Yes, that's John Hurt in the video above, adding his melancholy face and wry smile to the mise-en-scene of Paul McCartney's "Take It Away" (1982), and evoking (as McCartney notes in the commentary track) the late Brian Epstein, the Beatles' first manager. The video skillfully uses close-ups (on car headlights, instruments, faces) as transitions that take us from bedroom to recording studio to triumphant concert performance. The skillful filmmaking and Hurt's presence act as reminders of an earlier age of music video: big-budget, driven by narrative, and still feeling out the relationship between song, image and salesmanship that, within two years, MTV will have perfected.

The video is included on The McCartney Years, an expansive collection of music videos, documentaries, and concert clips that was released on DVD last fall. It covers the whole of McCartney's solo career, from "Maybe I'm Amazed" in 1970 to "Fine Line" in 2005, and it is by turns witty, clunky, imaginative, overly literal, evocative-- and always, always charming. Charm is one of McCartney's best assets, as both a musician and a public personality, and it's one that's occasionally caused him to get a bum rap from hipster quarters. It serves him well here, though-- these are mini-films as much as music videos, and McCartney's game attitude anchors and slyly comments on the hokey narratives and overly effects-driven visuals that sometimes surround him. He really is a very natural performer, and the cumulative effect of the videos is to make me wish someone would cast him in a film (preferably against type, where that charm could be deployed in a more ironic fashion, like Cary Grant's sometimes was).

HIghlights of the package include a video for "Band On The Run" that uses Pop Art animation and Beatles imagery to transform the song into a quasi-autobiographical tale of escaping from Liverpool to America; "Say Say Say," his collaboration with Michael Jackson that in video form becomes a story about two con men on the run; and 1997's "Beautiful Night," full of layered B&W imagery whose liquid textures transform the scenes of domestic bliss into something much more unstable and ambivalent. You might imagine the best videos go with the best songs, but that's not always the case. "My Brave Face," the superbly bouncy lead single from 1989's Flowers In the Dirt, is saddled with a lame, jokey film that tells a tale of obsessive fandom that's completely at odds with the song's ironic take on marital woe; on the other hand, a lame disco retread like "Goodnight Tonight" has a wonderfully strange video whose sepia tones, scratched film stock and grubby Weimar setting are a striking juxtaposition to the mocern, mechanical beats of the song, and set off associations with Dada and Kraftwerk that might that I never would've thought of otherwise.

My favorite video on the collection, though, might be 1980's "Coming Up," from McCartney II. Paul played every instrument on the record, so the video must create a "band" by reproducing multiple McCartneys on guitars, bass, drums, etc. (Linda appears on backing vocals). The bright Technicolor look matches the song's synthesized drumbeats, and the McCartney clones allow the musician to show and parody multiple sides of his public persona: boyish frontman with the mic, "serious musician" on keyboards (complete with imperious John Cleese mustache), Buddy Holly fanatic on guitar, and strangely familiar moptop with bowl haircut and Hofner guitar on bass. As this moptop sings along, he rocks back and forth, shakes his head with gusto, and shouts his "woo!" with a near-maniacal glee, utterly oblivious to how silly he looks. It's Dana Carvey's Paul McCartney impersonation a decade before it debuted on SNL, except it's even funnier because it's being done to a fine point by the star himself.


Popular Posts