Let’s get started, shall we? I wasn’t able to track down exact release dates for these videos more specific than year. So the videos for 1992, a bit of an annus mirabilis for Snyder, are in no particular order among themselves, and so on throughout. I should also warn that this piece has no over-arching thesis. I watched some music videos. I wrote some things about them.
Round of Blues- Shawn Colvin (1992)
It’s hard to “see” this video without thinking of Snyder’s later work. The opening shots languish on dusty shafts of light and flitting moths, calling back some of the Terrence Mallick-inspired affinity for shots of swaying grass and rural calm Snyder serves up in his DCU faire. As they do there, these shots get intruded upon by the meat of the matter. Colvin’s song is fairly kinetic, a sweet nineties countrypop banger. Snyder illustrates the song by never letting the camera properly settle on Colvin, whether the artist is in motion playing guitar in an empty diner or static singing in an attic. There’s one plunkingly literal moment where a lyric about a lost highway coincides with a shot of a van receding down, well, a lost highway, but other than that, there’s not much effort to create a visual narrative.
Somebody to Shove- Soul Asylum (1992)
I suspect lots of folks around my age have that band that they loved who then hit big with a ballad and were henceforth labeled “sell-out” because none of us had healthy or reasonable views on the relationship between music and capitalism. Soul Asylum is probably that band for many, and this is them in that moment before “Runaway Train”’s massive success stripped them of their “cred”. It’s a dour video for a mosh-pit anthem, and the feeling of the visual time signatures being out of sync is still here. But seeing applied to this song reminds me this isn’t necessarily attributable solely to Snyder. Samuel Bayer’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video does the same bit, laying heavy drag on the visuals when the song’s tempo picks up, carrying over the languid pace of the verse into the chorus. The effects of this on the “Teen Spirit” video give the pep rally proceedings a sense of zombie-like dread. For “Somebody to Shove,” the mosh-pit becomes tidal, overlayed with images of a person (on first watch I assumed it was Dave Pirner, whose look is played for a certain amount of grunge androgyny) wading in the water. The important thing seems to be that no one is having any fun. Which I have to point out is where my teenage disconnect with grunge was often located. Because this song was fun as fuck to dance to, and did not, in my experience, evoke sad birthday clowns, acupuncture, or domestic abuse.
To the extent we can now identify an emerging aesthetic in Snyder’s work, it is “warm beige and slowly.”
Tomorrow- Morrissey (1992)
This part of the project started with a middle of the night “oh of course” moment finding out that Snyder did a video for Morrissey. But having that moment, lying awake, is not the same as understanding the implications of the thought. In the cold light of day, I can see where this thought was coming from, and where it was wrong. The revelation that Zack Snyder’s dream project is a film adaption of The Fountainhead informs and enlightens his previous work. The revelation that Stephen Morrissey holds or at least espouses some really shitty views on politics and race doesn’t necessarily highlight the seeds of those thoughts in his songs, but it also doesn’t run actively against my reading of him, if that makes any sense. To put it on a spectrum: finding out Snyder is a devotee of Ayn Rand elicited a reaction of “oh yeah, of course he is.” Finding out Frank Miller is a reactionary wingnut gets us to “actually, that is kind of obvious from all of his stuff now that I see it.” Learning that Morrissey is racist prickis closer to “okay that is not surprising I guess. I mean, I suspected the prick part already.”
Maybe more to the point, Morrissey’s music is something I fell in love with in my teens, and something that some people have vastly different takes on than my own. Which makes his music not unlike comic books, in a certain way. And since part of what I’m interested in here is “how does someone grow up on Superman comics but also love the work of Ayn Rand?”, Morrissey seemed a potential point of interest.
Anyway, the “Tomorrow” video. Apparently this was Moz’s biggest solo hit in the US? Who knew? It’s a perfectly nice song. You could make a worse match, pacing-wise, than “Your Arsenal”-era Morrissey and Zack Snyder. No one makes languor look hot like Morrissey. Even during the Smiths era when Johnny Marr was busting his ass to keep the songs kinetic, Morrissey seemed to stroll through them, and here he is very literally strolling among some lovely jangling guitars. This feels somewhere between a Levi’s commercial and an homage/parody of D.A. Pennebacker’s video for Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (this is probably just the closeness of a narrow street shoot and the black and white pinging for me) and is certainly effective re: the former because I sort of want that shirt. The concept of having Morrissey slowly, gradually and inexorably approaching the viewer for a song about a looming future and a quiet but constant desire to be held really works, and there’s something beautiful in Moz decrying “the pain in my arms/the pain in my legs/my shiftless body” as he moves lazily toward the camera.
I’m trying to subtly invoke zombie imagery here (and in the description of “Somebody to Shove”) to set up the next essay in this series. Please notice and quietly applaud my efforts toward thematic coherence.
And it is, so far, the only one of these videos where anyone seems to be enjoying themselves. Which was a surprise. I was fully prepared for a self-serious interpretation of Morrissey, which would both entirely track with my thoughts on Snyder and completely contradict my understanding of Morrissey as, at his best, oozing a sleepy but playful and puckish smarm.
You’re So Close- Peter Murphy (1992)
This and “Tomorrow” are probably the most successful of the videos here, for me at least. “I Know” is pretty good, but that’s largely because it’s a really good song. But here, the direction seems to match up with the material. Keeping Murphy so near to the camera as to be out of focus as he sings “Can’t hear you/you’re so close” contributes to a mix of intimacy and claustrophobia. The fade in and out on multiple iterations of Murphy allow him to feel like he’s physically haunting the video, which the soft focus shots reinforce.
I want to point out something here about casual male intimacy that feels ike it runs through a couple of these. There’s this shot of Murphy as he sings “can’t feel you”:
There’s also the “two guys on a mic” shots in both Soul Asylum videos, and the end of the Morrissey video, where Morrissey invents the “awkward fist bump fail” years ahead of its larger cultural moment. I don’t want to lean too hard on something that’s actually pretty slight, but I want to acknowledge it’s there. At least two of Snyder’s feature films are going to up the homosocial intensity to eleven, with Batman vs. Superman coming off like a latex-wrapped Eve Sedgewick essay on deferred homosocial desire (or whatever the DCU costumes are made out of it. Wire mesh? Hairshirts?). So it’s nice to see it write small a couple times in his videos. You can write them off as “rock bonding” tropes that Snyder happened to capture in the shoots, but he uses them in the finished product, and there’s a sweetness to each of them that feels worth noting.
When You Were Young- Del Amitri (1993)
I can’t find a copy of this video I can watch in the US. That’s probably fine, I think.
Black Gold- Soul Asylum (1993)
This song definitely has a message. I don’t know what that message is, but it is in there, for sure. Racism and fossil fuels are bad, I think? I don’t love these songs, but Dave Pirner is sort of a pure distillate of 90s alt frontman, which maybe it’s just nostalgia but I’m on board for that. This is more Southern/vaguely rural gothic on the visuals, and as much as I hate to wealth-shame anyone, it’s probably a good time to point out that Snyder grew up in what’s known as Connecticut’s Gold Coast, the same actual county as the fiction Stepford of Wives fame. To the extent the lyrics cohere enough for there to be a literal visual interpretation, this video’s got it. Also a dove against a black backdrop. Because innocence? Because racism? Because white fragility? No, friends. Because doves.
In The Middle- Alexander O’Neal (1993)
I mention this video primarily because it looks as if maybe Alexander O’Neal is singing on a Gotham City rooftop. But like, Tim Burton Gotham. There is lightning, I think. Also, unless you count the actual shoving in the “Somebody to Shove” video, this is Snyder’s first filmed fight scene. The fight choreography is not good. Two obviously whiffed punches. But the song’s fun. I like that it’s in no way a narrative of personal experience. It’s just Alexander O’Neal, up on that roof telling us about what “some people” are like, reminding us that “Alex doesn’t play it that way.” It’s not even that judgmental about it. Also, there are some ladies dancing on a loading dock. It’s mostly ladies dancing on a loading dock, in terms of screen time.
I Know- Dionne Farris (1994)
This is a really good pop song, and a perfectly competent video. There’s a moment I really like where Farris throws in a “you should” as an emphatic over the vocal line and there’s a quick cut to her pointing at the camera to deliver it. It’s nice, it underlines what the song is doing. Visually, there’s a lot here we’ve seen before. Light flare, soft focus around the edges, extreme close-ups, visuals off-sync with the music. But you can feel it doing what it’s supposed to do for Farris, which is to establish her within the visual language of a certain kind of 90s female pop artist that will really hit its chart moment a couple years later. I feel like I’m skirting around saying “make her appealing for a white audience” but yeah, there’s a bit of that, given how different from Arrested Development’s “Tennessee” video she’s presented here. But I am not the person to expound on the “packaging” of black women for a white pop/alt audience, so I will leave it at this song is very good and the middle eight kills.
World of Swirl- ZZ Top (1994)
The best part of this song is the first two seconds where I thought it was going to be that “Wild Wild West” song by Escape Club. On further examination, I have learned these two songs sound nothing alike, and now I have nothing good to say about “World of Swirl.”
This video is a lot to take in. The song is off the soundtrack for In the Army Now, the fourth highest grossing film of Pauly Shore’s career. That is apparently counting A Goofy Movie as a “Pauly Shore film”. The video consists of clips from that film, blue-lit footage of the band performing, and some kind of shoot in a small room with Shore in his film costume, the band in sunglasses and what appear to be matching Members Only jackets and some ladies in skimpy camo fatigues.
It manages to be less than the sum of its parts. And those parts are not good parts.
One of the movie clips involves a Libyan soldier being knocked down by his own camel. Meaning that A) this is something that happens in the movie and B) it was such a highlight of the movie that it made the cut of the two minutes of the film used in this video.
ZZ Top may or may not be awake while they are performing on stage, but they are most certainly operated by remote as they snap along with their own song in the shoot with Shore, who also shows up during the performance footage to be a general annoyance, which as I recall was sort of his whole thing. The fact that this video has forced me to recall Pauly Shore at all is cruel and unforgivable. The performance footage is made to look like it’s on stage at a huge concert but there is no discernible audience.
Also, there is no band that needs to wear hats with their own band name on them less than ZZ Top. It is super apparent you guys are ZZ Top. Trust in your brand, bros.
Leave Virginia Alone- Rod Stewart (1995)
I cannot think of any musician whose raw vocal talent maps as poorly onto their quality of output as Rod Stewart. This is not a good song. The video sees Snyder using more of the high contrast super bright lights on an otherwise drab palette, and aspiring for something like Southern gothic vibes, I guess? Except with Rod Stewart in some kind of frock coat? Plus side, when Stewart declares that Virginia was “as hot as Georgia asphalt,” we do not cut to a shot of a parking lot or a lost highway. Why are there so many Georgia metaphors in a song about a woman named Virginia anyway? Did Rod Stewart not know those are both the names of US states?
One thing this video has that a lot of videos don’t is the third-act introduction of people in huge, creepy-ass papier-mache heads. By third act, I mean they don’t show up until about three minutes into a four minute song, when our heroine has wandered into the mansion that is already haunted by Rod Stewart dressed like he’s in a BBC adaptation of a Bronte novel, but also apparently people in large papier-mache heads who chase her into a closet (where Rod Stewart’s ghost urges someone, presumably the papier-mache head people, to leave her alone). Up until they arrive, this is mostly Stewart strumming guitar out of time with the actual music, and occasionally spinning, plus the token 90s attractive lady.