R.E.M., “Everybody Hurts” (Jake Scott)
Director Jake Scott and R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe lay it on thick in the video for the band’s “Everybody Hurts,” a cut from the hugely popular Automatic for the People. For the video, Scott prominently borrowed key themes and images from Joel Schumacher’s underrated man-against-the-world flick Falling Down and Fellini’s 8 1/2, the Italian auteur’s epic chronicle of directorial self-indulgence. The clip’s series of subtitles evokes the disaffection of people trapped in a Los Angeles traffic jam. Stipe emerges from his car, spiritually cleanses them with his song and ushers them into the next world like the Messianic high priest that we all know and love.
Olivia Newton-John, “Physical” (Brian Grant)
Before Madonna, Olivia Newton-John made a ripple or two when her Let’s Get Physical special aired on network television in the winter of 1982. This hour-long spectacle created by Newton-John and director Brian Grant was inspired by the artist’s 1981 album Physical, which spawned the number one hit of the same name. The music video for the song features Newton-John in full double-entendre mode. The singer casts herself as a horny aerobics instructor supervising a group of overweight men trying to shed some of their excess fat. By video’s end, the porkers have turned into sweaty Adonises straight out of a Wakefield Poole porn. No doubt wanting to get in on the action, Newton-John is stunned to discover that her class prefers each other’s company. The sight of men walking hand-in-hand into a gym shower caused obvious controversy at the time while Newton-John’s influential fashion trends caused a few schools to adjust their dress policies.
Nine Inch Nails, “Closer” (Mark Romanek)
Known for the gorgeous sheen of videos like Madonna’s “Rain” and Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” director Mark Romanek took a turn toward the macabre with his 1994 clip for Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer.” Inspired by the photography of the cadaver-lovin’ Joel-Peter Witkin, the video features illusory images of 19th century laboratory daguerreotypes. The video’s controversial content led to clever editing, including silent film-style title cards which read “scene missing.” Shot with vintage cameras and antiqued film stock, “Closer” brilliantly juxtaposes the dreamlike past with modern-day fears and phobias including, perhaps, censorship itself.
Smashing Pumpkins, “Tonight, Tonight” (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris)
Inspired by the novels of Jules Verne and early Lumiere films, illusionist George Méliès dazzled the world with the release of 1902’s A Trip to the Moon. Though his mini-epics are less structurally and thematically groundbreaking than many of D.W. Griffith’s early works, his ravishing tableaus forever changed the way audiences looked at and experienced cinema. More so than any other music video, “Tonight, Tonight” displays an unmistakable love for the possibilities of cinema. Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris used period clothing, theatre props and old-school “special effects” to replicate the look and feel of Trip to the Moon. This time, though, the journey is in color. The married directing team seamlessly incorporates Smashing Pumpkins into the clip. Like the smiling moon from Méliès’s film, Billy Corgan and Co. become not unlike celestial bodies alive with the joys of creation.
Metallica, “Turn the Page” (Jonas Akerlund)
Interestingly, Metallica’s greatest videos to date are condensed versions of larger works. In 1999, Swedish-born director Jonas Åkerlund toured the film festival circuit with Turn the Page, a 15-minute docu-drama that follows the life and times of a stripper/prostitute and her young daughter. For the video to Metallica’s cover of Bob Segar’s “Turn the Page,” the film was cut down to just under six minutes. Åkerlund’s fascination with white trash angst is less contemptuous and certainly less humurous than that of photographer Larry Clark’s. Both here and in their “One” video, the band is a major loose end—much like Aerosmith, Metallica has never found a way of seamlessly incorporating themselves into their videos. Regardless, the uncensored version of the “Turn the Page” video is still every bit as raw and immediate as the Metallica cover itself.