Saturday, September 17, 2005

REM: Parallel

What an amazing collection of videos preserved on this dvd. I first saw it at a record store located at Shepherd and 59 before I even had a dvd player. I remembered it for at least a couple of years and planned to buy it as soon as I got one. Well, the time came that I finally got a player, but I never encountered the collection again. Finally bought it online and it's been one of my favorite collections ever since. I wish more groups would put out a retrospective collection of videos they've produced over time. The Flaming Lips just did that. Perhaps I'll discuss it at a later date.
Most of the videos are from their ground breaking album Automatic For The People. It is by far my favorite and I've probably listened to it a few hundred times. As with most things, I didn't discover it until a while after it came out. Thus proving, once again, I don't have my finger on the pulse of America.
The videos are laced together with seemingly unrelated montages of security camera video, arrangements of flowers, and random video images with radio static behind them. Not distracting, and in fact it's kind of a nice way to cleanse the pallet between videos. Nice touch, Stipe. But this band has always been pretty daring and artistically brilliant in the medium, so I wouldn't expect any less.

Drive(dir. Peter Care)
Presented in black and white. We find Michael swimming atop a sea of hands. Tossed about, hosed down, and generally man-handled. The rest of the band are presented as kind of "Dutch boys" holding back a mass of humanity that seems like it may break through at any time. They too are saturated with instruments in had. I never really liked that image, though. Do these electric instruments survive after such a bath? Being as I always had to scrape to put together money to acquire an instrument, I cringe at the sight of beautiful(and ugly) musical instruments being subjected to water. There are moments that are reminiscent of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" video. Faceless crowd and all.

Man On The Moon(dir. Peter Care)
Another one in B&W. The first half uses a very effective "kaleidoscope" type of camera view. Several images at a time are projected. Some at normal speed, others sped up. And if you don't crack a smile at the footage of Andy Kaufman wrestling women, you must be dead. The final half takes place in a kind of roadhouse and is quite funny in its presentation. We find Peter Buck playing the part of the bartender as the camera cuts around the bar and features different people in the place singing the lines instead of Stipe. Very dry humor.

The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight(dir. Robert Duffy)
This is one of my favorite songs from the Automatic album, but probably the worst video. It's basically the band in a film studio performing in front of multi-colored scrims. They did a similar video for their song "Can't Get There From Here" in an even more sparce setting which was much more effective.

Everybody Hurts(dir. Jake Scott)
There's no two ways about this song. You either love it or hate it. I can understand those that feel the latter. It was way over played on Mtv and radio. I, on the other hand, really enjoy it. Call me a sentimentalist. I can handle it. The shot of the young boy sitting in the truck with his grandfather where the caption reads "Stop Singing. Stop singing. Stop singing" is priceless. It is a little sappy in its closing moments, but a little sap(or even a lot) has never bothered me. A little fact to help you in Trivial Pursuit: it was filmed on an unfinished stretch of freeway in San Antonio.

Nightswimming(dir. Jem Cohen)
Another of my favorites from the album. Why this song wasn't a worldwide hit, I'll never know. A truly magnificent piano ballad that rivals anything Elton John did in the early seventies. The prelude is a small discussion that sounds like it comes from a production meeting prior to filming. It contains audio of a man and woman discussing images that perhaps they had after listening to the song. The videos nudity must have surely kept if from regular Mtv rotation and thereby destroyed its chances of climbing the charts. The nudity is sprinkled liberally through the video, making it impossible for an edited version to be shown. The band is nowhere to be found. Unfortunately, half way through, the song fades and leaves a space of a minute or so with just images of naked and half naked bodies swimming. Totally unnecessary and distracting from the pace of the song.

Find The River(dir. Jodi Willie)
This final cut is by far my favorite from the album. B&W footage of the band in a recording studio performing the song which is cut together with scenes of an old sea captain character, random ocean footage, and a dog roaming a beach. It would have been better if they had just stuck to the studio footage. But I love this song so much, I'm not distracted by the extraneous shots.

What's The Frequency, Kenneth?(dir. Peter Care)
The band performing the song in a huge warehouse/studio with a lighting effect that makes it appear as though a massive lightning storm is taking place inside. Lots of stinking blue, red, and yellow tints are used. This is the first time I can recall the bass player(Mike Mills) wearing what I can best describe as a "Nudie suit". The type Porter Wagoner used to wear. He would continue to wear these custom suits for several years. Always wished I could afford one. Intentional or not, there are several shots in which Bill Berry is not sitting at the drum kit, despite the fact that there is percussion being played. As with the "Sidewinder" video, the final shot has him walking away from his kit and not looking too pleased to be there in the first place. Another bit of trivia: the songs title comes from a phrase a mugger shouted to Dan Rather just before mugging him in NYC.

Bang And Blame(dir. Randy Skinner)
Again with the B&W film. The screen is divided up in to 3 parts and shows the band performing the song in a film studio. Mike is in a Nudie suit again. Not that great of a video and it doesn't do justice to the song.

Star 69(dir. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris)
Probably the weakest song in the dvd collection. B&W footage of the band performing the song live in concert(although the soundtrack is from the studio recording). Professionally shot footage is spliced together with video from a hand held video camera that has the date in the lower right corner(Feb. 7 1999). A Google search revealed that they were indeed NOT touring on this date, so the venue is unknown. And the clock in the lower corner reveals that the concert ended just minutes after midnight. Mike Mills is again wearing a Nudie suit and Peters amp is decorated with several plastic dinosaurs(?).

Strange Currencies(dir. Mark Romanek)
Here we are again in B&W inside what appears to be some kind of steel mill warehouse. Does anyone see a pattern here? Band, once again, performing but this time in winter clothing. Footage of Peter and Michael(separately) driving around shining a spotlight on a variety of people in an urban district after dark. Again, I think just footage of them would have been just as effective. I didn't know this song until a friend of mine, Erin Callahan, turned me on to it. Very happy she did, I love it!

Crush With Eyeliner(dir. Spike Jonze)
Now this is more like it! A fucking hysterical video, top to bottom. Inventive and fun, but what else would we expect from Spike. The band is portrayed by 4 young Japanese hipsters. Funniest of all, Peter is played by a cute as a bug Japanese girl! The lead singer is portrayed by an cheeky, cowboy hat wearing, pink fur covered trouble maker. One of the most revealing moments is during the "life is strange" line. Hanging from a subway pole, he delivers the line and is overtaken from behind by a NYC policeman. He immediately loses his mischievous persona and retreats in to a subdued Japanese boy. In the final minute, the band(minus Bill) are revealed as patrons of the nightclub. I get the feeling Bill wasn't a fan of filming videos.
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In what is listed as "credits" on the box, we see footage of the band in various states of "on tour". Suffering reporters inane questions, signing autographs, and rehearsing. I was delighted to find that they are rehearsing the song "Star Me Kitten" from Automatic For The People, backed by a mixing board vocal "instrument" played by Mike Mills. Unfamiliar with the words, Michael reads from sheet music. Excellent footage and a remarkable song.

The final shot is of an ant in climbing atop the model of a castle in an ant farm . Having reached the top perch, he struggles to stretch his body to a higher level.


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