tapehead | Sunday October 10th, 2010
Welcome to the first installment of a recurring column about music videos. We will present clips that are worth watching and discussing – focusing on ‘flawed’ videos that are fascinating because of their shortcomings (and the artistic, music industry or socio cultural reasons for them). Also, Tapehead is curious about your suggestions for videos to blog about. Drop a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To start off with, here’s Papa Don’t Preach by Madonna.
Before you groan, please keep in mind that she has worked with the genre’s most significant directors: Mark Romanek, Mary Lambert, Steve Barron (although his clip for Burning Up was pretty lame), Jean-Baptiste Mondino, Chris Cunningham, Jonas Akerlund and David Fincher. In fact, Fincher’s four popular and acclaimed videos for Madonna (Express Yourself, Vogue, Oh Father, Bad Girl) certainly helped to pave the way for his feature career. Thanks, Maddy, for ‘The Social Network’.
Unfortunately, back in 1986, even though Madonna was already a megastar, she hadn’t yet established her track record of consistently in your face videos. So for every Material Girl there’s a slew of uninspired film soundtrack tie-ins and an ambitious misfire like Papa Don’t Preach. James Foley’s clip (the video is alternately credited to Foley’s pseudonym Peter Percher) illustrates and interprets the lyrics: a late teen’s internal conflict over how to deal with an unplanned pregnancy. It features Danny Aiello, soon to become a star, as Madonna’s concerned papa. Okay, then 27 year old Madonna playing someone nearly a decade younger is stretching things, but her acting and that of the supporting players is uniformly good. Script, editing and camerawork (by Michael Ballhaus) are tight. An emotionally engaging mini-movie. That is, until the first of many intrusive shots featuring an older Madonna, dancing, gyrating and lip-synching the lyrics, interrupts the story flow. Is the narrative this whirling dervish’s flashback? Seems more likely that Madonna’s label Sire/Warner Brothers didn’t have the nerve to let the narrative play out and insisted on adding a ‘packshot’ of the star. This was not uncommon practice in major label videos until well in the 1990s. Today, fortunately, videos for stars no longer heed such genre conventions and often even delight in flaunting them. (Certainly also to attract and hold music fans’ attention in the age of diminishing sales.)
BTW, the Papa Don’t Preach video also got flak for supposedly sending an irresponsible message to young girls facing unwanted pregnancies and playing into the hands of pro-lifers. To counter this criticism, the visuals on the tour that came soon after Papa Don’t Preach was released, positioned Madonna more in the pro-choice camp.