Much about the past is simply appalling – I, for one, will never forget what it was like when the shops used to shut at midday on Saturday. Having said that, though, there are certain things from yesteryear that I crave desperately. This then is the first of what, I hope, will be at least two columns campaigning for certain of them to be restored to their former prominence.
First of all, I want badly to see in my lifetime the return of music videos that have not only a complete narrative but feature actual scenes of dialogue. Of course, back in the day, television programs traditionally amputated these thespian-focused sections after the first time a given video was played, but at least you usually got to see and appreciate them at least once. For me, the most desirable type of music video that includes the spoken word is one that features the musicians themselves spreading their dramatic wings, which is why I’m not going to mount here a celebration of, say, Twisted Sister’s ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ video, despite the great work in it by Mark Metcalf and Jeremy Sisto, as American Beauty-style Nazi dad and browbeaten teen, respectively. Also, ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ has its tongue in its cheek anyway; I like best the videos that not only include dialogue but do so with a tone of high seriousness.
I am speaking, of course, of the kind of music video of which the prototype is Lionel Richie’s ‘Hello’. Turn down the song if you must, but I would challenge anyone not to enjoy the spoken-word sections of its video, featuring, of course, Richie pretending to be a teacher at some kind of performing arts college, who appears to be stalking one of his students. The whole thing is rendered even creepier by the fact that the young woman in question is supposed to be blind, which unavoidably brings up the issue of how she manages to apply her copious eyeliner, especially as she seems to live alone.
To me, though, the most memorable thing about ‘Hello’ is less, say, the famous finale when the stalkee presents Richie with a lantern-jawed clay sculpture of his head, than the way the video kicks off with Richie conducting some kind of acting masterclass. Here, he sets the scene for a two-hander to be acted out by his prey and a very artistic-looking (complete with fringed scarf and stubble) young man, by explaining, ‘Billy Boy’s been in prison for twenty-five years’. Having watched this prologue, you may by all means fast-forward through the video to get to the part where we return to the two-hander, with the blind girl intoning, ‘It’s not good for you, Billy Boy, too many memories, too many ghosts’ and the artistic young man chewing the scenery as he responds, ‘It’s what I know. This, and the can.’
Still, with all due credit to ‘Hello’ for its place in the pantheon, and possibly only due to my own nationalistic fervour, my personal favourite acting-enlivened music video would have to be the clip made for the US release of Icehouse’s ‘Crazy’, which showcases the greasy-ringletted Iva Davies pretending to be a radio announcer and his involvement with, seemingly, an example of the Play Misty for Me variety of female fan. The very first image is of Davies as DJ taking a slug from what appears to be a Styrofoam cup. Then, clearly reading every word from a piece of paper in front of him, he woodenly engages in some announcer patter, concluding with ‘I’m about to take one more request here on Radio Sydney’. When the female caller requests he play ‘Crazy’ for her, he looks understandably disturbed and immediately hangs up the phone. Nonetheless, he puts the single on the turntable and, without ceremony, exits the studio, which, as he seems to be the solitary member of staff, raises the question of what happened on air after the song finished playing.
Then off Davies drives to a massive country house, and strides around wearing suspenders and huge balloon pants tucked into knee-high riding boots. Steamy lovemaking and the obligatory sitting at a candlelit dining table while clad in black tie ensue. Eventually, though, Davies walks into the mysterious woman’s house, sees that it is wallpapered with pictures of himself in Icehouse, smiles enigmatically and walks out again, presumably never to return. But isn’t he supposed to be a radio announcer? Why then, is he so taken aback at seeing pictures of Icehouse everywhere? Is it that he, bizarrely, abhors her taste? Or is the problem his own arresting resemblance to Iva Davies?
On the topic of striking imagery, something else that I would like to see mount a full-scale return is nostalgia photography; that is, when you pose for a sepia print, while dressed as a person from days of yore. When I was about eight, my mother, sister and I (clearly, my father wanted no part of it) took ourselves to The Rocks and had our picture taken while posing as a family group from indeterminate olden times. With my slightly crimped blonde hair cascading over a royal-blue velvet smock that I had simply slipped on over my everyday clothes, it was a triumphant melding of The Restless Years and The Duchess of Duke Street. This experience gave me possibly my happiest day of the entirety of 1977, but, for some reason, nostalgia photography seems, ironically, almost to be a thing of the past. Few people seem to be heeding one Internet small-business start-up guide that recommends, as one of ‘99 Ways For a Photographer To Make Money’, that the fledgling professional photographer not only ‘photograph people on a fancy motorcycle’ but ‘produce 1890s type portraits for the “nostalgic crazy”’.
I am pleased to say that in this country there are still a couple of flag bearers for the art. To start with, there is Guns N Garters Old Time Photography in Mooloolaba. While their website shows the female clientele overwhelmingly choosing to dress like old-fashioned prostitutes (whether it is the Wild West or the Roaring Twenties, feather boas, fishnet stockings and leggy poses predominate) this look is by no means the only available option: ‘Perhaps you’d rather be a Classy Victorian Lady charming those Southern Gentlemen’. Even dogs are getting into the act, posing wearing bandanas, and with a pair of cowboy boots and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. Other than Guns and Garters, though, there seems only to be Olde Time Portraits in Richmond, Tasmania, where men can dress as ‘an officer of gentleman [sic]’ or ‘eager explorer’. While generally the emphasis at this establishment seems to be a little less on those who have an uneasy relationship with the law than it is at Guns N Garters, Olde Time’s website does urge that ‘A “Wanted” or “Reward” poster with a mug shot is always popular with the kids and is a great gift idea or a holiday memento of your visit to Tasmania’.
Now, while all of the above sounds great to me, I am, unfortunately, about a thousand times too lazy to go either to Mooloolaba or Richmond. Why can’t there be a business like this in Sydney or Melbourne? Let’s face it, it’s not as though the nostalgia photography studio that I went to all those years ago has been replaced by anything better. If I must go to The Rocks, I would, times a hundred and fifty million, rather get my picture taken as a ‘Classy Victorian Lady’ than do a revolting ‘Harbour Bridge Climb’. Similarly, I’d far rather watch the five-minute-plus version of the ‘Crazy’ video than I would the relatively bare-bones Australian one, in which Davies merely paces around Pyrmont power station in an ankle-length coat; paces around until a truck runs him over, that is.