"[I]n the early '80s . . . there was this rather ridiculous idea . . . that if it was big, it was bad. Which of course rules out Elvis."
Answer Guy Dissects the Sexiest Video U2 Has Ever Released: 'Electrical Storm'
September 22, 2002
Directed by Anton Corbijn in artsy fartsy black and white with the help of a fireworks display, a DP with attention deficit disorder and at least three strobe lights.
Girl...Samantha Morton. Born May 13, 1977. 5 foot 3. Previously seen in Woody Allen's 1999 film, Sweet and Lowdown where she played a mute but was still nominated for several awards, including an Oscar which she lost to Angelina Jolie for Girl, Interrupted. (Jolie celebrated her victory by tongue-kissing her brother). Morton also played an addict in Jesus' Son with Billy Crudup, and was most recently seen on the big screen in the Spielberg/Cruise humongoflick, Minority Report where she coincidentally played someone who spent most of her time in the water.
Boy...Larry Mullen Jr. Born October 31, 1961. That's right, he's nearly 16 years older than Morton. Calling Roman Polanski! If he stretches, he is 5 foot 6, in boots. Mullen plays a double-role in this video as he is also referred to in the press notes as "Drummer #1" in the later sequences.
Vocalist...Bono. You may be familiar with his face as he's recently appeared EVERYWHERE ON EARTH WHERE A CAMERA CAN BE FOUND.
Guitarist...the Edge. Also called "Guy in white cowboy hat" on the Mediterranean set.
Bass (or in this case, Invisible Man)...Adam Clayton.
Elk...Casper. Casper was last seen in the critically acclaimed television series, Northern Exposure. His scenes were shot on a Seattle soundstage. He did not make the trip to France.
I spent most of the day watching this video over and over. I believe I have now seen it 237 times, making me uniquely qualified to delve into the symbolism that the band put forth. What follows is an exhaustive study of a 4:30 piece of art.
This is to tell us, the viewers, to forget everything we've seen before. What we are about to see will change the way we think about music videos. Although it will last less than five minutes, there will scarcely be a life unchanged after seeing its majesty. White screens often denote death or an arrival in heaven. Perhaps we are to believe that this mystical seaside town is actually heaven. Or maybe they didn't really know how to start the thing and white was cheaper. Or maybe there was a mishap at the photo lab.
[The sound of a bell, then we fade in on a body of water]
What kind of bell is it? Is it the bell from a bicycle, or one of those bells you hit when you can't find anyone in a store to help you, or is it the bell you try to hit at the fair by using that huge hammer when you're trying to get into your date's pants? As usual with U2, we are forced to draw our own conclusions.
[Then fade back to White Screen]
Another rebirth? Now they're just toying with us.
[Fade in to a water shot]
Not much going on, but we're nervous aren't we? I mean, what in the world will be coming out of that water?
[Morton runs beside something while a look of despair is seen on her face]
This continues Morton's streak of finding roles where no actual sounds are heard from her lips. I also noticed that her hair had barely grown back from her Minority Report role. What is she so sad about? What is she running beside? Who is she chasing? Why is this scene in here? Is it to prove that Morton has her real breasts? Oops, sorry about that, but as part of my job, I was required to watch this video in super-slo-motion. Morton actually plays two roles in this video as well. She's human Sam and mermaid Sam. Mermaid Sam is running beside the camera here.
(0:13) The sea it swells like a sore head And the night it is aching Two lovers lie with no sheets on their bed And the day it is breaking
[We are looking at the ominous sea again. There are two buoys off in the distance, but no boats are visible. Interesting fact: Bono's boat is so large that it couldn't fit between those two buoys. Now back to the video.]
We see some movement, then a head, then a square object.
Larry comes out of the sea carrying what appears to be either a black and white television from 1968 or a microwave oven, circa 1981. I vote for the television idea. Is this an indictment on the state of television entertainment? A good-natured poke at music videos in general? Was Larry thrown off Bono's yacht, TV and all? Other things to consider: is it a stuntman in the original shot, before the close-up of Larry? Whoever it is did a great job of holding their breath and then walking while calmly breathing. I want it to be Larry, but I'm sure it's a stunt guy who can now put "holder of breath in U2 video" on his resume. What would make Larry want to carry this thing out of the water? Is this scene merely included so that we can see how strong he is? Larry walks across the frame from right to left.
[Fade to white]
(0:33) On rainy days we'd go swimming out
[Fade in on Human Sam walking in alley, slowly, languorously.]
She's wearing a black sleeveless pantsuit. You'll notice that she has fabric hanging off both sides. Draw your own conclusion. Is this alley safe? Why is she alone? What sort of seaside town is completely devoid of people? If 7-11s are open 24 hours a day, why do they have locks on the doors? My bad.
On rainy days swimming in the sound
[Fade to white and then to Larry]
Now we see Larry emerging from the sea carrying a suitcase that's leaking water. This denotes the mental baggage that Larry has carried his whole life. His psychological wardrobe is waterlogged and heavy and it's time to cast it off. The first step in Mr. Mullen's mental rebirth is the fact that he is the star of this video. Bono is relegated to delivery man and sometimes singer, Edge has a solo and his pupils dilated by the bright lights, and Adam appears in exactly four seconds of footage. Larry is out from behind the drums and he's going to make the most of it. The suitcase is never seen again. Larry is wearing a long-sleeved black shirt, black pants, a bracelet on his right hand and his usual earrings. He is not, however, wearing a smile.
On rainy days we'd go swimming out
[Cut back to Human Sam in alley]
(0:48) You're in my mind all of the time
[Cut to Larry carrying a body out of the sea]
Is she dead? Who is she? As he gets closer we see that she is alive, and she is, in fact, a mermaid. Or else she has a pretty terrible case of Elephantitis of the feet. Ouch! She touches his neck gingerly and he still doesn't smile. He does not, however, appear to be winded by carrying her onto land, tail and all. (And by tail, I mean literally that she has a tail. Shame on you.)
I know that's not enough
[Cut to Larry and Human Sam in alley]
She's emerging from the shadows. He's playing it cool and making no moves towards her.
If the sky can crack there must be some way back For love and only love
[Cut to Larry struggling to drag a bathtub onto the beach]
This is one of the biggest head-scratchers of the video. Larry is dressed better than usual, and yet he is standing in waist-deep water trying to get a bathtub onto the rocky beach. And this isn't some kind of plastic tub, or one of those inflatable pools you can pick up at Wal-Mart, this is old-school iron with the feet. Now, Mr. Mullen is in pretty good shape for his age, but you can't stand there and tell me that he has any chance of pulling a water-filled bathtub onto that beach.
(1:09) Electrical storm
[Fade to Larry walking down an alley alone]
You know the drill. Open shirt exposing chest, right hand in pocket, left hand swaying in exaggerated fashion. Swoon!
[Cut to Larry and Human Sam in alley]
Sam has arms crossed, Larry still just chillin.' Sam is clearly unhappy about something.
[Meanwhile, back on the beach...]
Mermaid Sam's neck is seen in extreme close-up as she lowers herself into the tub that Larry has so graciously dragged onto land for her. We are so close that when she puts her head back, individual hairs scrape the camera. A daring visual by Mr. Corbijn! A quick flash and she's staring right into the camera longingly as if to say "Answer Guy, please save me!" Did I say that out loud? Another quick flash and she's throwing her head back, exposing her neck. Fans of vampire novels will obviously see the sexual availability that Mermaid Sam is showing us. It's as if she's waiting to be bitten. Any takers? She settles back into the tub.
Baby, don't cry
(1:28) Car alarm won't let you back to sleep
[Cut to Bono in FedEx truck]
He appears to be late for a 10:00 a.m. delivery. He is not driving, but he is looking out the window with some consternation. He is clearly upset about ruining his perfect on-time delivery record because we hear his voice singing, but onscreen Bono's mouth doesn't move. Bono is wondering how on earth this video got away from him. When it was suggested that Larry have a couple of scenes alone, he never dreamed that the entire video would be built around the reclusive drummer. This is more than Bono's ego can take. He wonders if this decision was made while he was in some foreign land, badgering a head of state. He mentally decides to cut back on his travel schedule if this is the kind of punishment he's going to receive.
He had to fight tooth and nail for this single scene in the delivery truck. It makes no sense to the mermaid plot, nor the band performance footage that we'll see later. To add insult to injury, he can't even remember to sing the lyrics that he himself wrote. This may be Bono's darkest video hour. What package could be so important that Bono himself is going to deliver it? The mind boggles.
You're kept awake dreaming someone else's dream
Now Bono suddenly remembers his own lyrics and begins to sing. Although with lyrics about coffee being cold, I personally would have purposely forgotten this line as well. Bono is dressed in a blazer for some reason. Part of the first-class service of Federal Express? He is also wearing his, say it with me now, trademark wrap-around shades.
Sidebar, your honor: Is this the truck that Mermaid Sam is chasing in the opening scene? Does she really want to kiss Bono instead of Larry? Say it isn't so. Is Bono dissing her because she wanted to be in the video with Larry instead? I can't wait for the US magazine cover story later this month.
Coffee is cold, but it'll get you through Compromise, that's nothing new to you
[Cut to Larry dripping and Mermaid Sam writhing]
First of all, if watching Mermaid Sam writhe, while wearing a net, see-through dress, in a bathtub full of water can't make Larry smile, then I see no hope for the future. Secondly, I don't want to start the rumor that Mermaid Sam is enjoying what I like to call "special alone time," but although we can see her right hand, her left one is hidden from view. All I'm gonna say is, she is certainly writhing in an enthusiastic manner. At this point Larry can only watch.
[Cut back to Human Sam and Larry in alley]
At this point, mark your calendars, Larry Mullen Jr. almost smiled. But it turned into more of a smirk and the world did not go spinning off its axis.
(1:48) Let's see colors that have never been seen
[Bono wants our attention again, so we go back to the delivery truck]
Let's go to places no one else has been
(1:58) You're in my mind all of the time I know that's not enough But if the sky can crack there must be some way back To love and only love
[Right here is where the fun begins]
[Larry sitting, while Mermaid Sam pulls up to kiss him]
We see her triceps, boobs, and Larry's look of longing.
[Cut to Human Sam and Larry in alley as Sam touches Larry's face]
[Beach: Cuddling in tub...Larry with clothes on...Sam stroking his arm...Sam bending over in front of him...]
[Alley: Sam caressing Larry's face...he tries to look down, but she pulls his eyes up to hers]
[Beach: they are touching noses now...extreme close-up...they are both dripping wet...she is looking right into his soul...she is pulling his wet shirt off...we can see his necklace...finally the kiss...she's pulling his head towards hers...he's holding her shoulder...]
[HEY, WHAT ABOUT ME, yells Bono on the truck as he sings the chorus]
Maybe the scene was getting too hot and the actors needed cooling off. Or maybe it was for those of us watching in slow motion.
(2:19) Electrical storm
[Alley: She's kissing his shoulder...]
[Beach: They're all over each other...she can't seem to touch enough of his face at once...THEN IT HAPPENS]
Right here is what the porn industry would call your "money shot." A close-up of Larry's neck and part of his chain. Mermaid Sam moves in to kiss below his Adam's apple, and it's an open mouth kiss and her tongue comes out and licks him. You guys can't tell me you didn't notice this. I'm sure this half-second shot sent many a U2 fan to their bathroom for either a shower, or personal meditation.
[Then the moment is ruined by a quick shot back to Bono]
Frankly, I needed a break. My heart was pounding faster than is healthy.
Electrical storm Electrical storm Baby, don't cry [Beach: more kissing...skull earring dangles...eyes closed...she grabs the back of his head...in background is Bono's yacht where he can be seen waving flags, wondering when his next scene will begin shooting...she scratches his back playfully...as Larry sits at the end of the tub, Sam leans in and gently kisses his forehead...]
[Alley: Larry's shirt off...kissing...then Casper the Elk runs by]
The elk is clearly male and appears to be glowing. Neither lover notices that a 1,200-pound mammal just ran by them. Is the elk a symbol of Larry's masculinity? Does it highlight the fact that Mermaid Sam is another member of the animal kingdom as she's part fish? Does Corbijn enjoy hunting? Is Casper's agent so tenacious that he is given roles just so he'll go away? This will have U2 fans perplexed long after they forget who dies at the end of "All I Want Is You." I don't know what to make of it, I just want the two humans to keep making out.
[Beach: making out (thank you) under a shower]
This shows Larry's commitment to the environment. He is showing us that even though a bathtub is pivotal in the plot of this video, taking showers uses far less water. He wants all his fans to know that water is our world's most precious resource and we should conserve it at all costs. Either that or it just looked cool to be rained on while the sun was out.
[Still on Beach: ...Larry's shirt is sort of on him and sort of off him...Sam puts her head back and Larry is about the reciprocate the money shot and then the camera cuts away and we see Sam with her head back and mouth open in ecstasy which dissolves to a scene where Mermaid Sam and Larry are laying on the rocks.]
(2:48) It's hot as hell, honey, in this room
Larry is looking up with eyes open. Mermaid Sam is on her side looking away from him also with eyes open. I think we don't have to be Felini to understand that this is a post-coital pose. They have made love and now they're lying there, spent, on rocks, but neither seems to mind. I don't know about you, but after all that action, I think I need a shower. They are both fully clothed and neither is touching the other.
Sure hope the weather will break soon
We see Sam laying on her stomach, but Larry is gone. Where did he go? Sam is looking around for him and she's crying, with mascara running down her cheeks.
The air is heavy, heavy as a truck
Wait, there he is. He's looking down and running his fingers through his hair like he doesn't want to be there. She is yelling, he's looking down, holding his hands up as if to say "Yo. Step off, bee-yotch!" At least that's what he'd say if he was in the Wu Tang Clan. Now she's really yelling. He stands away from her with hands in pockets. Larry's trying to get away, but she's crying and grabbing him.
We need the rain to wash away our bad luck
With tears in her eyes, she screams "I HATE YOU!"
Suddenly we see Edge's guitar and we are now in a room with the band performing. The camera is all over the place, white lights are flashing, and the resolution is being toyed with. It's the normal music video stuff. Bono's mouth is open wide (I mean even wider than usual) and he's doing the yells from the bridge of the song. As usual, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, but then again I'm a sucker for U2 songs in which I'm allowed to yell along with Bono.
(3:17) Well if the sky can crack there must be some way back For love and only love
Edge's wedding ring is shiny, Larry is wearing the same black shirt from his make-out session, because of the camera angle and Bono's wide-mouth delivery, we can see nearly into Bono's stomach, and Adam is glimpsed in between flashes of white light.
(3:29) Electrical storm Electrical storm Electrical storm
[Bono continues to pout and decides not to sing the final "storm"]
[Cut back to Beach]
Mermaid Sam is still in tub with head thrown back. It's dark now and fireworks are exploding over her head. Larry is nowhere to be seen. That's because he's back with the band that we now see performing some more.
(3:58) Baby don't cry
Sam is standing under fireworks. One large explosion is right behind her head giving her an angelic appearance. The camera angle is really low. She looks like a statue. She looks up at the sparks falling all around her.
Baby don't cry
Larry is carrying her back into the water now. Her arms are limply hanging. The fireworks continue to go off.
Baby don't cry
He continues to carry her. She is caressing his neck and appears to be whispering something in his ear. Fireworks are going off from right side of screen from a barge or something.
Baby don't cry
He stops walking. They both look at the fireworks and then we get a close up of her last look into his eyes. Unfortunately for her, he's not looking at her, so she's forced to stare into that skull earring Larry's worn since 1983.
The next shot is underwater where we see she's re-grown her tail and is swimming away.
[White Screen] Hey, AG, what the hell does this video even mean? Let's see...Larry comes out of the water carrying first an appliance, then a suitcase, then a full-grown mermaid. She does the official "trying-to-find-my-legs" dance in the tub, they mess around, boff, and then Larry runs away like every other guy. But not before a glowing Elk runs by as a harbinger of dread.
What does it mean? How should I know?!?!? I'm still trying to figure out what the prison meant in "A Celebration" and why "Gloria" had to be filmed on a barge.
As Matt's new favorite band, Coldplay, says: "Your guess is as good as mine."
AG, who is now climbing aboard the Samantha Morton bandwagon.
© @U2, 2002.