Monday, November 23, 2009


Here's one of those posts that keeps bouncing around in my head, one of the ones that I'm a little wary about posting, but that I find so very interesting from a film production point of view. I'm in the midst of a film project at the moment, that point between filming and editing where you're not sure if you've got everything you need, and you can see it in your head but you're just not sure that it's all there. And due to the recent lack of new music in my life, I felt it was an appropriate time to discuss "Closer."

The video I'm embedding is one of the most controversial music videos of all time, "Closer" by Nine Inch Nails. It was directed by Mark Romanek in 1994, and is heavily influenced by artwork by Man Ray and the film "The Street Crocodiles" by the Brothers Quay. This is the edited version that MTV played, but it is still absolutely NSFW. The song itself would also garner an R rating. You've been warned.

Here's what you're missing from the director's cut: a very naked bald girl, some crosses attached to BDSM apparel, and an image that I found deeply disturbing - a crucified, terrified monkey. I'm not sure I've ever had that visceral of a reaction to a music video before, but the first time I saw it I was horrified.

Gosh, I wonder why I was ever worried about posting this one.

So why am I posting it? Because it is one of the most astounding music videos from a production aspect. The work that went into these four minutes, the time and effort and planning that went into every detail, is remarkable. Romanek set to work with a list of images that he wanted, wild unthinkable things at the time, and did them.

First of all, this wasn't shot on normal film and edited to look old as would be done today. This was shot on hand cranked, three color film, on huge old cameras. This was an expensive, hard thing to shoot.

These were not special effects. The beating heart at the beginning is being controlled by three men behind a wall blowing through thin plastic tubes to make the heart beat to the rhythm of the song. There is a shot that lasts for only about a second of Trent's face placed on a mannequin head at 3:20. It took four hours of makeup to get Trent to look that way. The time that goes into just a few frames of video boggles my mind. And it's all real meat, all real rotting meat that they got on discount and had to manipulate and move and hang.

Some of this is gorgeously shot, if you look beyond the gore. At 2:09, the way the butterflied cow lines up perfectly with the Trent's body to look like angel wings is amazing. Trent spinning in the air, seeming to float, is also amazing. There are no green screens, no manipulation, only some perfectly placed wires. The shots of Trent in the goggles with compressed air distending his lips are genius, if disturbing.

This entire set was built just for the video, every detail and set dressing designed to fit a frightening picture inside the director's head. The power that a director wields on set, the things that they can make happen with money and an idea, and the days of shooting and design that go into five minutes amazes me. It's a disturbing, unsettling, amazing video.

But not something I would ever shoot.

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