Sound And Vision: Ti West

Contributing Writer; The Netherlands
Sound And Vision: Ti West

In the article series Sound and Vision we take a look at music videos from notable directors. This week: Justin Timberlake's No Angels, directed by Ti West.

Ti West is obsessed with several themes, among them hedonism and the hive-mind of cults. In films as diverse as House of the Devil, The Roost and especially The Sacrament he has explored the nature of cultish behavior. From devil-worshippers (in a Satanic Panic send-up) in House of the Devil, to a Jonestown situation in The Sacrament. According to those who have seen it, MaXXXine, the final chapter in his X-trilogy, also returns to this well.

Likewise, in films like the X-trilogy, House of the Devil ,but also an earlier (disowned) film like Cabin Fever 2 , he delves into hedonism as a theme. Debauchery, alcoholism, drug-use, pornography, characters in West's film often have a very fun time, until they don't, because Ti West knows the classic moralism of horror movies. His films are often a deconstruction of said moralism, especially in the X-trilogy, which is all about the lure and glamor of 'the world' and the moralizing terror of Christianity and other cults. If slashers are conservative about sexuality, the X-trilogy is a reckoning.

All of this is a preface to talk about the new music video for Justin Timberlake's No Angels, that was also directed by Ti West. In a bit of unfortunate timing the music video ends on Timberlake, who recently got arrested for driving under the influence, driving off as a demon in a car after a night's out at a club. But outside that piece of unlucky serendipity, this is a weird amalgam of Ti West's style and obsessions and Timberlake's uncanny toothless polish.

The Director's Cut of No Angels has a larger metatextual coda, in which West can show off an Lovecraftian special effects piece that is not in the video proper. But even with that fun effect, it is definitely a fairly moderate affair for a horror music video, showing the literal bloodbath mostly through flashes of stroboscope lighting. Still, thematically it is part and parcel for West's thematic obsessions: a hedonistic night at the club turns into a blood cult for a group of demons. No Angels is the bridge between West's two main tropes, and according to those who have seen it MaXXXine is too.

I was reminded of a piece by Pitchfork, about the end of grotesque imagery in pop music. I do not disagree with that piece, even though there have been more instances of grotesque music videos since that was written. But the central premise is that the shocking has lost it's power in mainstream music rings true. And while Ti West is undeniably a master of horror, there is a glossiness to Timberlake and the song that rubs off on him. The sharper edges of the earlier West, and even the glossy debauchery of the X-trilogy have been sanded off, here.

I'm still looking forward to MaXXXine as I think both X and Pearl are among Ti West finest, in a career full of highlights. But this music video feels slightly anonymous, even with the demon flesh feast of it all.

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