Verlaines “Hanging By Strands”

1996-the-verlaines-hanging-by-strandsSo, it turns out this video is all about Graeme Downe’s long raven tresses, which indeed are hanging by strands.

We meet Graeme Downes wandering around a bleak coastal landscape and he has a ponytail, a long raven ponytail down to his waist. I believe that everyone should experience long hair at least once in their life (I did it when I was 12-13), so I fully support Graeme in his hairstyle choice. I also note that he has opted for a floppy fringe, which will avoid him looking like Neil from the Young Ones when he wears it down.

And he does wear it down, with the long hair dramatically blowing in the sea breeze. It makes me wonder, did he grow his hair especially so it would look cool in a music video?

There’s some live footage, where the hair is all up in Graeme’s face as he leans over to the microphone. But let’s not dwell on that.

Let’s admire the romantic Graeme wandering by the sea, low ponytail flicked to the side, over the shoulder of his white shirt. He absentmindedly plays with a piece of grass, making it all seem like he’s biding time until his heroine comes along on a white horse.

The video finishes with more of the live footage. Graeme’s hair is sweaty and sticks to his face and the audience are enjoying the show. Perhaps after the show he’ll break out the Pantene and return to the coast for a natural blow-dry.

Best bit: the zoom-out showing Graeme alone on the barren coast.

Note: Check out the header graphic before the video starts – it shows the video came from the New Zealand Music Video Awards. They were an annual competition in the ’90s, honouring the best of New Zealand music videos.

Director: Jason Kerr
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… a wander down K Road.

The Verlaines “Mission of Love”

At the end of this video, there’s a clip with James Coleman interviewing Karyn Hay about the video. She explains that the Verlaines’ American record label weren’t happy with the video because it didn’t contain enough “pop-star lip-synching”.

And indeed it’s a very non-commercial video. Despite being a lively pop song, the video goes for quite an abstract treatment. The video starts off seeming like a standard pop road video, with footage of rural New Zealand. But it’s shot in grainy black and white, with bleak scenes of lifestyle blocks. Even a trip to the beach in a bang-up old Valiant is stark, not sunny.

Later there’s colour footage of the back backstage at a gig, but it’s blurry and dimly lit. Hey, let’s throw in some kaleidoscope effects to make it even less pop.

But it’s not all bleak. Suddenly and unexpectedly there’s a drive-by on a field full of cherry trees, bursting with their brilliant pink blossoms. This leads to a live performance at the Glue Pot, where the band play to an almost empty pub, with a lone dancer grooving under a strategically placed pink spotlight.

So if you look at it in pop terms, yeah, it’s not a great pop video. But it is a great pop song with a cool video that has plenty of humour lurking within.

Best bit: The seven seconds of actual lip-syncing.

Note: keep watching after the video for the chat with director Karyn Hay.

Director: Karyn Hay
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… call waiting.

Verlaines “Tremble”

According to Wikipedia, Graeme Downes co-wrote this song with Robert Smith of the Cure. Yeah, I’ll buy that. That song has a great pop sound and does all sorts of clever musical things. But, hey, I’m here for the video.

It’s set in an unusual world, the sort of crazy place that only appears in music videos. A bird cage rotates. A grey-eyed woman gazes at the camera. A tiny figurine of Cinderella and Prince Charming dances around a table top. Ventriloquist’s dummies stare. But being as emerged in the symbol-laden world of music videos as I am, this kind of world feels pretty normal.

But my favourite video star is the elegantly dressed woman who runs into the arms of her sweetie and we discover he has a totally bandaged head. Unable to really look into his eyes, she turns to the camera as if to say, “Yes, I’m going out with a bandage-faced man. We are deeply in love. Are you shocked?”

The woman does a lot of running, either to or away from her mummified lover. She runs into a space with lots of eyes painted on the walls. Surely a cruel prank with her boyfriend’s optical disability.

While all this randomness is happening, the Verlaines are in their their own surreal world. They’re found in a black wasteland, with a dark tree in front of a dark blue sky. It’s all in a studio, which gives the setting even more of a surreal flavour.

It’s a strange experience watching this old video. I’ve previously been immersed in the higher-tech world of the late ’90s, where it started to be possible to make a pretty good looking video on a budget. So compared to that period, this old Verlaines video looks a little cheap and clunky. But then being over 20 years old, perhaps it’s time to appreciate it in a new light. Yah, so retro.

Best bit: the freaky smoking mannequin dude.

Director: Toby Parkinson
Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Next… February 1992: getting dangerous.