Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Story time with The Notwist - One With the Freaks

I am very interested in story. I think a good story is taut, tight, and not just a bit springy. I don't like a bunch of unnecessary scenes that don't move the story forward. The best example of this is a movie that is usually considered in the top 10 movies that glorify Confederate soldiers, The Outlaw Josey Wales. I don't want to get into it too much because I talked about it here, but the movie introduces a character, shows that he loves his family, and then kills that family all in less than 2 minutes. This is amazing. The movie Gladiator takes 45 minutes to do the same thing without really adding any information over what Wales shows. Every story should endeavor to be as much like The Outlaw Josey Wales and as little like Gladiator as possible.

I think story can make a big difference to works that don't rely entirely on story like comedies or even music videos. The show Community is so great not because the jokes are better than on other shows, but because basically all of the characters go through a story arc every episode. I've been a big fan of Community creator Dan Harmon since before the show came out (I have to say that because I am a hipster/indie rock asshole) so I want to share this wonderful episode from Channel 101: The Musical (not actually written by, but starring, Dan Harmon).

If you aren't familiar with Channel 101, I highly recommend it. I wrote about Yacht Rock here, which is an excellent Channel 101 show, but there are so many to see. I also really recommend Cautionary Tales of Swords. Sample quote: "Swords fucking kill Asians, too."

Anyways, Dan Harmon knows what he is about. He doesn't waste time with extra scenes that don't move a character's arc forward. I imagine that even if he had a show that was 3 hours long it would just either feature more characters or each character would go through more in an episode. He wouldn't just waste time. Not everyone shares his passion, though. I think a lot of people making music videos fail in this regard. Music video stories are either so big that they don't fit in the video and are too confusing or they are too short and the video just floats along and ends up a little boring.

Let's take a look at one that I think falls in the second category. It's for a song I really like. One With the Freaks by The Notwist:

The description on YouTube is "a jellyfish does some shit." That seems to be the attitude. Let's take a look.

The video is about a jellyfish. It opens with him (of course, the jellyfish is a man) washing out of the ocean.

The jellyfish stands up and appears to be able to move about on land.

This is good. There is something primordial about coming out of the ocean. Clearly the jellyfish is some sort of archetypal hero.

He goes out in search of friendship and happiness. A woman he meets is not interested in connecting and rebuffs him.

He goes out in search of friendship and happiness. A man he meets is not interested in connecting and rebuffs him by hitting him with a newspaper.

Oh wait, this scene doesn't add anything because he has already been rebuffed by the normal world. He is a freak, you see, and normal society is not interested in accepting him.

He sees a band playing on the TV and instantly senses that he would fit in with them.

He sees a poster for a The Notwist concert and for some reason assumes that the band he saw on TV was The Notwist.

The Notwist logo is just a circle, so that smiley face inside it is a sign. He will connect with the band!

He goes to where the show is.

He meets a janitor at the venue.

He explains that their policy on jellyfish is unambiguous.

By the way, doesn't this sign remind you of the excellent Channel 101 show, The 'Bu, Episode 2?

Specifically this sign that appears in a hospital:


He leaves the concert venue dejected. It's like he doesn't fit it anywhere. But that's what the opening of the video is about. We already know that he doesn't connect with people, whether they are riding skateboards or falling off of them!

He feels so alone that even his surroundings seem to turn on him.

Here a tree has a startling and frightening visage.

He feels so alone that even his surroundings seem to turn on him.

Here a trash bin slams shut as he walks past.

He feels so alone that even his surroundings seem to turn on him.

Here a mailbox grows teeth and green eyes to menace him. I think you see what is going on here. Once is enough, dudes! You only need 2 minutes for the Outlaw Josey Wales to love and lose his family! Why do we need two minutes of frightening surroundings!

It won't stop! He waits to cross the street.

The man in the poster changes to a terrifying skeleton!

Man, it's as if his surroundings are turning on him! Even The Notwist offer no solace.

It's almost as if he tried to go to their concert but was turned away because of his species. Oh wait, that did happen.

He decides to run away to the desert.

Or is that scrubland? I have no idea what scrubland is, but it's probably that.

He sees a fish's corpse and contemplates death.

Note: Since he is a jellyfish, finding a dead fish for him is more like finding a dead human would be to me.

He sees an oasis and decides to head for it.

It is hot and dry.

Did he know that the oasis was not real? Was he consciously marching to his death?

Eventually he collapses.

We are left with the similarities and differences between his wet entrance on a sandy beach and his dry exit in a sandy desert.

I'd say this story could support a good 90 seconds of video. Most bands would fill the intervening time with shots of the band performing or something. Here we just get repetition. Dan Harmon would not be pleased! Crafting story is his art. That is why he's the guy who created Laser Fart.

Join me tomorrow for Satorial Sursday when we look at the clothes of some jerk in a music video!


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