Tuesday, 30 August 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- Calvin Harris’ “Feel So Close”

"European dance music is taking over the world. America loves it more than we do. At the moment there are more resident European DJs in Las Vegas than there are in Ibiza, that's how popular dance music is. I go there twice a month."

So says Scottish music producer Calvin Harris.

In some respects Harris is right. America seems really taken by the kind of Eurotrash dance music they laughed at 20 years ago.

With the success of tracks by LMFAO and everything put out by will.i.am, Americans seem intent on purchasing nothing but party music.

Calvin Harris' appreciation for all things Americana resulted in him recording the vocals for his new single Feel So Close in some bizarrely affected southern drawl. The accompanying music video directed by Vincent Haycock features Harris venturing out to generic American locations where some funky old redneck does mad things with a lasso, black kids do some predictable jive-dancing in suburban streets and a few young yokels―who can neither lasso nor jive-dance―just stand around looking all-American.

Calvin Harris is a true British success story who began his career stocking shelves in the supermarkets of Dumfries while spending his nights putting together music demos. Thanks to the power of MySpace
 the music industry came to his door armed with contracts and recording deals. Harris is now one of the world's most sought after producers having worked with Kylie Minogue, Kelis and Katy Perry. (He even turned down Lady Gaga early on in her career, accidently deleting her emails thinking it was from someone fraudulently posing as African aristocracy.)

The great thing about being a Brit with a music video like this is that we can always say it was meant to be an ironic statement about American culture.

The great thing about being an American is that you can always say Harris' video is an inspired tribute to the world's most lucrative and, therefore, important music market.

We're all winners!

Friday, 26 August 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- The Joy Formidable’s “Whirring”

When The Joy Formidable re-released their 2009 track Whirring this summer with an upgraded video directed by Christopher Mills, they must have hoped that it'd do better than what it did.

Alas, Whirring, much like many other British rock tracks of late, failed to capture the attention of music buyers. Having now signed to Atlantic Records and received more of a marketing push from Warner Music in key international territories, The Joy Formidable must be downright unhappy with their LP The Big Roar charting 31st place in the UK Top-40.

Truth be told, The Big Roar was a big letdown, with only Whirring standing out as a truly great single. The Joy Formidable's performance of this song at the Glastonbury Festival was nothing short of electric and should have upped the band's profile in a big way, but it seems it didn't quite work out.

Whirring is an epic song that sonically soothes and stings in all the right ways. It's heavy yet heartfelt; rocking yet soulful.

It's so moving that one can't help assume some soulless PR person is going to have it feature on the trailer of a dreadful Katherine Heigl romantic comedy in which it will underscore an embarrassing montage of unfunny scenes of her realising Gerard Butler was the man of her dreams all along. You just know it'll happen.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Incredibly Shrinking Cinema

Cunnylingus must be funny in all cultures. The British found it funny when Emma Thompson was shown receiving it in The Tall Guy, the Americans are laughing at Mila Kunis receiving it in Friends with Benefits, and now the Indians are roaring with laughter at the sight of Shenaz Treasurywala acquiring oral pleasure in Delhi Belly.

What's surprising about the latter is that India is not the kind of culture where the depiction of oral sex would have ever been permitted previously, yet Delhi Belly has bucked the trend, and in turn, proved to be a major smash hit in many international markets. Having made over $12 million in just one month, and become a top 10 box-office smash in foreign markets like the UK, Delhi Belly has been hailed as a new type of Indian filmmaking that is both youthful and naughty. Some argue that Delhi Belly has given a uniquely fresh approach to the conservative values of Hindustani culture and speaks in a hip voice of the young generation of India can relate to.

The reality is pretty different. Delhi Belly is neither fresh nor groundbreaking. Rather more, it is an attempt to ape the R-rated comedies America and Britain have peddled out for decades. In fact, Delhi Belly's plot and tone is akin to the daft London based caper comedies made by Guy Ritchie.

Indian cinema has always pandered to formula and still does. With the Indian economy pummelling other countries into oblivion, it's no surprise India now wants to prove that Hindustani national cinema is just as exportable as its beloved cuisines. But the problem is that Indian cinema has always struggled to make inroads into Western markets, being largely thought of as something hyperbolically camp in nature that only appeals to the diasporas residing in foreign locations. This is why the makers of Delhi Belly consciously set out to develop a film that is seemingly risky enough to garner plaudits in domestic markets, yet familiar enough to international audiences as not to put them off seeing it. It was a win-win situation that paid off brilliantly. Delhi Belly may be set in a foreign country, but the jokes to do with crude vulgarity and scatological humour are, in fact, culturally neutral.

It's easy to sit here and highlight the laboured attempts of Indian cinema to court the attention of Western moviegoers, but the situation is not that different from either American or European cinema. The international markets have become ever more important to Hollywood studios. The studios are tiring of unreliable domestic audiences that refuse to buy inflated 3D tickets for movies that emerging economies like India and China gladly purchase. That is why action-heavy tentpole franchises like Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Harry Potter (whatever the latest one's called) have played better internationally than at home.

There is a catch to all this and that has to do with how best to manufacture a cinematic hamburger the entire world can collectively consume together. The key is to play down intelligence and to play up spectacle. That's why the sight of watching transforming robots beating the shit out of each other in 3D will astound folks the world over in a way that , for example, watching a respected middle-age actress playing a woman dying of cancer will not.

So what gives? Are people bothered by inane special-effects, or should one just accept that the world and cultural tastes are homogenising?

Some 30 years ago the American director Peter Bogdanovich complained gloomily about the "juvenilisation of the cinema," brought about, he said, by films such as Jaws and Star Wars which appealed to an audience of those aged from 12 to 25 that , according to Bogdanovich, simply hadn't existed before.

Bogdanovich didn't know the half of it. The true "juvenilisation" is happening right now. Blockbusters of the 1970s were largely very good films, whereas most of the present crop are not. Jaws was as much driven by both character and plot development as was something like The Godfather. That can't be said about Transformers 1, 2, or even 3.

There is an underlying issue that explains much of why Hollywood cinema has gone to the dogs and that has to do with the death of its movie stars. Movie stars are still alive and kicking, it's just that they don't wield the sort of power they once used to. What's more is that there is no bonafide movie star under 35-years of age. Hollywood now tends to opt for relatively unknown actors in their late-teens or early-20s to carry movies. The reason why these films strike lucky is not because of its stars but rather due to the fact they are high-concept in nature. The problem with modern films is that concept has become king while substance has become redundant.

This summer has seen the release of films like Larry Crowne and The Tree of Life, both featuring big name acting talent, both failing to attract anything close to a satisfactory audience base. Audiences chose to eschew The Tree of Life due to its non-commercial pantheistic meditation on the meaning of life and everything in between; this despite fact that it starred Brad Pitt. One can argue that The Tree of Life is not to everyone's taste and would never have been anything more than a niche arthouse article. That's true but the same could have been said about Eyes Wide Shut back in summer 1999 and that film held its own against a myriad blockbuster extravaganzas like The Matrix and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.

On the other hand, Larry Crowne doesn't even have the excuse of being too cerebral to attract mainstream audiences. Despite masquerading as a movie relevant to our times because of themes concerning redundancy and unemployment, audiences knew that the film was flimsy stuff trying to get by on its movie stars' past glories. Rather than making a grown up movie with respected actors dealing with real issues, Larry Crowne became a meaningless insult to the millions of Americans that are experiencing the hardships unemployment in its bitter reality.

Let's just dismiss Larry Crowne as a one off and think about the merits of movie stars. The great thing about movie stars in the past was that they were likely to only accept a role if they felt it would play to their strengths. This meant it was essential for scripts to demonstrate qualitative character development and rich dialogue. That is why Tom Cruise could star in a film like Born on the 4th of July and turn it in to a critical and commercial success. The same can be said of Al Pacino in Carlito's Way or Mel Gibson in Hamlet, both attracting bigger audiences because of star power.

The flipside to all this is the actuality that movie stars effectively out priced themselves of a job. Tom Cruise, who at one time charged up to $22 million plus portion of gross revenue for a star appearance, now only got the bargain price of $12.5 million to act, write, produce and do his own stunt-work in Mission: Impossible―Ghost Protocol. This is a far cry from the gross participation fee of $70 million he earned in 1996 for the first Mission: Impossible.

For further proof of ailing star power just look to Arnold Schwarzenegger. The former California governor had been tipped to return to the big screen in Cry Macho, a road movie about a down-on-his-luck horse breeder railroaded into travelling to Mexico to kidnap his boss's young son from the child's mother. It was reported that Schwarzenegger will receive a $12.5 million on a 25% share of the first dollar gross for the project. That all changed when nervous money men began questioning Schwarzenegger's star relevance and dropped the project. Schwarzenegger will now star in Korean director Kim Jee-woon's English language debut The Last Stand. However, The Last Stand reportedly has a modest $30m budget and is not likely to prove nearly so lucrative for its star, thus proving movie stars no longer shine as bright.

To conclude: cunnylingus will always have its place in cinema but it seems a shame to have sacrificed star power in order to accommodate it. The basic principles of economics prove that it's more cost effective to hire an unknown actor to simulate oral sex than an expensive movie star. Cinema is shirking and our expectation of what we want from films is becoming unilateral. The concept of cunnylingus has become more valuable than the actors hired to act it out.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- Tom Vek’s “Aroused”

It's always reassuring to know that there are people in the world as good looking as myself. It's less reassuring to know that they're so eager to die prematurely.

British singer Tom Vek's new video for his song Aroused features a myriad of aesthetically gorgeous looking models, modern dancers and out of work actors moodily staring down the camera lens whilst smoking copious amounts of nicotine.

The video is directed by Tom Vek's good mate Saam Farahmand and dramatises what the lunch break of a Calvin Klein commercial must be like.

It's a catchy tune but the video tries so hard to be cool that it just comes off as obnoxious.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- Tyler, The Creator's "Yonkers"

It may just be the fact that England, right now, is in the grip of mindless rioting the scale of which this country has never seen, but one can't help wonder how on earth Odd Future member Tyler, The Creator's video for Yonkers has been nominated for 'Video of the Year' at 2011's MTV Music Video Award ceremony that takes place later this month. It's a hard-hitting video that features insect ingestion, vomiting and suicide all in a seemingly one take clip.

This is not to say that the music video for Yonkers is bad. In fact, it's a powerfully nihilistic clip that delivers a sensory body blow. In an age where all the other nominees in the best video category range from sanitised pop artists like Katy Perry, Adele and Bruno Mars; the inclusion of Yonkers is an obscenely leftfield choice and probably more fitting to the desperate and harshly bleak times were living in. If anything, Yonkers is perhaps a historically accurate cultural marker for these days, arguably more reflective of a world where unemployment is rampant, the economy is in the toilet and social fabric is disintegrating before our very eyes.

Directed by some guy called Wolf Haley (aka: Tyler, The Creator) and shot in stark black and white, Yonkers is most definitely controversial, but is it anything more than a slickly contrived shock piece, or is it a genuinely daring artistic statement?

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- Best Coast

Best Coast is an American indie rock trio of girls (well, there's a boy as well but he kind of looks like a girl) from California that makes really lovely fuzzy surf rock style music inspired by the sounds of yesteryears.

Their previous video for Boyfriend (directed by Taylor Cohen) came out last summer and drew controversially racist comments from some ignorant individuals opposing its depiction of average looking Mexican youths in an American indie rock vignette, as in ugly looking ethnic folk have no place alternative music. (As a resident of dreary Britain, pretty much all Latin people look stunningly exotic to me.)

To be honest, it was this very creative decision to use Mexican kids of ordinary appearance that actually made the music video for Boyfriend even more special. It's a beautifully cute clip that totally fits the song.

Best Coast is back with a new video for their latest song Our Deal. The video is directed by Drew Barrymore and plays out like a cross between West Side Story meets The Warriors; the action taking place on rooftops and across deserted cityscapes in an abandoned Los Angeles.

The cool thing about employing a celebrity like Drew Barrymore to helm your music video is that they can rope in their famous friends to star in the video, hence why Our Deal features the likes of Chloe Moretz, Alia Shawkat, Miranda Cosgrove, Donald Glover and Teen Wolf star Tyler Posey. Additionally, you can also call in favours from high-profile creative heads and technicians, hence why the video looks so swish.

Much like the best of Best Coast's stuff, the video and song are marvellously dreamy.

Best Coast