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'Bedtime Story' Pays Off : Madonna's $2-million endeavor receives the top nod for special effects that get the left brain just about right.

April 23, 1995|Chris Willman | Chris Willman's Sound & Vision appears occasionally in Calendar

This month brings what is (according to MTV) the most expensive music video ever filmed: Madonna's "Bedtime Story," a $2-million-plus affair that premiered in theaters recently as a short subject before making its cable debut.

Coincidentally enough, the month also brings what is purported to be the least expensive video ever: Mojo Nixon's "Girlfriend in a Coma," shot in one take on a store surveillance video camera, coming in at a cost, presumably, of about $3. Much as we like to root for the underdog, sometimes you do get what you pay for, and big-spender Madonna actually gets the nod over big slob Mojo in this edition of Sound & Vision, in which currently airing pop video clips are reviewed and rated on a 0-100 scale:

Madonna, "Bedtime Story." "Let's get unconscious, honey," Madonna coos in her latest album's best number, and there it's a classic lover's invitation to not let words get in the way. Here, the lure is meant literally, a motion for mutual rapid-eye-movement. Many videos aspire to re-creating dream-time, but very few directors have come as close as Mark ("Rain") Romanekin, making up a special-effects montage that gets the left brain just about right.

Our heroine is splayed out and hooked up to a space-age device that is going to read her "lucid" sleeping adventures: Visions of flying down a corridor past her childhood self; a face with mouths where the eyes should be, and vice versa; doves that fly out of a pregnant belly; flashes of a cadaver. All the birth and death allusions make the song less about romantic than collective unconsciousness, a throbbing Jung boogie. And for 4 1/2 dreamy minutes of R.E.M. TV, Kennedy and her kin couldn't be further away. 89

Nine Inch Nails, "Hurt (live)." Madonna's creepier images notwithstanding, Trent Reznor and director Simon Maxwell are responsible for the most disturbing video of the year by a country mile: all death, all decimation, all the time. And even if you're prone toward dismissing the cheap nihilism of youth, this baldly unnerving, strangely beautiful compendium of not just man's but nature's inhumanity to man has a haunting power that's hard to shake off. Bomb blasts, the forlorn faces of World War II refugees, the decomposition of a dead fox, close-ups of a snake's cold eyes and the climax's stunning image of a dive-bombing bird capturing a fish--these make clear that this universal "hurt" isn't an ow-ee that anyone's going to kiss and make go away. 84

Wax, "California." Like Pink Floyd's fiery "Wish You Were Here" album cover shot come to funny, weird, incendiary life, what we have here is your basic, suit-clad man on fire. The latest attention-getter from director Spike ("Sabotage") Jonze is a single shot, replayed in very slow motion, of the smoldering stuntman running around a Hollywood street corner, as witnessed from a little girl's car window. The nature of the gag (if there is one) is a little more obscure than some of Jonze's others: Could it be that Southern California itself is a spectator sport? 82

Elastica, "Connection." Lead singer Justine Hirschmann gives great sneer--she manages to twist her mouth up while the rest of her face remains utterly unmoved; poor Billy Idol should take lessons. What's funniest here are the shots of the three-quarters-female band surrounded by passive male nudes sitting cross-legged on the floor, which might be a parody of Jimi Hendrix's famous mass-nudie "Electric Ladyland" cover, or may just be this year's ironic girl-group fashion accouterment. 70

Mojo Nixon, "Girlfriend in a Coma." Nixon filmed (to use the word loosely) this one at an Austin record outlet, lip-syncing from the store floor for the overhead surveillance camera. He's his usual overly brash self, proclaiming himself "the anti-Morrissey" as he damages a poster of the fop-top. Unfortunately, the Smiths' original version of "Coma" was far funnier, rendering Mojo's mocking embellishment strictly gratuitous. But you have to at least appreciate the no-budget video's ultimate extension of the do-it-yourself ethos. 64

ABBA, "Dancing Queen." The use of the ABBA canon in the marvelous "Muriel's Wedding" has sent any number of un-hip movie reviewers into a tizzy over the Swedish group's "guilty pleasures," to which the logical response would be: Where's the guilt in glory? ABBA's most lusciously conceived, melodically brilliant constructions have provided great escapism for psyches more well-developed than Muriel's. But this "Queen" clip is just a perfunctory mix of film footage and vintage ABBA-video excerpts. Let's hold out for a music video of Muriel's victorious lip-sync of "Waterloo," one of the movie year's most electric scenes. 62

Elton John, "Believe." If you hadn't been told that Madonna's was the most expensive video ever made, you might guess John's was, but in this unrewardingly depressing clip, the impressive special effects don't pay off. Elton rides around Manhattan in a low-flying dirigible, witnessing nonstop, digitally superimposed images of loneliness and disconnection. "Believe in love," he pleads repeatedly in the most lugubrious possible tones, looking and sounding pretty disconnected himself. It goes over like a lead balloon. 43

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