September 02, 2005

Wake Me Up When this Video Ends

I kind of miss the days when Green Day were singing about masturbation instead of doing it, but for that mandatory protest record in every band's discography, "American Idiot" is, you don't need me telling you, pretty remarkable. But the 7-minute video for the album's fourth single, "Wake Me Up When September Ends" (which recently made ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY's "Must List")? Gimme a fucking break.

As "Wake Me Up When September Ends" is a song not about 9/11, but about the death of singer Billy Joe Armstrong's father, director Samuel "Smells Like Teen Spirit" Bayer deserves a certain amount of credit for daring to dismiss artist intentionality. But seizing on the topical associations of the title strikes me as no less knee-jerk or jejune than asking Alanis "Who oughta know?". The piece, super-pretentiously shot in 'scope, opens exactly like In the Bedroom, with It Boy Jamie Bell and It Girl Evan Rachel Wood (a star, sure, but one with insufferable taste in material) nuzzling in the middle of an open field. They buy French fries (freedom fries?) and consume them in slow-motion, make out in a dingy rec room, play video games, and make out some more. She force-feeds him birthday cake in slow-motion and he spits some back in slow-motion, at which point she bitchslaps him for joining the military. Histrionics ensue. Cut to Green Day performing a few bars in an incongruously glam mise-en-scène.

Then the video becomes a remake of Stripes: shepherded off a bus and into a barbershop, Bell, like Bill Murray before him, inexplicably circumvents the brush-cut rule. Cue the faux-Saving Private Ryan montages, whose sophomorically-staged explosions send shockwaves through Green Day's studio, causing sparks to fly from the lighting grid above. (Dude, it's like, war totally has global repercussions.) Bell, in over his head, cowers behind a wall as Wood sits on some bleachers back home, her future evidently as uncertain as her boyfriend's. So ends the most embarrassing video with sound effects since "Hello."

Risible technique aside, Bayer's heart's in the right place, but something tells me he's preaching to the converted: despite its largely rural and thus implicitly "red state" setting, the video doesn't really seek communion outside its innate demographic, the contemporary American slacker (as opposed to Everybody's All-American), assuring him that if a tarty girlfriend and an XBox aren't sufficient, he's already lost the battle, anyway. It's an ugly, reductive piece that follows the narcissistic trend of casting international conflict as the pretext for a romantic crisis; perhaps, so we can still respect the nominally iconoclastic Green Day (when September ends), we should just chalk it up to satire.

18 comments:

Joe F said...

So ends the most embarrassing video with sound effects since "Hello."

How could you forget Michael Jackson's video for "Black Or White"? Macaulay Culkin for Godsake!

Walter_Chaw said...

Great analysis. Ever since MTV and VH1 stopped showing music videos, I haven't seen more than a dozen, I think - but the "Hello" video has gotten a semi-brilliant skewering recently courtesy Starburst. One of the finest, most disquieting commercials in a decade.

And then there's that PSA about strapping your kids into carseats that uses the theme from Ravenous oblivious, I think, to the mnemonic connection a few of us are helplessly making. "Good idea, but why do I want to eat that baby?"

The Captain said...

Embarrassing is right, though something really irritates me about the video that I can't quite put my finger on.

"It really wants to be anti-war, anti-Bush propoganda but you can't help but chalk up the 'tragedy'" of it all to being the boy-cum-soldier's fault for being such a complete dumbass as to join the army in this day and age."

Anonymous said...

Haven't seen the video yet, but all I know is that I'm sick of hearing the song "American Idiot." It's a great song, but I fear it is destined to become an overused movie trailer tune that drives me bat-shit insane, along with The Romantics' "What I Like About You," Katrina and the Waves' "Walking On Sunshine," and Natalie Cole's "This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)."

-- Ian

Bill C said...

*head-slapping* Forgot about "Black or White." 'Course, they always lop off the car-smashing sequence when they play the video in rotation.

Bill C said...

And, HA! (The Ravenous connection.) I'm still dying to see that particular PSA.

Alex Jackson said...

A link to the video.

http://www.ifilm.com/ifilmdetail/2677676

Not much more to say after Bill other than "ayup". It's pretty bad.

Not helping my response any is that I don't think that I much like Green Day's sort of music. It's certainly not as bad as like Bowling for Soup or Blink 182 but it's a creature of the same breed: ironic slacker pop and so any attempt toward sincerity on their part is sort of sabatoged from the get go.

Joe f said...

I hate you use the old cliche "I liked their earlier stuff!" but I think it holds true. The moment you take yourself to seriously the end has come.

Joef said...

Eugh...that really ought to be "I hate to use...".

Alex Jackson said...

I have to admit that their classic "Time of Your Life" is, somehow, a pretty good tune; but "Wake Me Up When September Ends" is a problem. So is "American Idiot".

Anonymous said...

Interesting that this blog has yielded the most comments so far. But who am I to talk since this is when I finally choose to come crawling out of the woodwork?

I have to say that most of my exposure to stuff like this is through mainstream media outlets, so when I thought "Wake Me Up When September Ends" was embarrassing and pretentious and it was garnering kudos from everyone else, I checked my cabinet to see if I'd been taking crazy pills instead of Zoloft. Well if I'm crazy, at least I have good company; although the scene with the X-Box was the one I most admired in the entire piece -- Billy Elliot thinks war is a game, I guess.

The video is both too long and not long enough for what it's trying to get across, but I think I probably wouldn't have cared if it wasn't shot like a movie. Whose idea was it to put Evan Rachel Wood and Jamie Bell in this music video? What purpose does that serve? The lines they're given are atrocious anyway. I can't be the only one who gets embarrassed for Wood during her "hysterical" scene (seriously). I do respect Bayer's concept, to a certain degree, but it would have worked just as fine without the blockbuster interludes, and it would have worked just as fine without two expensive actors. As popular as Green Day's been in the past, I think that American Idiot has made them into one of those cultural forces that get co-opted by Hollywood and overquoted by MySpacers (the politics of the CD certainly helped, I'm sure). Steer clear, Green Day! Steer clear!

Has anyone seen "Warning" by Green Day? Now that's a good video. "Redundant" too.

Joef said...

'Warning' was a strange one for me; I liked the video, but loathed the song. Is that even possible?

Rachel said...

I haven't seen "September" yet, but I recall real disappointment at the Killer's "All These Things That I've Done" video, after being so entranced by the track- somehow blissful and hypnotic and still, just a cheesy pop song. I can't even tell you why I don't like it, what with its stark black-and-white photography and angry buxom women and cowboys (and donkey). It just. Doesn't. Fit.

jer fairall said...

"All These Things That I've Done" is easily my favorite radio song of the last year-ish ("cheesy pop?" Hell no! Try the great follow-up single to "Common People" that Pulp themselves never managed), but yeah, the video is just goofy. There is great potential for the music video as an art form, often fully realized by Radiohead's various clips and the work of Jonze, Gondry and Cunningham, but the problem is that they are generally made for the kinds of people who watch MTV. Just like the music itself.

Anonymous said...

I have to be honest: I'm not familiar with, I think, any of Cunningham's music videos. I'm pretty sure he shot a clip for Bjork involving robots. Ditto for Gondry, except for "Walkie Talkie Man." But I think you're being even more pretentious than I'm comfortable with when you refer to guys (I'm assuming) like Spike Jonze as vanguards of the music video as an art form.

Do I love Jonze's body of work? Heck yes. And there's no denying he's been attached to two of the most innovative American films of the last several years; even though Kauffman probably deserves the lion's share of the credit, he's clearly a talented director, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he has in store for Where the Wild Things Are . But art? I guess it depends on how you define art. Care to clarify at all?

P.S. If you're at all interested, I love most of the work done by Mark Romanek and Marc Webb as well. I don't know if I would separate them from other videos -- "art" as opposed to, I don't know, music video? -- but they're consistently intriguing.

Rachel said...

"Cheesy" was probably the wrong word, or my being unfair. Don't ever get me wrong: I love the song. I was thinking of the infamous soul-but-not-a-soldier verse. It's absurd: still, brilliant.

As for the Killers, they exude so much smirk, I feel they'd hate to be taken seriously.

Anonymous said...

Green Day is not, and has never been, "ironic" in any definition of the word. And I disagree with the idea that even if they had been, it would at all damage a current attempt at sincerity.

Alex Jackson said...

"Any definition of the word" sounds pretty absolute. They aren't exactly This Mortal Coil are they?

I'm no expert on Green Day by any means, but Wake Me Up When September Ends and American Idiot seem to have a layer of detatchment to them that protects any real penetration.