Sound And Vision: Russell Mulcahy
In the article series Sound and Vision we take a look at music videos from notable directors. This week we look at The Tubes' Mondo Bondage, directed by Russell Mulcahy.
Vulgar auteurism is the idea that there is a certain strand of mostly work-for-hire directors who make loud, frantic movies (think Michael Bay, Neveldine and Taylor and Paul W.S. Anderson) in such a recognizable way, that the films and filmmakers themselves become auteurist. I am not the biggest fan of the auteur theory in general myself, seeing film ultimately as a collaborative effort, which might be surprising coming from a person showcasing the unique style of directors. But vulgar auteurism in my eyes has merits, in that it breaks away from some of the elitist notions of auteur theory, and makes the case for some excellent directors.
One of my favorite of these vulgar auteurists is Russel Mulcahy. Mulcahy, the director of fun and frantic films such as the two Highlanders, The Shadow, Give 'em Hell Malone, Razorback and Resurrection, is an underrated director, whose style can be summed up in a few ways. Fog machines galore, excellent use of shadow and clair-obscur lighting, a glam neon-light sheen that screams 'eighties', and a camp yet macho sensibility that gives his films a slight homo-erotic.
Mulcahy cut his teeth on music videos, where all his stylistic hallmarks were present. His impact on the music video industry can't be overstated. Not only did he direct the very first video that was shown on the then brand new MTV (The Buggles- Video Killed The Radio Star, featuring none other than Hans Zimmer in the on screen band), but he directed many other classics. From the vampire-camp of Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart, to early classics like XTC's Making Plans For Nigel, The Vapors' Turning Japanese and big staples like Elton John's I'm Still Standing and Kim Carnes' Bette Davis Eyes.
But to quote the classic Mulcahy-movie Highlander, 'there can only be one', and for that I highlight the oldest music video of Mulcahy that I could track down online, The Tubes' Mondo Bondage. It is an early, fairly low budget affair, but it has many hallmarks of Mulcahy's style to come. A camp, glam-metal sheen to the costuming, that hommages the BDSM-inspired title of the song. Fog machines and stage lights working over hours. And a high concept, that is kinda baffling in this case.
The weird, off kilter choices begin with a cold open, in which a few women are filmed with hidden camera's. It seems to be taken from a trash television program, so when the music video properly begins with the lead singer of The Tubes gyrating on stage, the audience would be forgiven to think that they are now watching a wholly different program entirely. Did the cable company mix up? Well, no, as eventually the lead singer jumps through the fourth wall, onto the set with the women we saw earlier.
There the music video turns even more baffling, turning into an erotically charged torturous wrestling match, in which household items and kitchen supplies are used to torture and eventually kill the lead singer. Only Russel Mulcahy would think of a scene in which a buxom vixen slaps uncooked eggs onto a male's buttocks, only to fry both eggs and ass cheeks sunny side up. Suffice to say, the video highlighted below is Not Suitable For Work, but it's a doozy. Imagine storming onto the scene with something this off-kilter and outré. Vulgar auteurism, indeed.