Sound And Vision: Xavier Dolan
In the article series Sound and Vision we take a look at music videos from notable directors. This week we look at several videos from Xavier Dolan, including the two he made for Adele.
Xavier Dolan is quitting filmmaking, because according to him 'art is a waste of time'. The once-wunderkind turned enfant terrible of Canadian cinema made some excellent films in his active years (Mommy, Heartbeats), some slightly thorny and fickle ones (Laurence Anyways, I Killed My Mother, Tom At the Farm) and some clunkers (It's Only the End of the World, The Life and Death of J. Donovan). But I think his most impactful pieces of art are in fact his three music videos, all of which are to be found below.
One of them, Indochine's College Boy, fits the more provocative and volatile sides of Dolan's oeuvre. In it, a bullied kid is eventually sacrificed in very graphic detail. So much so, that the music video got banned in Quebec for primetime airplay, and now lingers in obscurity (it's the age-restricted one at the bottom of this article). It is a gutwrenching piece, as subtle as a sledgehammer nailing someone to the cross. But for all it's gaudy and kitschy effect, it's still affecting. Like the Wonderwall scene in Mommy or the clothing rain in Laurence Anyways, it's easy to dismiss these moments, but they wear their heart on their sleeves, and I laud Dolan for not pulling back from going completely over the top in the sincerity.
Speaking of the Wonderwall-scene in Mommy: that film and scene has a certain poptimism-thing going on, between the many screeching fights between mother and son. Both Dido and Oasis, memed beyond parody, figure into important narrative scenes where the songs are taken at face value and their impact is truly felt again. The tightrope walk between memefication and sincerity, kitschiness and impactfulness, so purely Dolanesque, is ever-present in the most poptimistic music videos ever, for the most poptimistic artist ever: Adele's Hello and Easy on Me. Hello has the incredibly out-of-date flip phone, a meme moment if there ever was one, and plays like a sincere soap where Adele phones a younger version of herself. Ever one to experiment with aspect ratio, like in Tom at the Farm and Mommy, some scenes were shot on IMAX format. According to an article in the LA Times the music video itself was inspired by Dolan's own I Killed My Mother, and while both of them are about the folly of youth and getting more wise with age, the true connections seem strenuous at best.
Easy on Me also uses visual trickery that is par for the course for Dolan. In one of the most subtly stunning sequences in recent music video history, there is a switch from black and white to color that is quite impactful while also not drawing too much attention to itself. Even more so, there is a looseness to the video, a quality of raw emotionality, that is akin to some of the better scenes in failed later Dolan-films like It's Only The End of the World. Whereas there the raw emotionality is one of pure vitriol and hatred, here it is a genuine laugh and a smile from Adele, directed at her director. It's subtle, it's kitschy, it's over the top, it's sincere, all at the same time. It's Dolan. For all his faults as a director, he was a true original, and I hope his retirement from film might instead turn into a sabbatical.