Today we think of music videos, perhaps quaintly and not always correctly, as the cradle of modern Hollywood’s sense-overloading, logic-sacrificing, teen-targeting, “quick-cut” style. But the medium, especially in its formative years, offered a wide-open canvas not just to hacks, but to auteurs as well. Case in point: the British director, artist, and writer Derek Jarman, well known for features like Caravaggio, The Last of England, and Blue, but maybe even better-known, depending on which circles you run in, for his short films meant to promote songs from a variety of musical-cultural figures: The Smiths, Marianne Faithfull, the Pet Shop Boys, Patti Smith, the Sex Pistols, Bryan Ferry. At the top of the post, we see Jarman pushing the boundaries of the music video, intentionally or unintentionally, as early as 1979, with a 12-minute visual suite interpreting not one but three of Faithfull’s songs.
Jarman goes a minute longer just above for another, 1986 three-parter: The Smiths’ “The Queen is Dead,” “Panic,” and “There is a Light that Never Goes Out,” songs which allow him to fully exercise his penchant for nostalgia-saturated styles of footage and acid criticism of the direction of England. He would also collaborate with his equally satirical countrymen the Pet Shop Boys in the late 1980s and early 1990s on no fewer than four separate videos, two of which, both from 1987, appear below: “Rent” and “It’s a Sin.” What’s more, he directed their 1989 live tour, which featured not only elaborate costumes but whole new short films projected onstage. With his combination of theatrical sense and interest in abstract visual expression, Jarman must have seemed a perfect fit for such an aesthetically minded outfit as the Pet Shop Boys. Those qualities also placed him well to define the nature of the music video itself — in which, at its best, we can still detect his influence today.
It’s a Sin
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.