Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Focus-pulling in The Stepford Wives (1975)

Radiohead have long made no bones about being inspired/haunted by The Stepford Wives (1975). The final track on Hail To The Thief (2003), Wolf At The Door explicitly refers to the basic concept:
Stepford wives who are we to complain?
Investments and dealers investments and dealers
Cold wives and mistresses
Cold wives and sunday papers.
And Thom Yorke told the NY Times that the excellent Bodysnatchers from In Rainbows (2007) was "inspired by Victorian ghost stories, The Stepford Wives and his own feeling of 'your physical consciousness trapped without being able to connect fully with anything else.'"

But this influence appears to have first manifested itself in Jake Scott's acclaimed video for Fake Plastic Trees, one of Radiohead's most beloved early songs.

The video's supermarket setting reprises in part the film's famous, post-climactic 'supermarket scene' (although the vid's supermarket unlike TSW's is a blinding, high-contrast, sci-fi white, which may well reflect another specific influence). But Scott's video also makes very extensive use of very tight/shallow focus which is TSW's visual signature more generally.

My video puts TSW's big focus-pulling scenes and shots together, beginning with the supermarket scene (which the 2004 remake butchered). I cut my video to Radiohead's Fake Plastic Trees, for all of the obvious reasons mentioned above, but unfortunately that soundtrack has been blocked. I therefore recommend that (at some point) you mute my vid. and synch your own copy of FPT up to it from the top (it works wonderfully!).

I've also assembled some frames from FPT's video and some frames from TSW to help make the parallelism clear.

I highly recommend TSW. Along with Cronenberg's Shivers (1975), it gives you the perfect image of the backstory to current, unending cultural wars (particularly in the US).

Update March 13, 2012:
Consider the posh-/alterna-babe who flickers discreetly throughout the FPT vid (and whose look roughly crosses the automatized Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross) from TSW's supermarket scene with Andie McDowell's character from Four Weddings and A Funeral):

The second time the posh gal appears she trails a small, white dog with brown patches. But Joanna Eberhart's small, white dog with brown patches, Fred, plays a crucial, extended role in TSW (1975):

Note too that the final track on Radiohead's OK Computer (1997), The Tourist, begins with the paranoid/depressed singer imagining himself automatized/replaced and triggering a pet's suspicions:

It barks at no one else but me
Like it's seen a ghost
I guess it's seen the sparks a-flowing
No one else would know.

While the trope of robots who pass as humans but who can't fool animals is a sci-fi commonplace, in the context of general Radiohead interest in TSW, the details of dogs and sparks rings the TSW bell again. And, of course, the FPT video's focus-pulled/differentially blurry images was evidently a touchstone for OK Computer's cover-art:

In sum, TSW (1975) is occasionally overground in Radiohead 2.0 (Kid A and after), but its themes and visual signatures are a component of Radiohead 1.0 (pre-Kid A (2000)) at its most triumphant.


Marc Edward Heuck said...

Thank you for the link referral on my earlier entry. I too made a clip that directly mashed up scenes of the video with the supermarket scene, which of course YouTube and EMI blocked for almost all countries but a few; you found a clever way around that. I've been able to nonetheless show it to a few friends privately and they are amazed at the match.

plague said...

Marc. It definitely sound like we've had very similar thoughts! (But you were definitely first.) I'm working on an article on 1975 film where I discuss Stepford and Shivers, and I may drop Radiohead a line after that to see whether they'd be open to unblocking/waiving objections to the video with their audio. Whatever happens, I'll footnote you and try to drop you a line about any developments.