Thursday, January 20, 2011

Video Affects - Irene Cara 'Flashdance ..What a Feeling' (April 1983)

"She makes me feel kinda funny, like when we used to climb the rope in gym class." Garth Agar,Wayne's World

I am twelve and my life is entering the turmoil of adult change. Oh yes, on the inside it's all bubbles, toils and trouble. Thankfully, on the outside things are a little more calm. The nights are drawing in, and my brother and I have jumped on the domestic technological wave and are attending Saturday night computer club at the home of a local man who has a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. It's a wonder of technology I think, but though we'll have succeeded in hauranging our parents and will have a Spectrum of our own in our home within a year, the computer is not going to be My Thing. I enjoy the games and have a stab at graphics (Sinclair's BASIC programming is ridiculously intuitive at least), but my problem is a lack of patience and my brain. It's simply not a mathematical one, and is more of your frustrating right-side model. This means, though, that music videos have a profound effect on me. The Human League have released in this same month '(Keep Feeling) Fascination', a brassy continuation of their ascent into pop from those brief and early industrial singles I'd discover years later (I still like Being Boiled!) So for the League it's a move away from the sequenced programming of their early sound and into something more organic and, well, human. The video's good too. Of course it's nothing on Irene Cara's second movie tie-in (her first being for Fame of course.)

Cara's video heroine spends almost the first minute of the video cycling through her industrial city home, back to camera or in silhouette before the camera closes in on a figure welding (or not), androgynous until her industrial mask is raised and there she is - Jennifer Beals in all her striking beauty. It's an easy trick in retrospect, and as much-used as this video has been lampooned in future videos and ads, but it surprised me at the time, as assured as the rest of the piece in its smooth movie-style editing, not greatly different (intentionally so) from the movie it's welded to.

The editing is slick here - the use of a body double for Beals' dance scenes seems so much more obvious to me now, but it's still a stylish package (though Michael Sembello's follow-up soundtrack single Maniac boasts a video that with a smaller source tape cuts and fetishises its subject to an even more surgical degree). To the uncoordinated, the physically awkward or untested - the young adolescent in other words, it's an intimidating spectacle. I felt much the same way seeing (ahem) 'Kevin Bacon's assured floorwork in Footloose - surely also the work of a more athletic double, but that's the illusion of movies, and it fooled and beguiled me. Once I worked out that the disciplined world of dance and movement were as much for me as Human League's early digitised, robotic anthems, as reliant on a small, precise sequential actions as computer programming or music video editing, the writing was on the wall. I stuck with the breakdancing meetings to third form, and that was it shortly afterward. I remember my heart sinking as I read a quote from Sting once: "music is simple, really. It's just mathematics."

There's artiface behind all art. The audience is only hoodwinked when it's made to look easy.

GAZ: It's Flashdance. She's a welder, isn't she?
DAVE: A welder? I hope she dances better than she welds. Look at that. Her mix is all to cock.
GAZ: What the fuck do you know about welding, any road?
DAVE: More than some chuffing woman. It's like Bonfire Night.That's too much acetylene. Them joints won't hold fuck all.
(The Full Monty)


  1. Now I seem to remember a comment by a touring NZSO percussionist (whose name eludes me but he used to tour schools until his wrist was injured on an Air NZ flight(?)) saying that the dums on the dance track in the film had to be adjusted to allow for the choreography...
    ... or something...

  2. That'd be Gary Brain. Legendary guy up until the overhead locker incident.

    Interesting anecdote though - these days of course you'd use a different digital whizzery to just manipulate the playback speed to match the beat - if you wanted to - or do quite the reverse. It's so much more flexible now with those computers in charge.

    One of several bits I had to leave out of the above: I remember even at the time of la Beal's great leap in her (body double's!) audition piece: there's no way she had enough floorspace between her and the panel's deskfronts to succesfully pull that move off!