Sound And Vision: Sam Taylor-Johnson
In the article series Sound and Vision we take a look at music videos from notable directors. This week we take a look at R.E.M's ÜBerlin, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson.
Ostensibly, this edition of Sound and Vision will be about Sam Taylor-Johnson and her music video for R.E.M's ÜBerlin. That's what the title and introduction says, after all... But in reality this edition of Sound and Vision will be at least as much about Leos Carax's Mauvais Sang (The Night is Young a.ka. Bad Blood) and its looming influence on cinema and music videos in general. And one scene especially, the so-called Modern Love-scene.
Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, collaborators who recently hit it big with their screenplay for Barbie, directed by Gerwig, paid homage to Mauvais Sang's showstopper with Frances Ha, in which Gerwig runs through the streets dancing to Bowie's classic song. Some of the choreography was literally taken from Mauvais Sang, as was the general idea: someone running through the streets, to a lover, where the running turns into dancing and acrobatics, only to come home alone.
While in Frances Ha the effect is deliberately naturalistic, the scene in Mauvais Sang is a cinematic stunner: heightening the dance with some effective camera and editing tricks, really upping the pace and frenetic energy of the scene. When the scene comes to a grinding halt, you feel the exhilaration of actor Denis Lavant, and you need to catch your breath with him.
Mitski's Modern Love and Yeah Yeah Yeah's Burning, both music videos from last year, also use the heightened effect of Mauvais Sang's editing as inspiration. In Burning, the choreography is almost identical in places, but it adds the effect of colorization on the film stock, not unlike how films in early cinemas were hand-painted to similarly garish effect. It makes the dance into a hellish experience, stressing the idea you can't really run from your fate, which was similarly one of the undercurrents in Mauvais Sang.
Mitski's Love Me More uses the backdrop in the same way Mauvais Sang uses it: the lines on the screen act as a signifier of both pace and rhythm. While it is a short hommage in a music video that also liberally borrows from Kieslowski's Le Double Vie de Veronique, it is again a standout sequence. Mauvais Sang really proved to be a timeless inspiration.
On the naturalistic side of things, like in Frances Ha, we see R.E.M's ÜBerlin, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, starring her husband Aaron Taylor-Johnson. It's Sam's ode to Aaron, showing his effortless cool, while he walk-dances through the street. The pacing here is slower, but the effect of delirious abandonment of the rules, and the glee of ignoring your environment, is pretty much the same. What makes this effort slightly weaker than the other entries are the cuts that feel less deliberate. They feel more like normal, 'traditional' cuts between shots, whereas Leos Carax and the other directors use their cuts more to match the pacing of the choreography and to up the energy. It fits the naturalistic approach, and the more slack pace fits the more fun vibe. No need to catch your breath after this one: instead this is a bit of a breather.