’s is largely different as well as typical of her peculiar style in today’s technology driven society.

3 Music Videos By Modest Mouse

Modest Mouse – Missed the Boat, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

Besides being a great song, what makes this video so interesting is, if you read what it says in the beginning of the video, a large portion of the video is actually fan created. The only portions of the music video that are not fan created are the ones featuring Modest Mouse itself, for obvious reasons. The fact that they allow their fans to articulate how the song is to be visualized toys with how the song itself should be understood. It changes the dynamic of the spectator to one of a more active role, much like the Abramovic installment in the MoMA (the performance one, not the naked one) forced a more direct involvement with the art. The whole purpose of the music video shifts from an explanation to an interpretation, not on the part of the viewer, but rather on the part of Modest Mouse, as they got the opportunity to see how their fans respond visually to their music, through the same medium that they ask their fans to understand visually. Also, it’s a crazy cool video! I mean, it’s got something for everyone, rooftop parties, mad scientists, robots, balloons with out-of-context messages, and even a Fisher-Price ViewMaster! Come on!

Modest Mouse – Dashboard, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

What comes to mind when watching this video is (1) “What?!” and (2) Isaac Brock (the storyteller) looks totally awesome with a white beard. Out of the 3 Modest Mouse music videos I’ve posted, this is probably the most normal, which says a lot about how they envision their music. In this particular music video, the story of the super big fish at the music-equipment-island with music-people (?) compliments the story of the song at a more basic level, on the grounds that the song’s story seems to match the emphatic attitude of the visual story. It’s a pretty cool pairing of music and video and it’s a concept that escapes most artist’s music video direction, as they tend to prefer the slow-motion eyebrow raise and pools shaped like Ferraris aesthetic. I think it’s an incredibly well done music video, and a story of a fisherman getting a prosthetic microphone for a hand while the winner of the 2009 Wilford Brimley look-alike contest laughs heartily in disbelief is awesome in and of itself.

Modest Mouse – King Rat, No One’s First and You’re Next

What’s probably coolest about this video is that it was actually directed by Heath Ledger. At this point, I would be wondering what’s with Modest Mouse’s strange obsession with fishing. To be fair, Heath Ledger directed it to raise awareness for the constant whaling that was going on off the coasts of Australia. But still, i guess they’re just fans of fishing. Obviously, the most noticeable part of the video is the role reversal between people and whales. It’s almost unbearable to watch at times, so kudos to Heath Ledger because this certainly raises awareness. Again, like Dashboard, the emphatic attitude and melody of the song line up nicely with video itself, making the message all that easier to receive. It’s interesting, though, that Ledger chose a music video to raise awareness, especially one that wasn’t released to MTV of VH1 (do they still play music videos?). The videos relentless approach to depicting the whaling (human-ing?) process in its full form is what I think makes it so successful at relaying the necessity of awareness. The song, in this case, is then stripped of a visual aid to help illustrate the song visually and is supplanted with a cautionary message, which, in turn, takes on the role of illustration. The end result of using a song as a vessel for policy is quite impressionable, and I think it’s pretty successful. I know I’m not going to go whaling any time soon. Also, it leaves a pretty pervasive thought in my mind that the sun is awfully creepy and whales are jerks.

-Ben Etkin


Koyaanisqatsi is an hour-and-a-half long documentary about the intersection between humanity, nature and industrialization. The word Koyaanisqatsi is derived from a Native American word meaning “life out of balance.” Directed by Godfrey Reggio and scored by the incomparable Phillip Glass, the film takes the viewer on a tour of human involvement in nature, and the “natural” world that we have created for ourselves. We see atomic bomb detonations in the Nevada desert, cumulus clouds moving across towering skyscrapers and decaying housing projects, and endless assembly lines manufacturing cars, jeans, and hot dogs.

The documentary attempts to connect our existence to technology. It relates to the roles we perform in our relationship to the endless daily industrial processes that encompass our lives, and our relationship to the grandeur of the natural world that we are destroying. Technology is ubiquitous in our existence. During several parts of the documentary, a trio of Hopi prophecies are intoned over the imagery we witness: “If we dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster,” “near the day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth in the sky,” and “a container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans.” As Reggio comments on his film, “it’s not that we use technology, we live technology.” Koyaanisqatsi is an enthralling and visually arresting commentary on our disintegrating relationship with the world and with reality through our own self-destructive industrialization.

M.I.A. “Born Free” Video Analyses

There’s no synchronized dancing, Cristal, or any other music video clichés but M.I.A. has still managed to create what will surely be the most talked about music video of the year with her latest single “Born Free.” Released this past Monday “Born Free” comes in at a brisk 9:00 minutes. Directed by Romain Garvas, “Born Free” tells the story of the ethnic cleansing of redheads in a rather grotesque manner. The video starts off with guards in full riot gear rounding up the gingers in a depressing project of some nameless American city. The guards brutishly gather up a busload of redheads and take them out to a dessert, perhaps in the southwest, to be executed. The video is sprinkled with a visually unappealing sex scene and some very monstrous violence, highlighted by a young redheaded boy being shot point blank in the head. M.I.A. gets an A+ for shock value and while the message of the movie is all too clear some subtlety would not have hurt. The music video is a critique of modern day military violence, prejudice and genocide all of which M.I.A. has experienced first hand in her home nation of Sri Lanka.

While the concept of the cleansing of redheads seems down right absurd and straight out of a South Park episode, the video does seem all to real and that is the targeting and extermination of a minority group. MTV news drew real-life parallels to the ongoing issue of immigration in US boarder states, the treatment of prisoners by U.S. troops in military prisons and the overall brutal tactics used against minorities by government forces all over the world.

I personally always felt the point of a music video was to enhance a song and with “Born Free” I felt it was less about the music and more about this in your face message.  This is a shame because the song itself is well worth the listen even without the exploding body parts.

(Hopefully the video won’t be taken down as it has been banned from Youtube due to ” content like pornography or gratuitous violence.”

-Brad Anglum

Wilhelm Scream

The Wilhelm scream is a well known inside joke in the film industry. It is believed to have been recorded by actor/singer Sheb Wooley., who is well known for his song, “Flying Purple People Eater.” The scream originated in the 1951 movie, Distant Drums. Soldiers are wading through waist high water when one of them gets pulled under by an alligator. As he is falling, he screams the famous scream, and then proceeds to be eaten by several alligators. The next use of this scream was where it received its name. In Charge at Feather River, the scream is used three times, at least once in conjunction with a character named “Wilhelm.” It was here that sound designer Ben Burtt discovered the scream and decided to use it in the first Star Wars movie, Episode IV, A New Hope. He went on to name it after Wilhelm and use it in many of his other projects, including all of the Indiana Jones movies. As a result, many other sound designers picked up on it and decided to use it in their own projects, and so it became an inside joke of the sound industry. It has since gone on to appear in so many major motion pictures that it has become a bit of a sound cliche- well known to both those in and out of the film industry.

While studying sound editing, the Wilhelm scream immediately jumped to mind. It is a diegetic, external sound, which is post synchronized and dubbed to fit many different clips in many different movies. I think this youtube video is very interesting because it shows how a single sound clip can be put into all different types of scenes or genres without the audience noticing anything. I have seen many of the movies featured in this clip, but had no idea that the Wilhelm scream existed or that sound designers frequently reuse sounds from the archives until I saw this video.

Another interesting aspect of the clip and the use of the scream that makes it comical are the similarities between the character “screaming.” In almost every use, the individual is falling or getting hit by some explosion. The movies and scenes are different and range from Beauty and the Beast to Star Wars, but there is a consistency in how the scream is used. The way these clips are edited and put together in a montage exemplify the continuity and make the repeated use of the scream seem silly.

Sufjan Steven’s The BQE

A still from Sufjan Steven's city symphony The BQE

Sufjan Steven’s 2007 creation The BQE is a film originally commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music for the New Wave Film Festival. Using the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (Interstate 278) as its subject matter, The BQE is at heart a city symphony film similar to Man With a Movie Camera or Manhatta. However, while those films focus on the visual aspect, The BQE relies more on the accompanying music. Here, the images are choreographed to the composed symphony and not the other way around. The film is presented in 3 channels allowing for multiple images to be displayed at once side by side. This complexity of image reflected in the highly layered and intricate musical work. The result is an immersive film that makes one feel that they are dancing with the ebb and flow of traffic. Within the film there are also three interludes where super heroines with hula-hoops appear. While not explained in the film itself, they are part of a body of work that accompanies the film including a graphic novel and 3-D View Master reel. Their presentence reflects Steven’s whimsical side and notoriously off-beat sense of humor.

-David Pokorny

Bjork, Army of Me

Bjork’s music video for her single Army of Me is strange and fantastical, and to me seemed very reminiscent of much of Tim Burton’s earlier works we saw at the Museum of Modern Art. The video starts with a slow pan in on Bjork lying in a glass tube, through the back of which we can see unidentifiable lights and shapes. This shot, along with the music behind it, sets the scene for the video as dark, out-of-this-world, and slightly confusing. The shot that starts at 13 seconds in is arguably my favorite in the video, and I see it as an exemplar showing of how framing, zooming out and an upward pan can be used in combination to quickly give the viewers a certain idea of what is happening, only to show them how misled they really were. At first it is just a faceless person in a plain car. Quickly, however, we see that we are actually in a scene involving a monstrous, unrealistic car and odd flying bugs the size of arms. The view of Bjork’s truck is our first real intuition on the costume and setting aspects of the mise-en-scene in the video. The car quite obviously looks fake: not just in its shape and bearing, but in that it seems to be made of Styrofoam. This follows for the rest of the video, emphasizing the idea that this is not supposed to be something we have seen before. Those familiar with Bjork’s music will understand how this idea is pertinent to her whole philosophy. She has done her best throughout her music career to never replicate anyone else, and beyond that to always do things no one else has even thought of. Again, I see a parallel to Tim Burton. As a director and film maker he is constantly changing things and doing things in ways no one else would have thought of, including writing a story about the king of Halloween town who wants to be Santa of all people, and changing the loving childrens movie Willy Wonka into a darker, creepier film.