Last Akerlund post for now, I promise

So, my last few posts were heavily Jonas Akerlund-related. I thought that was the end of it, and then lo and behold the new Lady Gaga/Beyonce video is released a day later, directed by none other than Mr Akerlund himself, as a follow-up to the vid for Paparazzi. And it’s fantastic! I’m hard-pressed to say whether I prefer this one or Paparazzi, and although I would probably side with Paparazzi, this one’s rather cool:
There’s loads to talk about (don’t believe me? click here and here and here), and y’all know by now I love nothing more than geeking out over film theory (which TOTALLY includes music videos), so here are some thoughts…
Auteur Theory

There is lots and lots to say about this video that ties in with auteur theory, but I am aware that most of my readers do not have a film studies background, so I’ll sum it up pretty quickly:
– An area of research originating in the 60s focussing on the director’s creative vision. Certain directors, it was/is claimed, rise far above average metteurs-en-scene to let their distinctive voices shine through. Alexandre Astruc wrote about the concept of the camera-stylo, asserting that film directors can and should use their cameras in much the same way as a writer or poet uses his or her pen.
– In order to be considered an auteur, a director must fulfil the following: a) have a high level of technical competence, b) have a distinctive stylistic voice (in terms of editing, cinematography, sound design and other elements of the general “look” of the film) and c) have a coherent world-view in terms of subject matter (ie. deal with a consistent range of themes across their work).
There has been loads of debate as to whether a director can fully be considered an auteur because filmmaking is such a collaborative business – unless a production is super-super small-scale, it is rare to find one person doing the camerawork, cinematography, direction, producing, editing etc. Oftentimes filmmakers will work with the same artists in certain realms of their production – for instance, Jean-Pierre Jeunet employs Darius Khondji as his cinematographer on all of his films; Quentin Tarantino frequently works with Sally Menke in the editing of his films; Thelma Schoonmaker has been editing Scorcese’s stuff for about the past thirty years. So is Scorcese the author or does Schoonmaker’s involvement negate this? So the debate goes.
I don’t think the collaborative nature of filmmaking has to necessarily problematise the integrity of a filmmaker’s “auteur” status – you can argue that they are simply making use of the best resources at their disposal – eg. an artist using the best quality oil paints to acheieve the desired effect.
Which leads us to Gaga and Akerlund. Here I see a really interesting process wherein both are dependent upon the other as raw material for their artistic output. Akerlund would not have been able to make that film without Lady Gaga (or her ideas – I see she has writing credits). She is part of the raw materials he uses to create these work of art, and so cannot be solely considered the author. And vice-versa – Gaga relies upon Akerlund in this instance to produce these amazing videos for her and thus contribute to her persona. So we have this sort of dual-authorship going on, where both are authors of their own products (for Akerlund this is the video, for Gaga it is her persona).
Many people have so far commented on the fact that the video is in many ways a blatant homage to the films of Quentin Tarantino (particularly Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill). This adds another really interesting dimension to the question of film authorship. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Tarantino is a very clear example of auteur theory – even people with no interest in film studies will be able to list a whole host of things that characterise Tarantino’s film style (eg. strong female characters, use of retro music, interesting camera work, focus on crime as subject matter, pilfering ideas from a multitude of genres etc). Now, many have questioned Tarantino’s auteur status on the basis that he blatantly homages/steals ideas from other directors – his whole opus is pastiche after pastiche after pastiche of his favourite films. To me, the idea that this would problematise his ability to claim authorship is patently ridiculous, firstly because artists have stolen from other artists since the dawn of time (eg. Debussy stole from Beethoven who stole from Mozart who stole from Bach and so on), secondly because Tarantino wears them on his sleeve and makes no pretense that he took those ideas from anywhere other than where they came from, and thirdly because Tarantino takes his influences and inspirations and so clearly makes them his own.
I’m sure plenty of people have attempted to pastiche Tarantino before, but I personally have never seen it done with such aplomb as in this video. What is interesting is that you can see the Tarantino references very clearly, but this is also VERY clearly an Akerlund film and bears his authorial stamp left, right and centre.
As an aside, incase you are wondering what I consider to be Akerlund’s authorial stamp, some suggestions I would make are: heavy use of jump-cutting, focus on the seedier undercurrents of humanity, ironic/goofy sound effects, understated opening before getting into the real visual meat ‘n’ potatoes(see also Paparazzi and Spun), the ‘police tape’ parts (think of the dead housemaids in Paparazzi), heavy stylisation and general visual diarrhoea – which I mean in the most complimentary way possible. Also, the “Let’s Make a Sandwich”/poison part is in a style very similar to the following video used to advertise Spun, Akerlund’s only feature-length film:

Feminist Film Theory
Again, lots to be said here, and lots of background to give. For the main concept, however, Dinasaur Comics said it better than I could:
So a lot of feminist film theory is predicated upon this notion of “the gaze”, which is explained by our friend T-Rex above. But what I want to talk about is the gaze within the video. You see, Mulvey (I think anyway) not only wrote about the male gaze through how the camera is situated, but also the male gaze within film itself, where even the male characters are portrayed as being the active gazers. This is problematic because this means not only are male viewers participating in active gazing over the passive female body, but the male viewer is identifying with the male characters onscreen who are also participating in active gazing – a double whammy of gaze-perpetuation. Now, what’s interesting to me is that Telephone is one of two collaborations between Lady Gaga and Beyonce – the other one being Video Phone. What struck me when watching the video for Video Phone was how unbelievably blatant an illustration of the double male gaze it was – not only are Gaga and Beyonce dressed up all skimpy for the male viewers, but the men in the video literally have cameras for their heads as they look Beyonce up and down: 

What’s interesting in Telephone is that here (at around 5:40) we have Gaga operating the cinematic apparatus – she’s the one gazing at Beyonce and taking pictures of her. It would be interesting, if I had the time, to analyse whether this has anything to do with the numerous references to ‘strong-woman’ films – eg. Kill Bill, Thelma and Louise (at the end), and possibly Natural Born Killers (for some reason the dance scene at the diner reminds me of the opening sequence where Juliette Lewis’ character dances to the jukebox in a crop-top before kicking ass to L7’s Shitlist. But, guess what? I don’t. In either case, there’s plenty to think about, feel free to add your own thoughts in comments.
You’ll probably notice that at the end of the video it says “To Be Continued…” – which, I assume, means another Gaga-Akerlund collaboration. Looking forward to it!

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4 responses

  1. Okay, that was worth slowing down for and reading more closely. I’m intrigued by a sense of “originality through synthesis.” I do think that the way things get put together represents a valid intellectual signature. I also appreciate how you’ve put together the characteristic elements.

    “The gaze” is an interesting concept. Will have to muse more.

  2. Pingback: On hiatus til October « head into the heavens

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