Chris Milk’s music video for Gnarls Barkley’s “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul” starts laden with clichés: “I need space,” the woman tells the man she’s breaking up with. It’s a painful juxtaposition, a broken heart brutalized by empty words said in quotations, stolen from a thousand movies. This made me think of the narrator of Jeanette Winterson‘s Written on the Body and his / her (it’s ambiguous) lament “‘I love you’ is always a quotation.” Apparently ‘I don’t love you’ is too.
What draws me in with this video is not the surreal turn, but how it changes the break up. How by ripping his heart out and giving it to her, they suddenly speak with lucid honesty, devoid of cliché. Once the heart is on the table, literally, truth is all that’s tenable. The sentiment is not original, but the expression of it is.
Perhaps the culmination of this is the end of the film, as the story turns in on itself and the heart rips out its own heart, the story comes full circle and ends without words, a monstrous ending beyond quotations of any sort.
The heart, though singing, maintains its abject messy self throughout. It’s what prevents the story from lapsing into cartoony sentiment. Its bloody footprints, unsightly arteries. We see all this from the frame of the knowing sympathetic and pained look of the waitress, as though she’s saying ‘I know your pain, I know your abject, messy pathetic heart. I know this song, because it’s mine too.’
Milk, in an interview with Globecat, describes the inspiration for the video:
“It stems mostly out of the personal experiences I’ve had in relationships. I’m more drawn to these sort of stories and would love to tell them more often. Dark, comedic, surreal, this is the type of material I respond to in features, and it’s the kind of music videos I love to write. I’ve actually written a lot more of these but they’ve never been produced. Some of my favorite Kanye videos are sitting in a notebook and will never happen. This Gnarls video I’ve pitched to 3 or 4 bands over the years. I’m actually glad they all said no because I think it was predestined to happen with this song. The emotion and musical tonality line up too perfectly. It had to be this track. As far as the “take away” I don’t really like to think in those terms. All I can do is make something I personally find compelling, put it out there, and maybe it works for other people. I’ve certainly had occasions when it hasn’t worked for anyone. My ex-girlfriend for instance did not care for this Gnarls video at all.”
Milk is a prolific music video and commercial director who also has his hand in experimental filmmaking. In next week’s NC at the movies I will be looking at a couple of his experimental titles.