by Jaime Davis
The Fixer at Moviejawn
My parents were in their early 20's when they had me, so I grew up with a mom and dad who were always pretty hip to what was going on in pop culture. It was not unusual for my dad to come home with a new cassingle, or later, a new CD, of some band he thought was really cool that he thought I would like. And 99.98765% of the time, he was right. That shit was cool. And I actually liked it. He turned me on to The Posies, The Lemonheads, Juliana Hatfield, Belly, and introduced me to bands I was too young to remember when they came out, like XTC and New Order and Joy Division. I stole his INXS CD’s, never to be returned, because INXS is just really that good. He teased me when I bought a Digable Planets CD, only to buy me Arrested Development instead. Guys, I have a Cool Dad™. Don’t be jealous.
One of the main side effects of having a Cool Dad™ while growing up in the 80’s and 90’s was the amount of MTV consumed. Because that shit was always on. Already in love with all the music, videos just took my devotion one step further. And I’ve never been able to quit them. I have thoughts, many many thoughts, about music videos, old and new. My favorite? Damn that’s hard. Some days it’s Material Girl by Madonna, or Vogue by Madonna (both of which stoked my love for anything Old Hollywood), or Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation (which made me want to DANCE!). Or Boys and Girls by Blur (which I used to stay up all night to catch on 120 Minutes or Alternative Nation). Also Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve. And Broken Social Scene’s Meet Me in the Basement. And Enjoy the Silence by Depeche Mode. The Futureheads’ Worry About It Later always cheers me up when I need it. Grizzly Bear’s While You Wait for the Others. Step On by Happy Mondays (the alternate version they showed here in the States). Oblivion by Grimes. Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. Or ANYTHING by Jonathan Glazer. And I could go on and on and on and on. But the most classic music video? Motherfucking hands down has to be Hot for Teacher by Van Halen. I used to watch that video as a kid and wonder why I liked watching the half-naked women so much. Now that shit makes total sense. Thanks, Van Halen!
Music videos were my movies, before I even knew I was into movies. When I started film school in the late 90’s, all I wanted to be was a music video director. Sadly, it wasn’t long before videos became somewhat obsolete, in the deadly wake of TRL and Real World and what would come later for MTV: Teen Mom and Jersey Shore and whatever else the fuck is on that channel now.
When I think back on some of the videos that have had the most profound effect on me, I usually come back to one name over and over again: David Fincher.
Goddamn you, Fincher. You’re the stuff nightmares are made of. And I love you for it.
For me, it doesn’t get any creepier/prettier or more educational than his work on Madonna’s Oh Father and Aerosmith’s Janie’s Got a Gun. Let’s not get into a debate on the merits (or demerits) of both of these songs, ok? (I like Oh Father, though, I really do. It’s not her best, but it’s probably one of my favorite songs of all time. No judging me.)
Oh Father is probably the video that has haunted me the most over the course of my little life. Shot on a studio lot with a perfect black and white veneer, it looks eerily similar to Citizen Kane. I know, right? A Madonna video that’s an homage to Citizen Kane?! Get right outta town. But it truly is. Oh Father was released in 1989, when I was 10 years old and just starting to think beyond all the He-Man/She-Ra/Hot Wheels/G.I. Joe/Barbie nonsense I played with. I was starting to learn the ways of the world, man. And as embarrassingly naïve as it is to admit, I was lucky enough to have no idea what domestic abuse was. Oh Father is Madonna’s attempt to reconcile two major aspects of her childhood: her mother’s untimely death due to breast cancer and her subsequent troubled relationship with her dad, who may or may not have been emotionally and physically abusive. So you can imagine how this video plays with some pretty serious imagery. You’ve got death, not only in its purest physical form, but also the death of childhood, the death of relationships, the death of security. And then you have the abuse itself; “child Madonna” tries to endure, while “adult Madonna” struggles to move on in more ways than one. Religious symbolism also plays a major role, complete with shots of rosary beads and crosses and Madonna in a confessional booth for Christ’s sake (no pun intended). But the freakiest thing for me, watching then and now, is the shot of Madonna’s “mother,” embalmed in casket, with lips sewn shut.
Truly. Fucking. Frightening. Morticians don’t actually do that, do they?
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