For as long as the music video has been a tool of promotion, it has been used to tell a whole slew of stories as mini-movies. Indeed my earliest musical memory (often recalled for posterity) is Morten Harket trying to escape a nightmarish pencil-drawn totalitarian world in the video for A-Ha’s “Take On Me.”
Just as music video directors have often gone on to be very successful film makers (hello, David Fincher), a variety of music videos have drawn influence from specific films. This is just a short list of five of the best.
Smashing Pumpkins – “Tonight, Tonight” (Le Voyage Dans La Lune)
Billy Corgan famously decided to go big in the mid-nineties. So it is only suitable that when releasing a single to promote the huge double album sprawl of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, the video for “Tonight, Tonight” went all out in its recreation of the much loved Georges Melies silent film classic. The song’s swooning romanticism and sweeping strings are a perfect match for the visuals, and indeed Corgan himself has the kind of pale and distinctive visage that would have made him a film star back in the early twenties. A lovingly crafted and still adorable video.
Blur – “The Universal” (A Clockwork Orange)
Blur actually had form in the “movie tribute” genre, having created an incredibly accurate homage to the French arthouse litmus test that is Last Year At Marienbad with their video for “To The End.” They repeated the trick for another grandiose slow song, this time using Stanley Kubrick’s infamous classic as the source material, specifically the endlessly creepy Korovo Milk Bar in which Alex and his droogs met for social interaction. As with the first video in this list, it helps to have a lead singer that actually looks like he could have been in the original film. In this case, Damon Albarn’s uncomfortable stare is a very handy replacement for Malcolm MacDowell’s iconic Alex.
Slipknot – “Spit It Out” (The Shining)
It seems so strange now to remember a time when mainstream America suddenly decided it was ready for a nine-piece thrash metal band in shock circus masks, but Slipknot’s savvy awareness of their visual potential surely helped in accelerating them towards the top of the Billboard charts, something they managed with their brutal second album Iowa. Before that, they created this monstrous hybrid of intense live footage and a gleefully upsetting tribute to ANOTHER Stanley Kubrick film. Seeing Corey Taylor’s face peering maniacally through the smashed doorway a la Jack Nicholson is a sight to behold.
Rammstein – “Sonne” (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves)
The German metallers Rammstein have always had a sense for the theatrical, not to mention a dark and underrated sense of humor (as anyone who has seen their eye-popping live show can confirm). Both of these qualities were evident in their weird take on the Disney classic, featuring a dwarf-spanking Snow White who appears to suffer a fatal overdose. It’s a suitably morbid and kinky take on the story, made even stranger by the soaring operatic chorus of the accompanying song. I’m also not sure the dwarves would have been whistling and singing about going off to work if they were filth-covered miners during the day and slaves to Snow White in the evening.
The Lonely Island – “Jack Sparrow” (Pirates of the Caribbean / Forrest Gump / Erin Brockovich / Scarface)
This is a bit of a cheat seeing as The Lonely Island is basically a parody act, but they are a parody act with two successful albums and a handful of genuinely good tunes behind them. The height of their guest appearance surrealism came with Jack Sparrow, which is half a club song about getting with ladies, and half a tribute to movies from an apparently obsessive Michael Bolton. It is Bolton’s ability and willingness to send up his own po-faced balladeer image with such panache that gives the video its ongoing appeal. The Scarface section alone features a line that would make my mother (a real Michael Bolton fan back in the day) completely freak out if she ever heard it.