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watching without seeing

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It’s happened again – I put on 2001: A Space Odyssey, to check for extras, and ended up watching the whole thing. Actually, I didn’t watch it all, because I was working on my engineering course, but I did hear it all. Since I know the film already, the mind fills in the blanks, and it feels as if I did watch it after all.

DVD now playing in the background: Smashing Pumpkins 1991-2000. My view of this band has changed drastically over the years, steadily improving, to the point where I now think they were the most important band of the 90’s. The reasons for this are complex, but the predominant factor is that they really gave it all they had, and this shows up dramatically in their videos. They started off just plain weird (Siva, Disarm), ventured into high art (Tonight, Tonight, Stand Inside Your Love), went all experimental (Thirty-Three, Adore), post-modernist conceptual (Perfect, The Everlasting Gaze), then ended with Try, Try, Try, a video you will never see on MTV, not even at 4AM. It’s a grittily realistic portrayal of a homeless junkie couple in Stockholm, blood and guts and needles and all. The director of that video, Jonas Akerlund, made a longer, grittier version without the happy ending, which is also included on the DVD. I made the mistake of watching that first, while having dinner… wow.

Another factor that gains them respect in my book is the fact that they broke up. They could have ridden the gravy train until it went off the rails. Instead, they set themselves a schedule, giving themselves plenty of time, then kept to it, breaking up after a final concert in December 2000. The Smashing Pumpkins were pretentious, but I don’t see that as such a bad thing at all. They weren’t afraid to make big, dramatic statements, and did so without too much worry about fashion. While Radiohead claim to hate progressive rock, despite borrowing many of its trappings, Billy Corgan happily displayed a Rush sticker on his guitar in the first shot of their first video. I don’t think anyone else could have gotten away with The Everlasting Gaze video, shot in an empty office under fluorescent lights, with Billy in a black leather kilt, posturing crazily and smashing his guitar on the lurid green carpet.

Stand Inside Your Love, on the other hand, is what happens when Billy Corgan gets his own way; a gorgeously shot variation on the Salomé fable. If you ever see it, watch out for the one colour shot in the whole black-and-white montage, perhaps heralding the one meaningful moment in the life of the characters. My only complaint about this DVD is the sound quality: the music has been subjected to additional level compression, as if the makers felt there was too much dynamic range in the songs. Yes, there is plenty of that, and that’s part of the attraction for me – this isn’t radio-friendly music by nature. Recommended if you like things done on a grand scale.

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Written by brian t

July 6, 2002 at 6:52 pm

Posted in music

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