The great thing about going to a screening of music videos is that they are only a few minutes long, so sitting through 90 minutes of tunes and moving pictures is not difficult, even for the most severe A.D.D. personality. Just to re-cap, the weekend before last the good folks at Music Video Race paired 20 bands with 20 filmmaking teams to produce 20 music videos in 48 hours. This past Saturday (June 15), the videos were screened and awards given. Even without a red carpet or paparazzi, the event, which melded the Bay Area's vibrant music and film communities, was truly special -- an evening to be seen and on the scene at the Rickshaw Stop.
These days, given the Internet's instant ubiquity, it's hard to control a music video's release, which means that very little remains secret or undiscovered or even newsworthy for long. Sure, Consequence of Sound, Rolling Stone, and Pitchfork premiere music videos daily, but how often does an audience get to see videos for the very first time in the same room as the bands and filmmakers?
The surprises were genuine; we didn't have a schedule of the order in which the videos would be shown. They played on two large screens back to back with a short introduction stating the band name, song title, and film crew before each video. It was during that introduction that the audience would cheer with excitement, identifying the pockets of fans and supporters throughout the venue. There were a few projects that fell far below the bar of expectations both in concept and performance, which was a friendly reminder of the constraints that surround conceiving of, filming, producing, and editing a short film in 48 hours. A selection of middling videos relied heavily on bands playing in parks, ocean tides washing things away, and the ever-popular rock band party scenario. The cream of the crop, however, really showcased the musicians' and filmmakers' ability to create something intriguing and substantial on the fly.
My top five favorites were: Animal Friend's "Hypochondriac" directed by Javier Briones; Ash Reiter's "Treasure Island," under the direction of Andrew Callaway; Happy Fangs' "Lion Inside You" via Blake Smith; a very traditional approach to the form from Sean Gillane for Mammoth Life's "Teen Dreamin"; and lastly, A-1's "Retinas" by Alexander Weinberg. Ash Reiter and Happy Fangs cleaned out the awards.
Ash Reiter and the "Matchbox 40" crew (directed by Andrew Callaway) took home 3 awards: "Best Use of the Song Provided," "Best Concept," and "Best Video." The song was "Treasure Island" and the scene was indeed set at that location. The three bandmates decide to have an afternoon, three hours to be exact, to themselves. So they split up and do various things on the island, but each one runs into a sad and lonely man played by Andreas Blair. When the band finally reconvenes, they invite the man to ride the carousel. It's a simple narrative, but periodically we see the band sitting on the rocks playing their instruments and singing. The story is told both through film and hand-written notes. The view takes the form of a peep hole or telescope, creating the impression that the audience is spying on the band's private moments. Overall the video had a consistent look and feel to it that was true to Ash Reiter's sound. When I asked Callaway what it was like to make this video in 48 hours, he said, "Even though filming and editing was chaotic, it was really fun working with Ash. The band had lots of great ideas."
Happy Fangs' video for "Lion Inside You" came from the BLAKETS crew (directed by Blake Smith) and it was just plain gorgeous. Opening scenes were visceral with close-ups of the two band members' mouths drinking coffee, which is later replaced by spaghetti and black ooze. Filmed in black and white, the video features the duo sporting day of the dead-inspired tribal body paint. Happy Fangs' singer Rebecca Bortman took home an award for "Best On-Screen Performance." BLAKETS won "Best Art Direction" and "Best Cinematography" for the video.
Here's the full list of awards and winners from the 2013 Music Video Race:
"Best Concept" -- Ash Reiter, Matchbox 40, "Treasure Island"
"Best Cinematography" -- Happy Fangs, BLAKETS, "Lion Inside You"
"Best Art Direction" -- Happy Fangs, BLAKETS, "Lion Inside You"
"Best Editing" -- Mammoth Life, Double Knots, "Teen Dreamin"
"Best Use of Song Provided" -- Ash Reiter, Matchbox 40, "Treasure Island"
"Best On-Screen Performance" -- Mandy Harper of Not the 1s, "Can't Scare Me" by Lucky Destroyer (dir. Vanessa Carr) and Rebecca Bortman of Happy Fangs, "Lion Inside You" by Blake Smith
"Best Video" Ash Reiter, Matchbox 40, "Treasure Island"
About halfway through the screening I began to think about all the things we audience members have come to expect from bands. A live show has to be played to the best of their abilities and should represent the recorded album well. A performance also needs to be present; the band is putting on a show after all. There is an additional responsibility, which often goes unconsidered, and that is the role of the actor/actress. Sure there's an act happening on stage with any live set, but in a music video acting is often front and center.
It is brave to put the fruits of your creative labor into the world. Culled from life experience, personality, and emotional processing, sometimes a song's narrative doesn't translate fully on stage. The music video is a place to clearly represent that narrative, or to completely debunk it depending on the band and filmmakers' style. There certainly are music videos that reside in the realm of pure vanity. Regardless, I applaud those who readily put their creative life in the hands of a filmmaker and production crew.
Thanks Music Video Race for the reminder to not take these creatives for granted. All 20 of the music videos from the 2013 Music Video Race will be online later this afternoon at musicvideorace.com for your viewing pleasure.
Photos: David Wajsfelner.