"[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."
Like A Video: I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight
April 25, 2012
[Ed. note: This is the 9th in a series of essays by the @U2 staff about U2-related visuals and videos. Some essays may be informational and educational, while others may be more personal.]
While U2 has made a handful of videos for songs featured on movie soundtracks, none actually feels like a movie. At least, nowhere near as much as another video, one with no Hollywood pretensions: the animated version of "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight."
Let's back up a bit. Most of U2's soundtrack-based videos adhere to the conventions established for such movie tie-ins, offering performance footage interspersed with scenes from the movie in question and/or some sort of subplot where the band steps into its action (only the elegiac "The Hands That Built America [Theme From 'Gangs of New York']," one of the band's first major statements on video after the September 11 attacks, and itself an ode to the city that suffered the brunt of the attacks, eschews these movie tie-in trappings).
You'll see this in the videos for "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)," "Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me" (from Batman Forever) and "The Ground Beneath Her Feet" (from The Million Dollar Hotel). The most striking example, though, is the picture show produced for "Elevation (Tomb Raider Mix)," a holy mess of a video featuring explosions, motorcycle chases and elephants flying through the air; Edge edited into scenes from the movie like a second-rate Forrest Gump; and a high-stakes battle of the bands pitting Good U2 against Evil U2 (try to guess who wins).
The one thing you won't find in these videos: a coherent narrative. Even the better of the soundtrack-based clips -- "Stay" and "The Ground Beneath Her Feet" (the video for "Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me" offers a great concept but is too often interrupted by scenes from a movie few people care to remember) -- aren't stories in and of themselves. Rather, they're promotional clips whose emotional resonance, to some extent, depends on understandings of the films they're tied to.
If you're hoping to find a movie within a video, therefore, you'll have to look beyond the videos based on movies, to the very few self-contained narratives U2 has produced. "All I Want Is You" is a good example. As is "Last Night On Earth," though featuring the band members in the clip tests my willful suspension of disbelief: I have no problem accepting apocalyptic scenes with tanks in the streets and dudes with melting skin, but it's difficult to believe U2 would be out stealing cars when the end of the world came and not in a bunker buried deep beneath a mountain somewhere.
My favorite of the self-contained narratives: the aforementioned animated version of "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight." Directed by Irish animator David O'Reilly, with design work by Jon Klassen, the video follows the intersecting stories of several characters -- a runaway child, a woman in an unhappy relationship, a bestubbled gentleman seeking refuge from the rain -- all of whom are missing something in their lives. In the course of a night, each decides to make a change and disappears onto the anonymous streets and railways of the city. They cross paths, and offer one another comfort -- or at least some sort of perspective. By the end of the night, each, perhaps, has found what he or she had lost.
It's a sweet story, and the distinctive animation suits it well. The orthographic style -- all perpendicular lines and blocky figures -- suggests a childlike innocence that underscores the fundamental need for connection that drives the narrative, while the layering of semitransparent squares over the action and the constant, slow pan create a woozy backdrop against which the story unfolds.
O'Reilly came to U2's attention by way of his 2009 animated short "Please Say Something," a bold reimagining of the "cartoon cat and mouse" genre where the relationship is far more complex than that between, say, Tom and Jerry. The band was impressed by the short and gave the animator free reign in developing the video for "I'll Go Crazy." "I think there was a brief somewhere but I never read it," O'Reilly said in an interview with the website Scruff Daddy. "They were supportive of my idea from the word go, never asked for a single change."
The bet paid off. To me, anyway, the video actually makes the song better, in no small part because it draws out the melancholy in a track that has always felt somewhat ambiguous, like it's not sure what it wants to be. That's what I want a video to do: enhance the meaning of a song, contribute to whatever emotional impact it may have. In the best of cases, the visuals and the music carry equal weight -- whether or not a narrative is involved. Indeed, it's here where videos really can feel like movies.
(c) @U2/Boas, 2012.