Sound And Vision: Agustí Villaronga
In the article series Sound and Vision we take a look at music videos from notable directors. This week we look at Mylène Farmer's Fuck Them All, directed by Agustí Villaronga.
At the end of January Agustí Villaronga passed away at the age of 69. The Spanish director stormed onto the scene with the very daring and controversial, yet stunning In A Glass Cage (Tras El Cristal). The film in question depicts a sadomasochistic relationship between a former Nazi and one of his victims. The victim takes on the role of the Nazi's caretaker, and decides to torture him and follow in his footsteps as a pedophiliac murderer. It's complicated, heavy material, the kind of work that is controversial from the get-go, but also demands attention.
Villaronga's sole music video, for Mylène Farmer's Fuck Them All was also controversial. Not really because of anything in the music video itself, as it is a goth fantasy that has more than a few similarities to Madonna's Frozen. No, it was because of the refrain, in which the French-Canadian singer dares to utter the word 'fuck' several times. The music video itself is good, and recognizably the work of Villaronga: it uses his themes of the confrontation between the past and future self (see also The Sea (El Mar), and has some of the swashbuckling Gothic grandeur that also showed up in Black Bread (Pa Negre). The fact that a word as inoffensive as fuck is enough to rile up some feathers brings me to the theme I want to discuss today: why do we give music videos less leeway than films?
Of course, there have been many music video related controversies. Think of Like A Virgin and Like a Prayer by Madonna, which honestly, are nothing compared to the sacrilege of most of the films of people like Ken Russell. Think of Nine Inch Nails' Closer, directed by Mark Romanek, which are blasted away by the stuff you see in some sleazy sexploitation from decades earlier. Or Rock DJ by Robin Williams, which is relatively tame for those weaned on horror movies. Why is it that Lil Nas X can't give Satan a good old lapdance without it resulting in pearl clutching, years after other queer artists, like the directors John Waters, Gregg Araki or Bruce LaBruce did way more out there stuff in their films? Yes, there are some music videos by the likes of Coil, Tool and similar ilk, that are pushing the envelope slightly, but they are not given prime time exposure. In which lies the rub: music videos were often shown on regular television, and needed to conform to American television standards.
Now, in the era of Youtube, censorship is applied up front to please the algorithm. You want to keep being monetized, right? Films, especially in the underground, are allowed to push more buttons, and often have a built-in cult audience by default. Where is the cult audience for music videos, though? If there is a large cult following to discuss music videos, archive them, share them and get them released on blu rays by boutique labels, I haven't really found it yet.
Agustí Villaronga's two controversies in his career shows the chasm between music videos and films. Music videos haven't really grown up yet. The gatekeepers at the top are shilling a product with music videos. The artist and songs are packaged in what is basically a commercial and money talks. And as long as these music moguls keep catering to the biggest possible audience, music videos will stay in a state of arrested development.