DVD collections have celebrated the music video work of Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Mark Romanek and the like, but there is one essential name missing from the roster: Russell Mulcahy. Best known to cult film fanatics as the man behind the Highlander movies (and the newest Resident Evil film, a sad illustration of his current career arc), this Australian director is perhaps the most influential music video director of all time. Why? Because he practically pioneered the form - or should I say pioneered the form of the cheesy 80s video.
In his early career, Mulcahy worked with edgy pop acts like The Tubes (where he first gained notoriety producing their Grammy nominated long form video), XTC, the Vapors, the Human League, even the Stranglers (pictured, as moody pastors in "Duchess" - a harbinger of disturbing video imagery to come). However, his most famous early work is the over-played non-hit "Video Killed the Radio Star", which explored every available video effect of 1979, but is mostly known for being the first video MTV ever played.
Mulcahy's everything and the kitchen sink style came to help popularize the "new wave" aesthetic, and soon he was co-opted by the mainstream to do many of the defining videos of the decade. His iconic (and insanely gay) video for Elton John's "I'm Still Standing" spearheaded an 80s Elton comeback, and he also directed such burned-in-your-retina videos as Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf" (as well as most of their early videos), Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes", Spandau Ballet's "True", Rod Stewart's "Young Turks", Billy Joel's "Allentown", Fleetwood Mac's "Gypsy", and in a more scandalous move, Berlin's "Sex (I'm a...)". And many more: here's the complete list.
But his absolute masterpiece has to be Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart", which I have often cited as being perhaps the greatest music video of all time (I don't care what anybody else says). Imagine taking every hair-brained idea that pops into your head, mixing them in a blender, and pouring them into a boy's preparatory school. Then put Bonnie Tyler in a slinky milf dress and highlight Jim Steinman's bombastic production with plenty of slow-mo effects. The end result is truly a work of art.
For a rambling interpretation of this video, follow the jump.
As promised, here is a wonderfully belabored interpretation of the song and the video, as reprinted from a comment on Songfacts.com. This reads like it was written perhaps for a community college Intro to Essay class, which makes it all the more awesome...
The Moral Battle That Rages In Bonnie Tyler's 'A Total Eclipse of The Heart'
Russell Mulcahy's surreal or bizarre interpretation and adaptation of Bonnie Tyler's 'A Total Eclipse Of The Heart' video has been noted to have nothing to do with the song's original lyrics and is meant to stand alone as its own story. Though the video may appear at first glance to have nothing to do with the written lyrics, in fact Mulcahy has taken Jim Stienman's lyrics and has interpreted and enhanced them by creating a controversial and thought provoking subtext to the original lyrics through themes and images of what is morally right and wrong and the constant battle between them. These themes and images are produced through the representation of light versus darkness, religious images or symbols, and the sexual tension resonating within those religious images or symbols.
In Stienman's original lyrics, he appears to use many symbols through the representation of light and dark. In regards to light, there are many references to 'bright eyes'. The repetition of these two words within the lyrics can be found at the end of each verse (pg. 39 ln. 9, 11, 21, 23 pg 40 ln. 56, 58) and at the end of each chorus (pg. 40 ln. 46-47, 83-84). The repetition of 'bright eyes' throughout the song and within the last three lines especially, confirms the significance and power of these words in the song. Another direct reference to light that Stienman also uses is the phrase 'light in my life' in each chorus, lines forty-two and seventy-seven. Though it is not repeated as much as 'bright eyes' in the song, the fact that it is repeated only twice, only in the chorus, and being the only phrase in which the song that contains the word 'light', renders it to be heavily weighted and important to the symbolism in the song. The word and phrase stand out when read or heard despite that it is only used twice in the song's entirety. In terms of symbols relating to darkness within the lyrics, Stienman appears to place a heavier focus on these symbols, including taking the symbols of light and casting them into darkness. He uses repetition with words like, 'tonight' and phrases including, 'a shadow on me', 'I'm always in the dark', and 'love in the dark' as well as 'A total eclipse' used twice in each chorus and within the title of the song. These words and phrases are used similarly to how the ones resembling light are used, giving them the same relevance and importance through repetition. In addition to the phrase, 'light in my life', it is preceded by the words 'there was', referring to a state of absence. An absence in which the light from his bright eyes and therefore her life, is now without light and cast into darkness. Similarly with the lines containing the words 'bright eyes', these two words always appear to be preceding 'turn around'. The words 'turn around' are then interpreted as addressing the one who has the bright eyes, so the one with the bright eyes is being asked to turn around, thus implying that the brightness and light that these eyes cast are now diminished by turning around, thus also casting the persona requesting them into darkness. Each verse of the original lyrics is also accompanied by every other line starting with 'turn around', which creates a greater sense of pleading for the light to come back into her life. It appears that she is faced with a battle of longing for something or someone she used to have and is not able to get away from the emotional torment of wanting what is lost. This emotional battle can be expressed through Stienman's constant use of light and dark. This conflict between light and darkness within the lyrics are shaped through the persona's fight of once having light, now being shrouded in darkness and seeking that light again. Mulcahy's interpretation of Stienman's lyrics into a video, takes the symbols of light versus darkness Stienman has created and adapts them, even enhances them, to create a deeper interpretation of the original lyrics. Mulcahy takes the reference to 'bright eyes' and the importance it has within the lyrics and produces the images of young schoolboys and a young Catholic boys choir as having these 'bright eyes' (0:43-0:45, 3:27-3:38, 5:10). Based on the reading of the lyrics and the interpretation of the video, the person with the bright eyes is the one the persona of the song is in love with and is longing for, therefore, it is then assumed the one or ones she is longing for are the young school boys. Mulcahy also demonstrates and interprets the phrase, 'there was light in my life' through the use of light versus darkness throughout the video. He has the interpretation taking place at night, in the dark. He also experiments with the use of the light that emanates from each of the rooms Bonnie Tyler's persona looks into. Each room portrays a boy as one of her desires. They are presented to the viewer in desirable ways, wherein their shirts are open, clad in Speedos and drenched with water (0:53-1:12). The light from each room casts a glow from these desirable images into the dark hallway Tyler's persona is descending. This image provokes the similar interpretation of the phrase 'there was light in my life' as reading only the lyrics themselves; Tyler's persona is walking in darkness and the light from the boys she fantasizes about are shedding light into her darkness.
Mulcahy also deliberately addresses the battle between light and darkness as a symbol of the battle the persona of the song is struggling over within the lyrics, by using images of battle. He presents the viewer with images of black ninjas (1:15-1:19), white clad fencers fencing (1:34, 1:44, 1:50), and foot ball players in formation, as they would be at the line of scrimmage (1:40, 2:15). All of these images are shown and presented at night and in the dark, but are also lit by the light of the moon, displaying a very drastic example of light and darkness. Each image is also an example in which there is fighting or a battle to be had. Black ninjas are century old warriors that were mainly hired for espionage and assassination, fencing is a sport in which attacking and defence are done with a light sword, and the line of scrimmage is where each football team lines up to begin battle over the ball (they line up similarly to how soldiers used to line up in times of war for battle). These images have a direct link to the original lyrics and the interpretation of them into a video as a whole, wherein the persona is struggling with the battle between what is morally right and wrong. There are also the simple images and symbols that Mulcahy uses to represent the battle between light and darkness, such as the colours of black and white. Bonnie Tyler taking on the persona of the song, is seen throughout the video garbed in a white dress, there are black ninjas, white fencers; the outfits the choir boys are wearing are both black and white; as well, the boys ascending the staircase are wearing black sunglasses, jackets and pants. He continues to use images such as those mentioned above, during the course of the video; these images are merely a few examples to highlight his agenda and attention to detail in reproducing the symbols Stienman illustrates in the original lyrics of light versus darkness. It is these symbols that Stienman created and Mulcahy has enhanced through his interpretation of the original lyrics that represent the emotional struggle and personal battle the persona is fighting within her.
Stienman also constructs images and symbols of a religious nature within the lyrics as well. The title of the song, 'A Total Eclipse of the Heart', which is also repeated twice in each chorus is a direct reference to a form of a religious aspect and by having the title being of a religious nature, makes the entire song one to be addressed or examined with religious thought. 'A total eclipse' is defined as 'the total surface of a celestial or 'heavenly' body is obscured by or into darkness' (OED). There is an interpretation of these lyrics that is ripe with religious symbolism, and it is that the persona of the lyrics could be that of Mary Magdalene speaking about or to Jesus. This is definitely a topic that needs deeper exploration and research, but upon first examination could be deemed very relevant to this particular discussion. In the first and second verses of the song, Mary could be addressing her feelings about her sins and her feelings towards Jesus. Jesus could be seen as the 'bright eyes' and she is longing to have his 'light' and love in her life. The third stanza, that is not included in the recording of the song, could definitely be applied to Mary's thoughts about Jesus in terms of her thinking he never really had a childhood like any other boy, due to his responsibilities and acknowledgement of being the Son of God. In conjunction, Jesus was the only one who accepted her despite her sins, forgave her and 'saw her the way that she (truly) was' (ln. 49). She then proceeds with the statement that there was 'no one in the universe as wondrous and as magical as you' (ln. 53), addressing Jesus' miracles and that she believed he was truly the Son of God. She then also states 'there is nothing she wouldn't do'(ln. 55) for him, reinforcing her devotion to Jesus, his teachings and way of life. The chorus could be seen as her confession of romantic love and desire that she feels for Jesus and in her moment of need is pleading for him to feel the way she does, even though she is knowledgeable to the fact that he cannot. This interpretation also seems to follow similar conventions about her internal struggle of her desires and romantic love for Jesus and wanting that love reciprocated, yet at the same time also knowing that it can never be and also wanting to follow and be saved by him. So, perhaps Mulcahy has similar ideas or interpretations when examining the original lyrics and applies them to his adaptation of the lyrics into his video. The moral issue that develops within the reading of the lyrics of the persona as Mary Magdalene addressing Jesus gives fuel for him to create a modern moral issue for the persona of the song to be coping with (an older woman or teacher desiring a young adolescent or student) and in turn uses religious images to keep in stride with the moral issues and battle the persona of Mary Magdalene would be dealing with. To coincide with the religious reading of the lyrics is the sexual tension expressed in the chorus. The sexual tension is applied to Mary's inner desires to have romantic relations with Jesus, but is also aware of how wrong it would be, equalling the conflict of the persona in the video, modern day reading, or non religious reading (39 ln. 25-47, 40 ln. 60-85). The lyrics convey a deep yearning and want by the persona. With lines and words like, 'I get a little bit restless and I dream of something wild' I get a little bit helpless and I'm lying like a child in your arms''(39), along with a music shift at the chorus, the lyrics become more aggressive, physical, and almost heated. Suggestive words like, 'need', 'tonight', 'hold', and 'forever' repeated throughout the chorus' also suggests a strong emphasis, which produces a feeling of urgency, want, and desire. All of these traits of feelings and emotions are what build the sexual tension.
The religious images or symbols and sexual tension represented in the lyrics are reciprocated in the video rendition as well. Mulcahy tends to make these themes a strong focus in his adaptation, so much so that they overlap and work together, sometimes as one. For discussion purposes, the religious images and sexual tension displayed in the lyrics that are portrayed in the video will be discussed as one. In reference to the uniforms that the young boys are wearing, while many private schools for young children and adolescents require their attendants to wear uniforms, it is also a requirement of students attending Catholic schools. In addition to this interpretation of the boys in uniform attending a Catholic school, are the images of the boys in choir robes (3:27-3:30). Mulcahy manipulates the religious image of these young boys as the subjects of the persona's desire and has in turn also made them appear very sexual. In scenes 0:56-0:57 and 3:49 of the music video, the boys in uniform are dishevelled and seen as sexually desirable because of their open shirts and bare chests. The first instance where these desirable and sexual young men are viewed, as mentioned above, is the line where the persona states, ''and I dream of something wild'(39 ln.14, 0:54-0:56). The way these young boys are presented to the viewer alludes to the fact that the persona finds these boys sexually desirable. Among all the images, Mulcahy has the persona of the song confronted with as she roams the dark hallways, a scene of five boys at a dinner table, wherein four of the boys at the table raise their glasses in a toast to the boy at the head of the table (1:23-1:27). This image of the five boys could be seen as a representation of The Last Supper. With reference to the depiction of sexual tension within this religious symbol is the final shot of the sequence, which also occurs at the climax of the music, just before the chorus. The image is that of a forceful clashing together of two of the glasses the boys were holding, in a toast that causes the liquid within the glasses to overflow and spill out, creating an image closely resembling that of the motions of an orgasm (1:29-1:30). This sequence of images of The Last Supper is also later shown in chaos. There are three shots in the video where the same boys toasting at the dinner table, are seen in chaos, destroying the dinner scene by tearing it apart (3:07, 3:11, 3:17). These disruptive and chaotic images correlate to the persona's inner struggle and battle presented throughout both the original lyrics and video adaptation.
With the introduction of there being three shots of a chaotic Last Supper, Mulcahy uses the symbol of the number three throughout the entirety of the video. The number three is a powerful number and has a variety of meanings when used as a symbol, but one of the main characteristics the number three represents as a symbol is that of The Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity is a religious reference to God the Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. Mulcahy uses the number three in ordinary ways, which upon first glance of the video could be undetected or unnoticed. It is the repetition and demonstration of the number three to create a strong emphasis, which is important and worthy of examination. The opening shot of the video is of three lit windows (0:06); there are then shots of three open doors; three lights hanging from the ceiling and each contains three little lights; three white lit candles; and three empty decanters within the first thirty seconds of the video (0:18-0:31). By presenting the audience with these images of three and the symbolism the number usually evokes of The Holy Trinity, subconsciously creates a religious viewing of the video, which in turn also produces a deeper moral issue for the persona of the song, as well as adding to the struggle and battle between what is morally right and wrong. Mulcahy continues with the use of the number three and the religious symbolism in a scene where Tyler is on a balcony above a set of stairs where six boys clad all in black leather are in rows of two, therefore making the number three the predominant visual, are ascending the stairs beneath her. While the audience is shown Tyler standing on the balcony with her legs astride, they are also presented with an image of looking down on the boys who then proceed to make actions that can be interpreted as beckoning Tyler's persona to come down to them, to join them. These images make it appear as though these desirable boys are asking her to make a decent into the underworld or to give into her temptations of desire and lust for them (1:55-2:04). The scene then ends with the camera panning down, and then zooming in for a tight shot on the architecture of an arch between Tyler's open legs (2:30-2:33). What is fascinating about Mulcahy's focus on this specific architecture, is that in many Roman Catholic churches and cathedrals, this Gothic style of arches have been used and are still incorporated into modern churches today is very sexual. These types of arches were normally found in the entryway to the churches and they were designed to look like the woman's labia, due to the fact that the church was thought of to be the female component to Christ, or in other words, the 'wife of Christ' (Marin). Weather Mulcahy deliberately presents the audience with this very sexual religious symbol; it does fit in with everything else he seems to be trying to accomplish with his video adaptation. These arches are probably the most sexually charged religious images within the video and in turn add to the previous scene of temptation the boys clad in black appeared to be offering her. Thus, also putting more of an emphasis on the sexual religious images, that in turn, fuel the persona's battle between what is morally right and wrong.
Jim Stienman's original lyrics to Bonnie Tyler's 'A Total Eclipse of The Heart' are laden with symbols and themes to emphasize the persona's internal struggle of desire from something she cannot have. Russell Mulcahy takes the internal struggle of the persona and the symbols Stienman created and propels and manipulates it into a music video adaptation. He not only draws on the original lyrics, but also enhances them, turning the inner struggle of the persona into a full-fledged battle within herself of what is morally right and what is wrong. Mulcahy accomplishes this feat by drawing on the themes Stienman created; the representation of light versus darkness, religious symbols and the sexual tension those symbols emanate. Though it would appear that when the lyrics and the video are examined at first glance, would appear to have almost nothing in common, but in fact correlate on a variety of levels. Both work together to create a piece of art that challenges social boundaries and the audience as a reader and a viewer to examine the efforts of their creators to see just how they work as one to draw attention to the moral issues faced by today's society.
- Princess_ck84, North Bay, Canada