State of the Art Music Video in the '90s

Sonia Hope

Talking Pictures alias talkingpix.co.uk

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Considering the power and effect of music videos, programmes solely devoted to showing music videos are few and far between, the major ones being on satellite and cable television. The limited television slots, and their broadcasting guidelines, often mean that compromises, artistic and otherwise, have to be made to make the video as viewer-friendly as possible. 

Watch any of the cable or satellite music channels for an hour or more, and you can soon get a pretty good idea of the basic styles (and cliches) used for each type of music, e.g. leather, live footage, and near-the-knuckle female sexual imagery for heavy metal; psychedelic shapes, colour and effects for indie music. Following these rules must surely mean that video directors are straight-jacketed from the beginning, having to present what the record company, the group themselves, and the record buying public have come to expect. 

Occasionally, something truly original may stand out from the usual glut, without gimmicks and effects. The fact of the matter is that a lot of these may never even be seen by the majority of record buyers or TV viewers. 

Altering Perceptions? 

To state the obvious: videos sell records! Even (or maybe especially) bad ones! Mediocre songs can reach best-selling, almost classic status by virtue of having an aggressive, attention-seeking video with which to market them. Videos can succeed in creating movement, rhythm, and mood which may have very little relation to the actual song. For example, rapid editing is often used to hold the viewer's attention - but this bombardment of image after image can equally lose the interest of intelligent, imaginative viewers who demand a little more than the mainstream videos have to offer. 

Unsung Heroes 

Video directors get little, or no acclaim for their work. Other members of the production crew get even less, but that's another story. The genre, despite its constraints, is as buoyant and as imaginative as it can possibly be, considering the current musical climate. This year alone has brought us Shakespears Sister's Stay (directed by Sophie Mueller); Flowered Up's Weekender, a 15 minute film that wears its influences (Quadrophenia and Saturday Night Fever) proudly on its sleeve (directed and written by Wiz); an excellent live video, Ride in Brixton, creates an event out of what was a fairly run-of-the-mill show, with the lull between each song filled with fleeting images (directed by Mark Edward Over). Primal Scream's Screamadelica, directed by Douglas Hart, also deserves a mention for complementing the album so well, and for making superstars out of unlikely candidates! 

Music videos deserve more time on television, and should be taken more seriously as a creative art form. Love them or hate them, they're definitely worth keeping an eye on. 

Also see: 

See Hear by Nigel Watson. 
 
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