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SOUND VISIONS – 50 Best Ever Music Videos: ‘Talking To A Stranger’

March 15, 2013

“Rock videos are no different than music, or movies, or anything else – eighty-five percent of it is crap, and if it weren’t, then you’d never know about the fifteen percent that’s good.” Keith Richards – The Rolling Stones

In the mid nineteen-eighties, music video clip makers Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton were given the opportunity to create a television show whose sole purpose     it was to showcase the very best music videos in circulation up to that point. It was called The Max Headroom Video Show. It was a show unconstrained by what music was popular at the time, and the creators had virtually carte blanche to select videos based purely on their artistic merit alone. It was an eclectic mix to say the least – and a real inspiration for me in my own clips. It was also partly the inspiration behind putting together this particular series.

Sound Visions will be a series of posts in which I bring to light particular music videos which have inspired me or which I consider to be the very best examples of the form. So what exactly makes a good video? First and foremost, a good video must compliment the tone of the song and not detract from it. A good video must not literalize what is described in the lyrics of the song, or – in other words, we must never see a word-for-word visual representation of what the lyrics are actually saying. And last but not least, the use of visual metaphors is fine and should be encouraged.

Music videos can be categorized into three distinct types: abstract, narrative and performance. Performance, naturally, means we see a band or musician performing without (or very little) additional visual imagery. Narrative refers to what renown rock video pioneer Russell Mulcahy termed as mini-movies: videos which employ actors (or indeed the musicians themselves) to enact a storyline which unfolds in either       a linear or non-linear fashion. And finally, we have abstract. Abstract videos are perhaps the most intriguing and challenging to make, as they tend to rely more on   the imagination and visual aesthetic of the clip maker themselves. Naturally, as with any genre, the lines can become blurred and clips can indeed possess attributes of two or more of these categories. However, for symplicity’s sake, I’ll be referring to just these three.

At their most inane, videos are nothing more than visual wallpaper – a marketing tool used in the service of promoting mindless pop songs to the consumer. At their best, and most sublime, they can indeed be seen as a legitimate artform – just like any other.

First up in this initial installment –

‘Talking To A Stranger’ by Hunters & Collectors

Type: Abstract

Year: 1982

Director: Richard Lowenstein

Running Time: 6 mins 12 secs

talking to a stranger 1

Directed by Swinburne film school graduate Richard Lowenstein, who subsequently worked extensively with iconic aussie rock band INXS, this startling video may well be my favorite clip of all time (and perhaps the greatest influence on my own music videos). It was produced for Australian band Hunters & Collectors (1981-1998) for their first widely-released single ‘Talking To A Stranger’ – a song inspired by the poem The Albatross by the French poet Charles Baudelaire.

Beautifully edited with a distinctive post-apocalyptic feel in its visuals and design,   the simplicity of the clip’s technique borders on the primal, which is in perfect harmony with the primitive tribal sounds featured in the music (one percussive sound in particular: a derelict hot-water cylinder being struck on the two-beat and the four with a glockenspiel key is visualized to great effect). Overlaid images (utilizing both chroma key and half-dissolves), hand-drawn and time-lapse animation and repeated shots – all add up to an aesthetically cohesive whole, while standout images include frontman Mark Seymour, wearing a rubber band across his nose, singing ‘You tasted mustard when she painted your face’ while standing under a shower; the camera pursuing strange feral characters through a primeval landscape and misty tidal rock pools through which the prowling camera ducks and weaves as if hungrily searching.

talking to a stranger 2

This is one of those classic examples where the molecules of the music and the image become so irreversibly fused, the images so indelibly burned into the retina, they are forever visualized during subsequent listenings of the music alone. This is the point where a music video achieves the status of being a legitimate work of art (the highest station a clip can aspire to) and is the reason why I have chosen this particular video to launch the series …

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.

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From → sound visions

4 Comments
  1. OMG this clip just makes me want to take loads of drugs.
    Is that a bad thing? 🙂

    JT
    http://storyality.wordpress.com/

    Ps – AWESOME post Mossman.
    I can’t wait to read the rest of this series. Hurry up and post it all 🙂

    • gregory moss permalink

      Cheers Joe! Yeah, there are another forty-nine clips to go, so it won’t be ending anytime soon. 🙂 It was originally only meant to be ten, but then I began finding more and more of my favorites on YouTube and it somehow blew out to fifty. 🙂

  2. PS – Such an awesome song too!!!

    • gregory moss permalink

      I know! Always helps when it’s a great song too. And perhaps I should point out that while the music in a good proportion of the clips I’ve selected very much matches my own personal musical taste – it isn’t always the case. In fact, in a fair few cases I might not even own a single album of some of the musical artists featured in this series. It’s all about the videos. 🙂

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