Friday, March 02, 2012

All depends on a red cart wheel

I am a member of three groups on Facebook: We Waste Time, Save Bearsted Cricket Club and Fans of the Girl in the Safety Dance Video. On the latter's page, one Nik Mark White has posted the following contextual analysis:
Does anyone know if Jon Ronson (British journalist of 'The Men Who Stare at Goats' fame, which was later a George Clooney movie) ever wrote anything about the video?

I'd heard that there was a plan to do one, if it hasn't been done, it really ought to do. Tim Pope's visuals are outstanding in this video (I assume you agree!).

It's not just the 'Wicker Man' look but the contrast with everything going on around it (in the UK at least). 1983 was the year Ian McGregor became head of the UK's Coal Board - it might not sound like much, but within 12 month's his appointment would kick off the 1984 miner's strike. Probably if you're not English, that's a completely insignificant event but, over here (where I am that is), the miner's strike was the most momentous event since the end of WW II.

If you don't believe me, Thatcher said of the miners: 'We had to fight the enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty'. And by liberty, she meant allowing business and finance to have a free hand. Thatcher herself won her second election in 1983 with a massive majority, largely due to the huge popularity she gained on the back of the crushing defeat of the Argentines by British armed forces in the South Atlantic, i.e. the Falklands. Rather ominously, it turns out that same election was the first year that Tony Blair, Thatcher's true son and heir, entered parliament as an MP for the first time.

But the economy was still tanking (then as now) at the time, so the majority that Thatcher won in parliament that same year meant she could carry through massive spending cuts to welfare and other social programmes. There'd already been a wave of riots in 1981 (Think 'Ghost town' by the Specials, 1981).

Put it another way, massive cuts to welfare, rising crime rates, crashing standard of living, soaring unemployment, free-falling economy, expensive foreign military adventures, inner cities burning night after night, Royal Weddings a recent memory (then the mother, now the son) ... it's not hard to see a mirror of our own times in the turbulent waters of that particular looking glass.

And then you have this video. The beat is repetitive and infectious, yes, but it's also sinister. Pope did a fantastic job of foregrounding the darkness behind the track - the lead singer's angry, glowering face, the idiot dwarf and ... well, you know better than I do who the other one is!

All those Red cart wheels ... they come straight out of Breughel's 'Triumph of Death' - you can see them in the background here (note also the bright red cross in the bottom left (

This is a dance macabre and .. honestly, when 'La loca' springs up out of the bottom of the screen with a sunny 'And sing!' before a crossroads, forking either side of a hill ... they are taking death and rage and madness into that village over the hill.

But it's that contrast between that girl's astonishing, exuberant energy, hammered out on the very edge of mortality ... holy sh*t! I'm not surprised she has her own Fan club. It's more surprising to me that she hasn't become more widely-known (that is to say, the video incarnation of her - I'm not advocating that anybody disturb her, especially if she has let it be known that she'd rather not be reminded of what she did when she was younger).

That essence of kinesis in the face of nemesis - that's the heart of Eros.

And then also this was in the age of the music video, MTV had only recently reached the UK but was a massive hit. This was the decade when 70s rockers could be heard grumbling like old men in a gentleman's club about the literal expense of the music video and how they were becoming more important than the music itself. I mean very few things, surely, capture the 80s zeitgeist better than Music Videos (I'm not counting John Cusack movies or the Breakfast Club - they were music videos more than they were anything else).

Don DeLillo had Mao II, JG Ballard Crash ... Seriously, a history of the making of this video - the crew, the budget, the set, the lighting, the storyboarding, the context the ... well, yes, the band, sure, Tim Pope without a doubt, the Dwarf, the extras and the Morris dancers but, inevitably and absolutely ... the girl in the safety dance video.
A little learning is a tedious thing. 


Stephen Stratford said...

Oh you and your William Carlos Williams. I was always more of a Carlos Spencer fan.

Russell said...

Personally I'm more of a Frank Spencer man.