Friday, September 6, 2013

The Sweetest Girl: A Photographic Review

I've taken a tonne of screenshots of the music video in a different approach to critiquing the clip, since I find it so funny and unusual.

So let's start:
They have a sort of introduction wherein they use what seems to be sign language...I guess, in case the person watching can't hear the song. But then, why watch anyway? At least they're perhaps the only band on TV at that time that announced their name to deaf people...but then you've always got the channel's listing for it already, at the beginning of the video. You know, the little titles that pop up at the corner along with the station, show or channel logo that proclaims the song title, artist(s), record company and director? Since this is the very beginning, the station's song credits would show over top the word 'Hello,' mixing it up in a confusing way.
I can't entirely put that down, really, because at least they're being somewhat creative in trying out the sign-language subtitle.
Moving on. Now there's a floating red dress, levitating directly above a staircase within a water pumping station. Apparently it's a Victorian-style setup, and it looks like it. Why is the dress there? Does the sweetest girl reside there?
It's hard to tell here, but Lee Thompson (far right) is spinning around in circles. In the scene just before this one, which is brief, you can spot two feet dangling just above the camera. This is basically the performance room/scenes, where they're playing instruments, lounging, reading a paper, etc.
This is the archer who spends three scenes raising the bow and lining up the arrow, but not doing anything. I guess he really needs precision. Or he's very anxious and has to try a few times to have the courage.
This is apparently supposed to match the album cover. At least I think so since their poses are the same. What I find interesting is the look on Mark Bedford's face (far right again). He looks like he's wondering they're even doing this. What's the point? Makes me wonder if this was the very last scene shot and they'd seen a rough cut of what they'd filmed before, and he'd been unimpressed. The look on his face very clearly says "this is stupid."
I took the liberty of (with difficulty) freeze-framing all the very fast cuts of these masked characters. Two of them are masked with the other two just have sunglasses on. They intercut the scene of the six of them above, making the whole sequence twitchy, unusual, and attention-demanding. Why cut them so fast?
This is Seamus, one of the keyboard players they recruited after Mike Barson left. I felt I needed to show this particularly since he features on their 'Uncle Sam' single cover artwork and isn't shown anywhere else in the video than here, wandering around with an accordion. Naturally Chas Smash lounges on the lip-like sofa reading The Guardian.
This is one of the more memorable scenes from the video - the massive suit. One size obviously fits all here. When the station shuts down for the night, after all the workers have gone home, these men in a giant suit lurk about, silently moving around.
I felt I should introduce these three. It's actually quite interesting that the band included some of the background players that helped out in the recording of the album in the video like these girls and Seamus. These three make up 'Afrodiziak,' a trio of female backing singers the band worked with on the album. They also worked with them earlier, particularly on their earlier single 'Michael Caine.' I guess it makes sense to really have them show up in the video considering they explicitly have an obvious line that's not entirely background vocals - 'loving it, ooh, loving it!'
Woody, eternally in the background, deserves a screenshot. He didn't record anything on the album - they used a drum machine the entire time - so he's just the human replacement for a machine for the video, which is, after all, supposed to be promoting the song and band.
This is one of the best scenes. Suggs begins touring through the pumping station - and his expression looks forced, particularly when Lee Thompson pops up and joins him. They seem to happily rock alongside each other as they sing, with Thompson obviously enjoying it while Suggs looks tolerant and just not into it. Bland, bored. Then a random red dress appears out of nowhere, apparently knocking Thompson backwards as he completely disappears from view.
I wonder what this translates to, if anything. It's a very random scene that just pops up out of nowhere.
The rest of the video continues in this similar vein, with Suggs touring away. Notice the rest of the band in the background leaning against the hand rails on the opposite side (it's difficult because they're standing behind black space behind them). It really translates well to Suggs describing a training video for new pumping station workers...
"Please refrain from riding bicycles in the station, or jumping from the guardrails." Most of the band repeats the pose of stepping up and leaning on the railing as if they intend on jumping, which doesn't make sense to me.
One of the most unusual scenes: Suggs spins a dummy around and throws it onto the floor. Then he 'becomes' the dummy on the floor, stands up and dusts himself off.
In between the scenes of the dummy/Suggs on the floor is a flash of an image of one of the other masked figures; that's what covers up any shifting between the dummy's position and Suggs when he takes its place, obviously, and it's kind of silly-looking.
The flying suits scene. Maybe they're morphing together to form the one giant suit. The red dress was the first one to zoom by.
Another memorable scene, though I find it memorable for Suggs' dancing. The woman in the red dress finally appears.
Not surprised. It actually is pretty funny when you notice Woody's head wiggling at the left.
You can tell he's in front of a green screen here, because of the odd vantage point over the stair well and the weird way his face moves. Very much like a talking head, described video for orientation and very little like a visual representation of the song 'Sweetest Girl.'
I have no idea why she felt he needed to be slapped; while Suggs sings from above, the band follow the girl up the stairs, run in the opposite direction after losing her, double-back, and meet her at the head of the stairs - where she immediately slaps Lee Thompson as he walks up to her with his arms splayed welcomingly. It looks kind of, well, weird. He looks like he's about to fall into Chas Smash behind him, who bounces backwards before the scene changes.
This is a sort of weird running gag in their last few videos: Suggs catches something or picks up something and puts it in his mouth. In 'Uncle Sam' he catches a piece of debris flying about and eats it; in 'Yesterday's Men,' a video that has a recurring scene with an Earth ball rolling along, Suggs picks up a now tiny Earth that has rolled to his feet at the edge of an intersection and eats it before the video abruptly fades. Here, after a balloon has been shot down by the archer (finally), he grabs a piece of balloon and munches it up, in a sort of sped-up motion while the rest of the band runs around behind him.
Near the end, we finally see Suggs dancing with the woman in red. I haven't seen her face that clearly before...it's reminiscent of someone I know. But it's only that way because I choose to see it that way really - all it takes is the figure, dirty blonde curly hair and the dancing. But the video takes the clay masks up an entirely new level when it concludes like this:
The final ending of the video is the same opening scene but a subtitle that spells 'Another cheap video.' I don't know, but it sounds like it has some credibility behind it.

The song itself has a deeper message that is difficult to figure out since the original writer was Green Gartside, who was interested in word deconstruction and original, layered meanings and wrote in such a way to play with those ideas. I don't have much of a clue as to what 'Sweetest Girl' is actually about - and I'm unsure the director of the video, or the band, knew as well.

If they did know, and it really was about a woman in a red dress wandering about in a Victorian-era water station while a bumbling group of musicians run around, ride bicycles, jump off railings and otherwise tour throughout and sing, then Gartside had a very unique idea as to what his lyrics meant. The director and the band likewise had very unique visual ideas, such as the twitchy face mask cuts, the throwing oneself onto the floor, the giant six-person suit and random scenes of people black on black or performing in a room. Why are there heart-shaped balloons floating around? Why is there an archer practicing raising his arrow fifteen times - and then shooting one? Why have Suggs sit and perform a talking head with a backdrop of this pumping station? I think at that point in the video the director got lazy and bored and ran out of ideas, so he put a camera on a tripod, focused it on the opposite side of the stairwell, and told the band to run around in front of it on the other side while it filmed; later he sped it up and then put it on a green wall for Suggs to sit in front of and sing.

I'm going to guess Sugg's unusual quirk of grabbing random little things and eating them was suggested by either him or the band.

All in all, it's an unusual - unique - video. Nothing like the earlier videos they did, which had some cohesion, story and linear humour. Here they've thrown random things together - a water station, a six-piece band, a woman, a giant suit and a red dress. There's still the question of why and how the dress materialized over top the stair well. Where's the woman? Is she hiding nearby, naked but for her undergarments? Is she yet to materialize within the dress? After all, it appears there, then appears in front of Lee Thompson as he and Suggs happily sing along together, and then it finally appears heading the line of suits that go flashing by on a line...where's the woman then? Thompson and the woman seem to have bad blood between them; first her dress stops him in his path, and then for some unknown reason, she slaps him. Maybe it's because he ran into her dress earlier on? I don't know.

It's a completely nonsensical video that comes across as both an orientation film for water station employees as well as just a bunch of random sequences thrown together with minor, random bits of humour that I largely derive from Sugg's facial expressions as he walks along, the big suit, some of the drama and little things - like Woody's head wiggling futilely as they lay on the floor, unable to escape the confines of the huge suit. It's only his head you can see.

Anyway, I have to get to bed, so I'll leave it there. It's funny to me in its weirdness.

Justin C.

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