Music videos are so 80s/90s, right? They belong with the era when MTV screened wall-to-wall vids instead of 'reality' TV? Try telling that to the millions who bought Gangnam Style; were they really simply loving the music? 1.6bn (and still climbing) have viewed the video on YT, not to mention the many re-makes (school eg, eg2), viral ads + celeb link-ups (even political protest in Seoul) - and it doesn't matter how legit it is, this nightmare for daydream Beliebers is making a lot of money, even from the parodies + dislikes. All this for a simple dance track that wouldn't have sounded out of place in 1990 ... but had a fun vid. This meme itself was soon displaced by the Harlem Shake. Music vids even cause diseases it seems!
This blog explores every aspect of this most postmodern of media formats, including other print-based promo tools used by the industry, its fast-changing nature, + how fans/audiences create/interact. Posts are primarily written with Media students/educators in mind. Please acknowledge the blog author if using any resources from this blog - Mr Dave Burrowes

Sunday, 27 October 2013

DANCE EG: 2 Brothers on the 4th Floor (1996)

(Click pic to enlarge) These screenshots provide a sense of this act's approach

Dir: Arcade Creative, 1996.
Eurodance/Happy hardcore (Dutch).
Lyrics. Wiki. Videography (, YT Channel.

NB: Dance music is a genre I have some familiarity with, but lack a broad enough knowledge to be picking up on intertextual links with other dance vids; if you spot any, let me know via a comment below. At the end of this post I've also added a couple of pointers on how to go about blogging on a single track.

1ST SHOT contains many key characteristics of the vid
  • CGI is very evident; very sophisticated at points, fairly simplistic (intentionally low-tech/non-realism?) at others.
  • Playful, surreal and offbeat (visual at times) humour, with characters that could be in a David Lynch movie; there is no coherent narrative (beyond getting off a bus, walking, and re-boarding). Pomo playfulness, aka deconstructionism, is evident, eg revealing the daft fake moustache.
  • Interesting gender countertypes with the male a mostly decorative, passive presence; also notable that overt sexuality (clothing, framing/shot selection, dance moves) largely absent.
  • Cinematography has an Anton Corbijn feel: monochrome with occasionally oblique angles and framing. Panning and tracking are common, but vertical movement is limited, with smooth, steadicam action (and no zooms). Also signifiers of Soviet realism through lighting, framing, angle, subject choice and facial expression?
  • Editing pace isn’t frantic but still zips along, with no take more than a few seconds, and increased pace/cutting to the beat for only short periods in the track. Cross-fades are common.
  • Diegetic intro and outro.
  • Lipsynched MCU 2-shots are dominant, but there is considerable cross-cutting between these and non-lipsynched 2-shots, plus other characters and even CGI creatures and a vortex; successful in shot variety terms despite the simplicity of the setup.

1ST SHOT (see screenshot above):
Diegetic intro: ELS of bus, rapid editing (ellipsis to ensure this isn’t a slow start) + good shot variety; beach setting; narrative enigma: where is this/who’s getting off bus?; surrealism – bus on beach!; monochrome/B+W

Standard rock mode of address? Positioned in male POV...
(screenshot below) moody, enigmatic black male: shades, all-black clothing; brighter but not too objectified white, blonde (long flowing hair caught by wind) female does most of singing (mostly lipsynched): skintight white t-shirt cropped at navel, braces oddly round sides of her bust, thick (pink? light colour) lipstick + heavily made up, significantly wearing baggy trousers NOT short skirt or figure-hugging shorts. Costumed as binary opposites: he wears white trousers, black top, she white top (tho’ black jacket) and black trousers, tho’ this can also be read as their being in symbiosis.

Objectified view of women; compare with 2 Brothers vid
Its notable that overt sexuality is absent: the costume and framing are quite modest. Its worth asserting though that dance music vids in general don’t so commonly use the explicitly, casually misogynistic tropes of the rap videos that came after the likes of 50 Cent took over from politically aware acts such as Public Enemy.

You could equally compare with Welcome to the Jungle, wherein vocalist Axl Rose steps off a Greyhound bus and gawps at a passing woman, who we view simply as long legs and a short, tight skirt.
Whilst heavily made up, can we really view this as male gaze?

Pomo playfulness/deconstructionism? Corbijnesque/Lynchian?
Such surrealism would be at home in a David Lynch movie
The use of B+W and the surrealism of oddball characters and props wouldn’t be out of place in an Anton Corbijn Depeche Mode video. The mix of moodiness with understated humour – the male is positioned as decorative ‘other’ beside the dominant female singer, and keeps as taciturn as a ceremonial guard on duty … then bursts into life for his short rapping stint – can be read as deconstructing the faux-artistry of other dance videos, as well as the traditionally dominant role of male performers.

Tears of a clown given a sureally comic edge
There is further sly humour: as the lyric ‘you hold my hand’ is first sang we cut to a MCU of their hands not quite touching as they walk along, arms swung out (see cross-faded 2-shots screenshot above), and a reference to ‘need my space’ sees a fully suited-up biker stride across frame from left to right, appearing rather like an astronaut! By now, just 0:34 in, this is in David Lynch, playfully surreal, territory. Visual humour is evident again at 2:00-3 as we get a clown who starts streaming water (joke tears) from the sides of his glasses – cross-faded once more back into the standard 2-shot MCU.

The CGI is of variable complexity; the mic-bird eventually becomes an independent avatar; the detailing is kept low, seemingly not due to technical limitations but through choice, and we continue to often see relatively low-tech CGI renderings today. The vortex that comes in likewise isn’t aiming for tentpole movie realism, and the editing is once more playful, surreal and humorous: we enter this vortex through a low angled cow’s nostril!

CGI is quite complex at times, with distinct sci-fi connotations
...but also kept simpler and unrefined at others

Lipsynching, (lack of clear) Narrative + Shot variety:
We cut in + out of lipsynching; odd characters add variety too
Lipsynching is the default mode but we still frequently cut in and out of lipsynched shots with LS/2-shots of the pair walking, as when we meet our 2nd oddball character with no definite lyrical link, the woman with flowers (0:55). Lipsynched shots mostly in MCU 2-shots.
This is actually quite key; without breaking away from the lipsynching, the video would swiftly become tedious.
Is he part of the band?!
Deconstructing even simple cliches: cones replace sand castle
The use of strange characters with no apparent conceptual coherence, sometimes by walking across the frame or panning across from a 2-shot to reveal them, also ensures that the video, which is cut at a brisk but not frenetic pace, maintains interest. The section from 2:00 to 2:16 is a great example: we cut to a clown, back to 2-shots, back again to the clown with his glasses off, back to 2-shots and then pan across to see a mother and child (watering traffic cones?!). Only a few very short takes of lipsynching are included. The camera continues to pull back until an inanely grinning man is revealed g2 Brothers…?
azing straight into the camera – possibly part of the act

The risk of monotony is further undermined by adding CGI sci-fi style props; the 3D rendering of something akin to a moon buggy (see above) spins around the screen for a short period, further breaking up the basic pattern and adding more variety.
1920s/30s Soviet realist style?

panning and tracking are common, tho appear to be achieved via a steadicam rig – the action is very smooth with limited tilting, and I didn’t spot any zooms. Seemed to be fixed rather variable focus too.

The deadpan, earnest performance works well
Soviet realism? This is Eurodance after all. The sequence of shots around 1:09-14 carry connotations of the style seen through 1920s/30s Soviet film: dark foreboding skyline and ominous low angles plus the hairstyle of the ‘flower woman’, and the sombre expression, all reinforce this reading.

Variation of pace:
This is actually fairly limited.

The playful surrealism is a consistent feature
Variation from dominant MCU 2-shot; CGI evident, as above
It is at the point of the 'flower woman' that we come to the track’s ‘drop’, where the relatively placid, slow beat shifts up several gears into a much faster bpm rate; once more we get a cross-fade, from the slo-mo’d flowers being flung in the air to another MCU lipsynched 2-shot. The mournful, unchanging expression on ‘flower woman’, who we cut back to in a surprising long take, counters any expectation of leaping into rapid-fire editing, though there is a very brief four shot sequence of jumping between MS to MCU/CU cut to the beat at 1:22-4. We get another brief cut-to-the-beat four shot sequence when a clown appears in MS (1:30-34), including one sideways shot.

(More on) Shot Variety:
A literal example of deconstructionism
The track itself finally offers up some variety around 2:40 as the silent male begins to rap. This is skilfully managed, with the 3D renderings morphing into a microphone which descends; variety is provided by changing the 2-shot to one with a particularly silly pirate/naval dandy missing half his fake moustache and with the goatee beard misplaced to one side of the chin, the wilful deconstructionism continued when we shortly see another unpeel and replace his fake moustache. The dated but still impressive CGI continues with the mic morphing into a robo-bird, while the shot variety also continues with tightly-framed CU 2-shots.

Poking fun at the cheesy image of Eurodance perhaps?
The consideration given to shot variety and thus retaining audience interest/entertainment is observable in another simple, but crucial example – yet another 2-shot around 310 gradually reveals a man with a cow; by 315 we cut to a dutch low angle of the cow’s mouth, with the farmer just in frame above.


We enter the vortex through the cow's nostril...

The final shot:
Given all the preceding quirkiness and surrealism, it’s a little disappointing that the ending is a simple fade-to-black from an ELS of the bus.

Such techno-imagery as the vortex remains common?

Screenshots are the key. Moreover, renaming screenshots as you go is key. I number these and rename them to denote what I might want to say, without going completely overboard on file names.

I also make notes in Word (or pen/paper) as i go, rather than try to blog as I view. If you're blogging as you're viewing you're not taking the time to consider what the key points, themes or conventions are, and your analysis will be necessarily shallow. I haven't with this post, but its not a bad idea to highlight specific technical terms like this for example.

I don't always stick to this, as I run so many blogs, but it is a good idea to settle on font, colour, size and other elements for headings, quotes, sub-headings, bullets, technical terms - and stick to these across your blog (a style guide).

Copy/pasting a heading and 1 line of text saves you from having to remember and repeat formatting steps over and over again.

In this case I've gone into considerable detail - so I felt it vital to provide a summary. If blogging as a student, more specifically this could be 'KEY POINTS I/WE CAN USE' as much as an overall summary.

I carried out brief research into this, skimming through the lyrics (which I've made some references to; you can't really claim to grasp any video without some consideration of the lyrics, and the relationship between these and the visuals/editing), Wiki, a page of other vids by the act, etc. That was just 2 simple google searches, resulting in these tabs:
All the tabs I needed to complete this post

Here's a screenshot of the folder with my screenshots and other images used; I didn't use (nor did I intend to) all the screenshots, but I took enough to make it easy to recall key points I wanted to raise. Numbering made it easy to remember how these were sequenced - with some I specifically noted the track timing so I can immediately find it should I want to look at it again or maybe use a sequence within a vodcast. For one GnR screenshot I kept the YT timing visible.
21 screenshots, carefully renamed; I didn't seek to cram them all in. Some shots from other websites/vids were useful too

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