By now it's become a platitude to praise the wild world of user generated content (including, but nowhere near limited to: fan videos, mash-ups, and yes, the video essays produced for this blog) for its sheer abundance and diversity of creativity and skill with the video medium. To be fair, there is a lot of junk out there that has to be sifted through in order to get to the good stuff. There's also the issue of relative visibility - why some videos get millions of hits while other, arguably more deserving ones, languish in obscurity. I like to think that the videos I produce with a host of esteemed collaborators on the greatest films of all time are deserving of people's attention, given the many hours I spend coordinating with commentators, assembling clips from films and editing it all together. So please forgive me for being a tad jealous when I see that my videos get only a fraction of the views garnered by a Japanese girl staring at her webcam for 30 seconds or a pervert secretly videotaping his girlfriend playing Wii Fit in her panties, clips that take only seconds to shoot and upload. But I'll just shrug it off and stick to the high road (for now). On the other hand, there are homemade videos that truly humble me for their brilliance. Sometimes that brilliance can occur with utter simplicity, yet yield results that are forehead-slappingly mesmerizing. Take J.T. Helms' fan video from last year for The Arcade Fire's "My Body Is a Cage."
On the YouTube page for the video, Helms writes that the track "evoked an intense spaghetti western scenerio in my mind. I created a music video for the song with edited clips from Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in the West" [TSPDT #80]... my favorite western."
The match between the song and the selected scene, the climax of Leone's film (warning: video contains spoilers), is uncanny - in their shared crescendoing progression, the synching of drumbeats and gunshots, and in the link of image to lyric (note where "my mind holds the key / standing next to me" and "just because you've forgotten doesn't mean you're forgiven" fall in sequence). The result is a exciting rock revisioning of Leone's sequence, turning it into a completely self-sufficient music video while preserving the scene's original essence.
None of this year's fan mashups have been as classic movie relevant or as transformative with existing source material, but there's plenty of wit on display. My favorite is an uncredited recontextualization of Brit act Wiley's "Wearing My Rolex" to the Paul McCartney/Heather Mills divorce.
It's particularly worthy of praise when you compare its cleverness to the overly slick, under-inspired official video, which is so vapid that reportedly Wiley walked out of the shoot.
There are also hundreds if not thousands of user-created videos submitted to contests held by music acts for their songs. Of the relatively few that I've had the chance to review, two stand out. The first is by "that go" who submitted a video for the contest hosted by Thunderheist for their song "Jerk It":
Animal patterns figure prominently here, as well as implied visual plays on the words "jerk" and "cock" - a concept as gutter-mindedly simple as filming a girl playing Wii Fit in her underwear. But when it's executed with a superheightened sense of the erotic beauty of visual textures set in motion, it becomes something sublime. The isolated, microsopically detailed closeups (rendered by the amazing Red HD videocamera), of feathers, blonde hair brushing over a bare shoulder, zebra print leggings and gold chains fragment a woman and a chicken into a mesmerizing montage of surfaces. Around the one minute mark the jerking commences with the subtlest of vibrations; punctuated by images of the girl's clenched fist and slight tremulations of hair, skin and muscle tissue, it's a showcase of understated bodily motion suggesting tighly coiled erotic energy. With apologies to Charlie Kaufman, the best synechdoche of the year is this girl's taut shoulder suggesting waves of sexual exertion.
Unfortunately, the video climaxes at 2:15 and suffers a flaccid, refractory last third. But up to that point, it's a highly sensual rendering of an bizarre state of anticipatory motion masking crudely metaphoric activity.
Another contest video that I like even more - and is therefore today's #10 music video of 2008 - was brought to my attention by fellow movie blogger and site visitor Matthew Kane Parker, who linked to this video made by Scottish art school student James Houston for a fan video contest held by Radiohead for their remix of "Nude."
Not only did Houston shoot the video, he re-recorded the song using audio presumably sourced from the outmoded computer and office hardware featured onscreen. Shot with sterile, precise angles and processed to look like faded, decades-old film stock, it's a haunting, ingeniously resourceful, and strangely moving work. The final shots of the brand labels of each device suggest an auto-eulogy being delivered collectively through inadequate squeaks and clatters, transforming Radiohead's song into a technologic death-rattle.
Sadly, Houston missed the deadline for the contest, but posterity (aided by viral distribution) will hopefully vindicate his brilliance. It's certainly miles ahead of the official video of the original Radiohead mix. In all honesty, this video probably deserves higher placement in the top ten - as it's the video that's most recently come to my attention, I'm only beginning to process its artistry. But we'll see where you feel it belongs as the other entries place tomorrow and onward.