Although Luis Bunuel's early antinarrative experiments in Un Chien d'Andalou (1929) and L'Age d'Or (1930) bear certain similarities to the contemporary music video, the more critical shaping device is music that has a narrative as well as emotional character. This means that we have to look to the two early Beatles' films, A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Help! (1965) for a starting point in the mid-60s. Very quickly, the Lester films were joined by John Boorman's film with The Dave Clark Five, Having a Wild Weekend
(1965). Later, Lester's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
(1966) and the non-musical series of Monty Python films that followed in the 70s (And Now for Something Completely Different, , Monty Python and the Holy Grail, , and Life of Brian, ) added stylistic elements to the new genre.
How these films differed from traditional narratives and musicals needs to be articulated. Traditional musicals generally presented a narrative together with interspersed musical or dance numbers. Films such as The Pirate (1948), An American in Paris (1951), and Invitation to the Dance (1957) were exceptions. The best of the musicals, such as Singin'in the Rain (1952), Funny Face (1957), and West Side Story (1961) found a visual style to match the energy and emotion of the narratives.
Turning to the Lester films, A Hard Day's Night and Help!, on one level they are musicals for the main characters are performers. The music is integral to our understanding of the film narratives. But whereas there is a narrative that is elaborate and character-driven in the traditional musical, we must accept the fact that the narratives in A Hard Day's Night and Help! have far more modest goals. In fact, we are hard-pressed to find common sense as well as feeling arising out of the narratives of these films. In essence the narratives were an excuse for the musical numbers, which themselves were used to highlight what the Beatles represented— inventiveness, anarchy, energy. These feeling states were far more important to Richard Lester the director than a narrative about a concert or about the disappearance of a ritual ring from India and the efforts by a cult to retrieve it.
Here there are the first stylistic elements of the music video. The shaping device is the music. Narrative is less important; a feeling state is more important. From an editing standpoint, this translates as making the jump cut more important than the match cut. It also implies a centrality for pace. Given the low involvement quotient of the narrative, it is to pace that the role of interpretation falls. Consequently, pace becomes the source of energy and new juxtapositions that suggest anarchy and inventiveness.
When we move to the Monty Python films, we add a literary base for reference and a self-reflexing acknowledgement that the characters can step in and out of character and speak to the audience directly. This process results in the acknowledgement of media, of manipulation, and the more subtle notion that in spite of self-reflexivity, the form can be even more manipulative as you let your audience in on it—it's a joke, it's funny, and you, the audience, have been let in on the construction of the joke. Which in turn privileges the viewer and involves the viewer in a more conscious manner. These elements, the literary metaphor and the self-reflexive, fill out the repertoire of the music video. But over time the referent points move beyond literature and film to other media: television, journalism, the world of comic books, and now the world of computer games.
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