Monday, September 22, 2014


I think we all either remember the first music video we saw or if we don't remember that we all love watching music videos. I mean who doesn't love getting lost in some non-narritive, episodic, film that helps to advance or give a deeper glimpse into the artistry of the performer. Oh, and if you are wondering the first music video that I ever watched was Hung Up by Madonna in 2005.

Anyways, while we consume these videos, I will bet good money that there is no one that stops to analyze the history, form, or structure of the music video. Well that isn't entirely true, I shouldn't say no one because a film scholar and historian named Kennet Dancyger, whose primary interests are in film editing and film production, purposed that a surrealist silent film from 1929 entitled Un Chien Andalou might be the birth of the film making style that is present in modern day music videos. His thesis states that, "[Un Chien Andalou] broadens the film makers options: to make sense, to move, to disturb, to rob of meaning, to undermine the security of knowing" (Ken Dancyger, The Technique of Film and Video Editing: History, Theory, and Practice, 32). In lay man's terms this he argues that by subverting the continuity of a traditional narrative, Un Chien Andalou opens the door for the film maker to act in direct colloquy with the audience. In the same manner, music videos provide the same blank canvas in which narrative structure is abandoned in favor  In this weeks blog post, I want to further examine this claim as I compare Un Chien Andalou and its aesthetic to the aesthetics of two current music videos, Shades of Cool, by Lana Del Rey, and Applause, by Lady Gaga.


Un Chien Andalou is the height of the French Surrealist Avant-Garde film movement. We are all familiar with famous eye cutting scene (hopefully) and the disjunctive, non-narrative structure that this film employs as a means of subverting the audiences expectations that have been built by watching a diet of narrative films. Below are the two eye images....

The reason that I have included both the eye images is because they are vitally important to understanding the meaning of Un Chien Andalou. These images occur right at the beginning of the film and the image of cutting out an eyeball is representative of destroying your previous gaze and biases so that you can experience the film through a new lens, one that the film maker attempts to construct rather than one a producer or an industry have sought to establish through a long history of convention. After the eye is cut away, we as the audience are then at the mercy of the film maker's push and pull, which can be seen primarily in the extra-diagetic music and the lack of continuity of time. The music used in the film creates a dichotomy between establishing mood as well as destroying the mood of the film, thereby creating what I like to call an anti-mood, or a mood in the music that is at odds with the visual on screen. Also another element that is at odds with narrative structure that we are all used to is the use of title cards to establish a time that is at odds with time that the visuals show us.  

Above are some examples of the title cards used and there translations. The importance of these title cards comes when you observe that they create a duel narrative. The first narrative that they create is within themselves as the title cards serve to break the narrative structure and remove us from the narrative, which in and of itself is still narrative (Hopefully that wasn't to confusing for you and you can follow my logic here but if not think about it this way, even a lack of something or NOTHING still MEANS SOMETHING). The second narrative that is being created is in the image that  is being shown on the screen against these title cards, that do not match up with the title cards flashing across the screen and that push and pull is important to take note of. This style of disjunctive editing is important because the author of the film, Luis Bunuel, is attempting to poke fun at the Hollywood style of continuity editing by putting the time in the title cards and the time in the images at odds with each other. I would now like to move the discussion on to how Lana Del Rey's music video Shades of Cool can be compared to Un Chien Andalou.  

In Lana Del Rey's music video for her single Shades of Cool, which is influenced by Un Chien Andalou, we see many elements of an experimental, avant-garde cinema. While not probative off any deep connection or influence it is interesting to note that the establishing shot of Shades of Cool is of a man's eyes. Additionally, Shades of Cool does not follow a narrative structure or maintain any semblance of special continuum as it employs an episodic structure. Also of note is the way that the video uses super imposition of images, and heightened color to convey a very specific mood through her corpus of work. For those who don't know Lana Del Rey has said in interviews that she tries to create music that remembers a time when she abused substances (she abused alcohol as a teen) and that she tries to sound like she is under in the influence when she sings. If the videos are viewed through this lens we can then see the super-imposition of images and heightened colors can be seen as the means of chasing a time when she was under the influence of alcohol. Next, I want to examine Lady Gaga's music video for Applause and how it compares to Un Chien Andalou.


In a similar manner to Lana Del Rey's Shades of Cool, Lady Gaga's Applause is very much rooted in a surreal, non-narrative world. Also, Lady Gaga's video is also rooted in the pop art traditions of Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. Much like Lana Del Rey's video, Lady Gaga utilized bright, stylized colors, and super imposition of semi-creepy, very pop art influenced, images like her with her head on the body of goose. None the less, Lady Gaga's video is very experimental in its nature as it eschews traditional narrative structure, never locates in a specific time and place, and, most importantly is influenced by artistic movements which derive from the surreal artist tradition of the 1920's. The album which the song Applause is featured on is called ART POP which Gaga describes as a reverse Warholian experience where by art is put into pop and the viewer can assess meaning from that. So when viewed thought this very pretentious lens, Gaga attempts to use a manipulate the image that she presents to the audience for the effect of making some grand statement about the nature of art and how that influences music. 

As can be seen in all of these stills, the gaze of the camera and the viewers eye are immediately focused on the eyes or the eyeball. This creates a proximity to the audience because it roots them in the perspective of the artists gaze. This allows a direct colloquy with the audience that allows them to feel as thought they are gaining a personal experience of their favorite artists. So actually it isn't the Illuminati that is responsible for all the eye symbolism in music videos, it is Un Chien Andalou's fault. 


While this is just an interesting theory that has been purposed by a film scholar and further explored by me in this blog post, I think that it is important for everyone who is interested in film in any capacity to expose themselves experimental films. As I have learned from my Film Aesthetics and Analysis class at Ithaca College, experimental film and its practice of subverting genre and conventional expectations, can often times teach us more about the practices of film making then narrative films can. I want to close with that by no means can I say with 100% certainty that Un Chien Andalou is the reason and the cause for the style of modern music video but I thought that it was an interesting idea that Mr. Dancyger proposed that I wanted to explore further.

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