I was never much of a Beastie Boys fan, so the death of Adam Yauch didn’t drop me into brief depression as, say, the death of character actor William Finley did. Mind you, I had nothing against the Beastie Boys, — they were a hard band to ignore during the ‘90s and I certainly liked a fair share of what I heard – but I never owned any of their albums, and my exposure to them was almost entirely based on the music that was played by people around me.
The only piece of Beastie Boys-related product I own is their excellent 2-DVD set of music videos, released by the Criterion Collection. It makes sense that the group is the only band to have had their videos so honored, and Yauch directed a hefty chunk of them. But among all of the post-Yauch Facebook links to “Sabotage” and “Intergalactic,” the one Beastie Boys video I have the most affection for is the Yauch-directed short for the Fatboy Slim remix of “Body Movin.”
While the video is certainly a lot of fun, my affection for it has to do more with the movie it’s taken from, Mario Bava’s fantastic 1964 pop art crime adventure classic Diabolik. The video is basically a remake of several of the film’s sequences, including one of the central heists and the lead character’s escape from a plane in the air. Sure, it’s done with a gleeful flippancy and they throw in a decapitation, but that’s what makes the visuals work with the music – it’s a goofy recreation of an already tongue-in-cheek film, managing to both embrace and mock pop culture. It suits the Beasties perfectly, and the fact that it’s based off of one of my favorite films makes it one of my favorite videos as well.
Basing a video off of a cult movie seems to be an obvious win – it’s got a built-in audience and you don’t actually have to come up with a storyline, just a new was to address it. The problem is that you still have to actually produce a decent video with a decent song. “Body Movin” isn’t the only video to use Diabolik as a reference point – Mario Bava’s son Lamberto used it as inspiration for his video for Tiromancio’s “Amore Impossible,” even casting Diabolik himself, John Phillip Law, in a cameo as a hotel guard:
The video takes less from Diabolik, the movie, than from the character of Diabolik himself, which is wise, but it doesn’t quite work with the mellow, low-key music in the background. It’s still a likeable little work, but I can’t really imaging taking to it if you’re not familiar with the characters it uses.
Using a cult movie as a reference point doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be an automatic “in” for audiences, especially if you’re making reference to a specific scene in a movie not a lot of people have seen. However, this doesn’t matter if the song is good and the energy is high, as with the video for The Pipettes’ “Pull Shapes,” which replicates to perfection the first major party sequence of Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
If you haven’t seen the film, you get the idea that it’s referencing something, even if you don’t know what, but it doesn’t matter, as just utilizing Meyer’s quick cuts to the partygoers is enough to keep you interested.
Russ Meyer should, in fact, be a great starting influence for a video, but no amount of love for Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! can make the mess of a video that is The Killers’ “All the Things I’ve Done” worthwhile:
One could argue that using cult movies as a reference in a video may make people more inclined to seek out the original source, but nobody ever rented Jules and Jim after watching the video for Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me,” and Last Year at Marienbad probably did not got much of an uptick in popularity when Blur released “To the End.” In most cases, using a lesser-known film feels like snobbery, as though the musicians and director are capable of taking note of things that “mainstream” audiences just don’t appreciate.
Or you could just take the easy way out and reference Rushmore, which everyone has seen and yet everyone thinks nobody has seen it, so you get to pretend to be clever without actually alienating anyone, as both Company of Wolves and the Decemberists have done:
The Decemberists get the win, of only because the song actually sounds like it would be in a Wes Anderson movie.
So basing a music video off of a movie is a cheap ploy, and an easy way out. The Beastie Boys and The Pipettes show that you can put your own spin on things and turn the concept into a fine video, as long as you’re not lazy about it and make it work with the song. The ability to do that, however, is a rare talent, and one that Adam Yauch certainly had.