Sunday, February 26, 2012

To The End In Marienbad

Blur's remarkable song 'To The End' had a stunning video, directed by David Mould, which drew extensively on Alain Resais's notorious puzzle-piece film, Last Year in Marienbad (1960). This video returns the favor, reverse engineering Mould's video using actual Marienbad footage (where I select the closest counterpart shot from the film for each music video shot; I 'cheat' once, to cover a Mould innovation, but you'll have to know the film very well to spot it!).

Mould's video featured Blur's Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon in their pomp, and a marvellously expressive, gamine, balletic model, Amanda Doyle (who's often been misidentified as Stereolabs's Laetitia Sadier, who did To The End's French backing voice) as the 'mystery woman' in an uncertain love triangle.

Doyle, Albarn, and Coxon make an incredibly pretty trio (one that's significantly more youthful and charming than Resnais's), and in Mould's hands a warm, romantic, relatively conventionally arc-ed (cynics might say, 'Tatler-ific') confection emerges, one that's interestingly orthogonal to Resnais's glacially paced and legendarily chilly 'classic'. While its influence on things like The Shining is clear, Marienbad is now mostly ignored and forgotten, and mocked to the extent that it's not. (At least in the English-speaking world, Marienbad may currently be less famous than and certainly is less loved than Pauline Kael's dismissal of it as a "high-fashion experimental film, the snow job in the ice palace" and as the butt of her "People are hosting 'Come as the Sick Soul of Europe' parties" joke.) And that's to say that Marienbad is for the most part a 'classic' in a Twainian sense: it's a film that many more people want to have seen than who actually want to see it.

Blur's video in 1994 changed the equation for Marienbad, at least to some degree (not least because it reminded people that Marienbad would have been a lot easier to take without its unpleasant, mostly organ score: if, say, Herrmann, or Badalamenti, or, yes, even Blur had scored, things could have been very different for the film over time). In my view the song's one of the core triumphs of Britpop (and one of the 'best songs of the '90s period), and the vid. is a marvel of the smartypants/art-school (say, Velvets/Bowie-ish) side of pop music more generally. If you've ever liked that side of pop then moments like U2 getting to make films with Wim Wenders, and Blur having their way with an icon of the Nouvelle Vague are just jam. They are as much part of the core appeal and fascination of pop/rock stardom as anything else is, at least for that audience.

I hope that this vid. stimulates discussion about actual and possible relations between pop culture and high art culture. And the vid. should build the audience for both Resnais and Blur: film snobs (you know who you are) should listen to Blur if they haven't already, and Blur-fans now have even more of a pathway into one of the most arduous of art-films.

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