Hit Me With Your Best Shot – VMAs and WTFs and DTFs and STDs

This week, the lack of Hit Me with Your Best Shot video is not my fault!

Nathaniel R. had changed last night the selection of the films we’ll be watching and picking shots out of. What was originally going to be Todd Haynes’ Safe (which I had just re-watched in May and was completely ready to pick a shot from) is now the recently announced nominees for Best Cinematography at the MTV Video Music Awards.

… Damn, the VMAs. I have not actually watched that shit since middle school when I still thought much of MTV (also back when it was actually in Miami before moving up to L.A. and shit).

Anyway, in spite of finding out that (in spite of having listened to more new music this year than the many previous years) I have not really paid attention to any of this year’s music video releases – save for Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” (Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is so far my favorite album of the year and has yet to be surpassed) and Ghost’s “Cirice” – I am pretty excited at doing one of these multiple pick challenges for the very first time.

The last minute manner of it means no HMWYBS video and probably a lengthy article to follow (also, if I make a fucking video out of a bunch of music videos – VEVO will have a motherfucking field day with me so I’d rather not) but let’s jump at it, anyway.

So first, we’ve got Flying Lotus’ “Never Catch Me” with lyricism by Kendrick Lamar. You’re Dead! has been one of my favorite albums of last year so seeing it make an award nomination, even one which I had no clue it earned (as this is my first time watching it) and from an awards show I just don’t care about. Directed by Hiro Murai and shot by Larkin Sieple, it is a dusty funereal presentation of the funeral of two black children where – without incident or ceremony, to the point that even the funeral attendees don’t react – they rise out of their coffins and escape their tragedy while offsetting the profundity and impact of a music video in 2015 with this subject matter (before we are even revealed who the departed are, we can definitely tell they will be black children) with a pretty impressive mix of cultural choreography and then some Astaire/Rogers-based ecstasy to Flying Lotus’ rapid string-based skipping.

That and Sieple’s very airy use of light – both indoor and outdoor – to bottleneck focus on the only source of happiness in this sobering environment and blow out the dusty grays and browns of the church as much as they can. Sieple’s work is a good part of what makes this music video such a balancing act. I was half expecting an “Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” esque ending, given how passive all the adults are, but I’m kind of relieved they didn’t do that.

So, my favorite shot of this music video is in fact the only moment when the world (save for the children playing outside of the church) acknowledges the possibility that these kids are still alive.

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A backlit choir bouncing and jumping and clapping as though rhythmically invoking the resurrection of the two main kids and propelling them to run and never turn back. It is not only just a beautiful shot like most backlit shots worth half a damn, full of motion and life, it is also the moment when I told myself “Dis Gun B Gud”. And so it was.

The next video is Ed Sheeran’s charming ballad “Thinking Out Loud” from X, another album I was pretty fond of. Directed by Emil Nava, the video opens up with a silhouette swirling around a red curtain that honestly just brought up ideas of a Black Lodge setting. When the music video faded into a giant ballroom featuring Sheeran and So You Think You Can Dance contestant Brittany Cherry dancing together, the image is so soft and reliant on an aged golden fill of the room – including moments in the video where it doesn’t bother hiding the fixtures – that I immediately knew that this was the music video I heard about that was shot by Daniel Pearl.

You don’t watch the Texas Chain Saw Massacre as much as I do and not be able to recognize what’s good with the cinematographer.

Anyway Sheeran proves to be an able enough partner for Cherry not to be tripping the way I would be if I were forced to dance and the dance itself is filled with enough on-the-nose attempts to translate the lyrics of the hit into body language that he does fine, but the fact that he remains absolutely fixed on the dance floor while Cherry agile leaps around him makes him look a lot more stiff than he’d probably like to be.

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In any case, my best shot here is the most fucking obvious one for its blatant cuteness, while being the one moment where it seems like the two dancers are on the same level together. Literally. It is the final shot of them lying down on the floor together while Pearl and Nava arrange their two spotlights (which did a wonderful job shaping their motions for the majority of the music video) into a heart. Yeah, I know, I fucking suck, right?

Full disclosure for the next nominee: I am not a fan of Taylor Swift musically. At least not as much as I’d like to be, although I don’t think she’s out-and-out an atrocious artist like the likes of Brokencyde, Blood on the Dance Floor, and whatever the fuck this shit is. Add that to the fact that I more friends than comfortable peddle the idea that her music is the greatest to me, how her earlier songs sound to me like everything I hate about jangly faux-country pop mixed with slut-shaming and the female version of the “nice guy” complex (Tell me that is not what “You Belong With Me” sounds like) and I have a kneejerk reaction along the lines “Man, fuck that shit!”.

Wait, there’s more full disclosure! I’m not crazy about Joseph Kahn either. Actually that’s a lie – he’s hit or miss with me. His narrative works (Torque, Detention, and Power/Rangers) all make me roll my eyes in different ways, while his music videos go between pretty charming (Faith No More’s “Last Cup of Sorrow”, Muse’s “Knights of Cydonia”, Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)”), kind of banal/boring (Backstreet Boys’ “Larger than Life”, Dido’s “White Flag”) and shit that just absolutely impresses me (Rob Zombie’s “Living Dead Girl”, Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space”). So I don’t hate him as much as I’d think but it’s enough to make me brace myself. And of course, I keep a lot of company – I too know a lot of apologists for Kahn’s narrative work, but I can find an apologist for Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny if I have to.

Anyway, the music video to Swift’s 1989 “Bad Blood” (once again featuring Kendrick Lamar though, my word, is he misused here), which is admittedly a not-as-annoying song (I do concede to the idea that Swift is growing up as a person – though “Bad Blood” is among many songs that show she’s moved from “naive broken-hearted small town stereotype” to “dirty laundry airing”. I think I’d be hypocritical to claim that makes her worse of an artist when I love other artists like Megadeth and Notorious BIG and shit), is that sort of nominee I’d expect from MTV – the one that makes them think cinematography and production design are the same thing. Or maybe they’re fine with unsubtle color correction drenching the image rather than cinematographer Christopher Probst popping elements out (he starts out fine with the TRON based stuff but the moment Swift starts training, its either underlit or overdrenched)… Even in failing to capture the same Bay-esque glisten of the explosion close to the end. I dunno, people seem to like that use of post-work, but as Lina Lamont said “I ain’t people”.

But my oh my, as much as I wonder how much of the video is cribbed from Kanye West’s work with Hype Williams (Everybody knows Swift is West’s biggest fan… other than West himself), this is production design galore. Even like the obviously CGI weaponry at times makes it more cartoonishly fun to live in the whole underground agent world of this shit. An absolute comic book of a music video.

And admittedly this probably the video that made it hardest to pick a shot, not because I disliked it as I expected to (I don’t think it’s great, but again it’s fun), but because there’s just a bunch of tongue-in-cheek stuff that I couldn’t help jumping immediately to “I pick dat!”.

From the androgynous take-no-shit look of Lena Dunham as the cigar smoking… sorry what’s her job? (one of a hundred cameos in this video). Whatever, she looks cool in this and I’m usually not even a fan of her either.

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To the fact that there’s a dog in one scene.

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To the whole “fuck you, teddy bear” vibe that touches on the whole Taylor Swift “I ain’t no teenager no more, tell you hwat” attitude of the album

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To this one fucking idiot who won’t pay attention to the RPG she fired indoors!

ellie-bad-blood

Ellie, that’s not a fucking toy! (also, brought to you by shitty tumblr gifs)

Nah, my pick is the one moment where Kahn and the video isn’t trying to impress anymore. The video fritzes out whenever Swift and Lamar share the screen in a split around the latter half. Unless that’s VEVO messing up, but hey, I’m down with it. It breaks the video for a second and I’m kind of glad it does, because shit gets ridiculous up in that bitch.

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I’m guessing Kahn and Swift hear me talk shit about them and so they hit me where it hurts: my paranoia about whether or not my internet connection is fucking with me.

Next we have FKA twigs’ “Two Weeks” from her LP1, directed by Nabil Elderkin and shot by Justin Brown. My first reaction was to think “Well, this seems to have turned into Hit Me With Your Best Frame rather than shot” as it is a single seamless pan away from a central twigs speaking right in front of us.

The other is that “Holy shit, from the very first image I am in the bag for this.” I can’t say I like the song – I love R&B as stripped-down and minute as it classically is as a genre, I don’t need modern flourishes and silly digital fuckery. But the statuesque golden flavor of the whole thing is exotic and ephemeral and the fact it’s all spaced out makes it seem like the viewer is breathing in all that atmosphere to the point of perfumesque suffocation, all while retaining the sense of divinity from the sparse but deliberate construction the temple the music video takes place in. At once it feels like the point is to catch yourself ogling something that should be above that and I loved it…

… until the mini twigs showed up, which is a bit too funny for someone as immature as I am, but the lighting just doesn’t match up once they get into frame. It’s a tiny bother, not one that ruins the video for me. But I can’t say I love it as much as I loved “Never Catch Me”.

Anyway, in this case, I’m going to go ahead and pick the shot that is once again most obvious, where we break off from the sexuality of the thing to cool down in a lovely light-refracting coda of water blue cored by a firey red. It’s so chill.

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And so we reach the final music video… the only one of these that is from a song that I have not heard and an artist that I can’t even claim to be familiar with, Alt-J’s “Left Hand Free”, directed by Ryan Staake and shot by Mike Simpson.

Let me tell ya, we got David Gordon Greens up in here without really any of the heavy life misery that goes with classic DGG.

However, I don’t know if it’s the fact that I am previously unfamiliar with this southbound blues song, the fact that five music videos I just watched in succession and had to think about burned me out, or the fact that the presentation looks a little bit better than a GAP commercial, but I don’t really have much to react to.

Hell, both the song and video just seemed like the idea behind making it was to have creating something and it looks like they did and I am very glad it got to them. So, I just went with whatever got me the most joy out of all of the soft images and this one won out as my best shot:

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Girls, cars, and the night, burning through by the bleeding and faded glow of the tail lights with just a little bit more youthful liveliness teasing out by the top of the car hood. What a dream!

So that’s about all of the nominees and all that. Got them shots and everything, but what I really want to do once more before I end this is just to talk about a music video of this year with lighting I 100% love, but would have never possibly expected to be nominated for any awards.

That’s kind of what happens when you’re Swedish horror-based rock band that uses LaVeyan Satanism as a gimmick. Everybody hates ya for it.

I’ve been in the bag for Ghost (I believe they’ve gone by the name of Ghost B.C. in America to avoid confusion with another American band) ever since I first heard them in 2013, ’round the time of Infestissumam (though I checked out Opus Eponymous first) and I’ve kept having a blast of a time with their tongue-in-cheek horror indulgence. I saw one of their shows Halloween season in 2013 and it was one of the most fun times of my life. Generally that’s why I love horror rock bands like Misfits, Danzig, Coheed and Cambria, Rob Zombie.

So hell yeah, I wanna talk about their video for “Cirice” with all its sinister, glowing coolness of blues and reds, making it look like a wasted film from a talent show that ended up halfway buried before someone unlocked the evil within it. And the obvious relieving laughs like the kids dressed as Tobias Forge Papa Emeritus and his band of ghouls and the enthusiastic sole applause they receive at the end of the thing.

But it’s mainly all those horror tropes of trances and anger and supernatural violence and all that. It almost reminds of The Lords of Salem, if it were directed by Ti West instead of Rob Zombie. It evokes all of those tales of the Devil Woman or Child with the power inside to destroy, like Carrie or Firestarter and all that.

(I also made my own initial concept of a music video for this song that maybe I’ll share later on in life – given that even if I actually were able to get rights from Ghost to make said video, I don’t trust a novice like myself to get it done the way I imagine it. I do feel happy to say when I explained the concept, it creeped out many people.)

And hey, I even have a pair of best shots! Right here, like the anti-version of that Taylor Swift Kendrick Lamar split screen, with a ghostly spirit of blue laying itself on the matching sides of our protagonists and shadows making child Emeritus bring out more and more the image of being the harbinger of evil and death. Plus that girl is so good at having a blank stare.

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OK, I’m done. I promise. Just wanted to mention this music video that I love and errythang. Go home. Unless you’ve been reading this at home. Go out.

(one more thing: if you have to ask, and I think you can figure it out, my favorite music video was “Never Catch Me”. Even over “Cirice”.)

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