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Music: Talk Talk, “Such a Shame”

July 4th, 2007 · No Comments · Culture, Film, Internet, iTunes, Music, New Wave, Performance, Video

It’s My LifeI found an old posting I made to the Planet-Earthlings Yahoo Group several years ago, back when the group was new and we were talking about favorite videos from the New Wave era. Most of the ones I wrote about are up on YouTube, so I figured I’d work my way through ’em till I’ve gone through the list.

Last week when I posted about Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime,” I called it one of very best music videos of that time period. Here’s another one that has a secure spot in my top half-dozen or so: “Such a Shame” by Talk Talk.

Talk Talk’s videos, starting with their 1984 It’s My Life album, are noteworthy for their experimental sensibility, in addition to an entertaining sense of whimsy and of course, great songs.

But before I get to “Such a Shame,” I should mention the much more widely seen video for “It’s My Life” — which charmed its way into people’s hearts with all that Wild Kingdom-style animal footage. And yet, what I’ve always found most compelling about it is singer Mark Hollis’s inscrutable presence: the way he sabotages the viewer’s expectations by manipulating his facial expressions to introduce unexpected changes in mood into the video. He emotes so much, and in such a capricious and discontinous way, that the effect is to mask and make unknowable whatever it is he actually is feeling.

And of course, there’s the question of exactly what all this is about. With about 95% of the music videos ever made, you don’t worry about that, because the imagery is so obviously arbitrary and random. But with this one, there’s clearly something deliberate and compelling going on. In the midst of all of this leaping, flapping, running, flying, and swimming animal life, a man stands silent and still in the middle of the zoo, with what appears to be tape sealing his mouth, and a chaotic jumble of emotions passing across his face during the course of several minutes.

To me, it succeeds according to the aesthetic terms of haiku: it’s the juxtaposition that matters, the hidden and unstated connections you sense between the overt elements of the piece.

And although at least one commenter on YouTube doesn’t like Hollis’s wink at the end of the video, I always found it to be a nicely transcendent moment: a little tip of the cards, a slip of the poker face, like a sign from a generally remote and uncommunicative god suggesting that for all its cruelty and tempestuousness, life is worth living after all.

But back to the video I’ve been leading up to. “Such a Shame” takes Talk Talk’s experimental approach even further than “It’s My Life.” Again the video is anchored by Hollis’s peculiar intensity, as the video quick-cuts between him singing the lyrics in contrasting emotional and mental states — that same unpredictable jumble of emotions we saw in “It’s My Life,” but given more time and focus — with Hollis’s expressions ranging from rage to exhilaration to misery to something approaching autistic withdrawal, all interspliced with accelerated-motion outdoor sequences that remind me of the films I used to see at Chicago’s late, lamented Experimental Film Coalition back in the 80s. At one particularly eerie point, a speeded-up Hollis approaches the camera and peers forlornly at us over his own shoulder. I always get a little chill right there.

In fact, years later, I tried to get my frequent collaborator Kurt Heintz to recreate that effect for me, in the video he shot for my spoken word piece “Talking to Myself,” which was used in my 1997 solo show of the same name; but we didn’t really succeed. Too delicate a moment to imitate: the original is just perfect.

As a side note: there are a bunch of different postings of “Such a Shame” on YouTube and I had to click through at least three of them before I found one that wasn’t too cluttered with logos and other annoying screen junk. And with “It’s My Life,” I had to go with a logo-littered version. It’s great that TV shows and cable channels and whatnot want to play these old videos; but why do they have to scrawl corporate graffiti all over them so that it’s impossible to actually enjoy watching them? (That’s a rhetorical question, of course; I know why because I read this a few years ago.)

• Both “Such a Shame” and “It’s My Life” are from the album It’s My Life — a late New Wave masterpiece, IMHO — which you can find on Amazon or download from iTunes.

Talk Talk - It's My Life



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