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Twist of Cinema: The Videos of Danzig

In 1916, psychologist Hugo Münsterberg published the first work of film theory, The Photoplay: A Psychological Study. Münsterberg claims film and theater are distinctly separate because moving pictures are freed from the constraints of space, time, and causality. This isolation from the practical world provides a completely different psychic experience through “the perfect unity of plot and pictorial experience”. As the emerging art form developed in the 1920s, French artists sought to create films that employed only uniquely cinematic techniques without any other influences. This movement, later dubbed Cinema Pur or “Pure Cinema”, sought to free film from narrative, characters, and setting, which are tropes from literature or drama. The term “pure cinema” describes this essentialist tendency but also defines works that use film-specific techniques to create an abstract yet immediate emotional experience. You may be asking yourself, “How is this relevant to Invisible Oranges and heavy metal? He must be talking about the Dada movement or Koyaanisqatsi!” But no, I am talking about the one, the only, Glenn Danzig.

Danzig’s 1988 self titled album produced four music videos: “Am I Demon”, “She Rides”, “Twist of Cain”, and “Mother”. These music videos are like none other; they exude the raw sexuality of rock ‘n’ roll in an expressionist setting to create an all encompassing experience. These videos do not seem like they were made in the 1980s but rather in a warped reality of classical Hollywood cinema. They have a certain cinematic affinity that transcends the music video format. The images and moods presented already exist in the human subconscious; they just needed to be willed into existence with cameras, lights, and film stock. Calling Danzig’s music videos “pure cinema” in the strictest sense would be a bit contradictory, but they provide intense, direct communication to the id.

Now, let’s analyze how each of these videos functions cinematically:

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Danzig – “Am I Demon”

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Trailer from Jean Cocteau’s “Beauty and the Beast”

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Danzig’s classic track “Am I Demon” begins with the band’s logo emerging from darkness, in a way not dissimilar to the opening of a classic horror film. The black and white concert footage and loose narrative that follow are heavily influenced by German Expressionism and its stylistic children: Universal horror and film noir. The concert footage embodies the band’s mystical aura, but the interstitial clips elevate the video to an unearthly plane. As Danzig breaks through the doors in the horned goat mask, these few seconds construct an archetypal image that could be a still frame from the greatest expressionist horror film never made. The head is utterly bizarre; I put this video in the same category as King Kong or Eraserhead in terms of uncanny special effects that no one could replicate today. The end of the video finds Danzig auto-crucifying with the help of a scantily clad young woman, who had earlier fallen victim to his occult sexual powers. This conclusion exhibits conventional special effects such as dissolves, smoke, and shadows that create an undefined and surreal nightmare tableau. This is not a music video but a work of art, like the satanic fantasy of an evil Jean Cocteau.

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Danzig – “She Rides”

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Guitarist John Christ refers to “She Rides” as the group’s first “sex song”. I find this problematic, because most of Danzig’s bluesy metal is sexually charged, but “She Rides” is in a class of its own. The video finds the band in a white room with several dancing women and multiple tight close ups of Glenn’s bobbing head crooning suggestive lyrics. Film theorist Laura Mulvey’s seminal article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” is a landmark work of feminist criticism because it establishes the concept of the male gaze: the idea that the camera and media will always be positioned from the male point of view. Many music videos feature woman’s bodies on display for male pleasure, and the gyrating posterior of an ’80s metal babe at the beginning clearly shows this one is no different. The women are rarely shown in full body shots, because disembodied parts are easier for the male spectator to objectify. This description sounds like Danzig’s usual sexual potency but, after further analysis, this is video can be read multiple ways. Lyrically, “She Rides” deals with a dark and sexually empowered woman who has brought Glenn’s downfall, which is in stark contrast to the male driven seduction of the other videos. During the performance sequences, there is one woman dancing beside each of the band members. But there are none around Glenn, illustrating that as a man he does not possess a woman. The video contains one scene in particular where Glenn is laying face down in a susceptible position. The woman caresses his lower back tattoo and he recoils in pain, showing that behind his masculinity he is still vulnerable. Even though this video is similar to other 1980s heavy metal fare, perhaps Danzig was trying to send a subtextual feminist message?


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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ms_EGdu0haU&ob=av2e

Danzig – “Twist of Cain”

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The Lumière Brothers’ – First films (1895)

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Georges Méliès – “Le Voyage dans la lune” (“A Trip to the Moon”) (1902)

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Of the four music videos, “Twist of Cain” is the odd one out. Ever since the birth of cinema in 1895, there have been two distinct schools of filmmaking represented by two of the earliest filmmakers. The Lumière brothers used film to capture life as close to it is in actuality, while Georges Méliès, a stage magician, used trick photography and expansive sets to create worlds and images that could not exist in reality. The other Danzig videos fall in the Méliès camp, because they explore other realms both physical and mental; “Twist of Cain”, however, is a performance clip that captures the real life intensity of a live Danzig concert circa 1988. But according to apparatus theory, film is merely a system of chemical and physical processes that cannot and will not ever be reality. The performance is passionate and shows the stage presence and charisma of the band, but it is also stylized and atmospheric. The lights, shadows, and editing make the concert seem unreal and untouchable like a dream. When the church bells ring at the end of the video, I feel like these powerful sounds and images have ushered in the apocalypse.


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Danzig – “Mother” (Uncut)

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RPrj0bp0NA&ob=av2e

Danzig – “Mother” (Censored)

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“Mother” has many of the same formal influences as its stylistic brother “Am I Demon”. After the John Bunyan quote, the video transitions to another close up Danzig singing. Half of his face is covered in shadow, reflecting the lyrics that he is not to be trusted and there is more than meets the eye. The drums build and the camera backs out to reveal Glenn and the rest of the band in heavy chiaroscuro, giving them a supernatural quality. At the beginning of the second verse, we begin to see clips of several women; one frightened by the singer and the other intrigued, much like the femme fatale from classic Hollywood noir. The pre-chorus solo begins and tension builds with the help of high contrast lights, canted angles, and gazes exchanged through the Kuleshov effect. Danzig’s clawed, shadowy doppelganger, representing his dark side, begins the ritual by seducing the innocent girl (“Heart of the Devil” anyone?) as the pentagram on the floor is revealed. The final guitar solo begins as the demon priest and his accomplice stand by the bloody stone alter that would not be out of place in a Boris Karloff film. Sacrificial blood spills across the young woman’s exposed stomach, and I don’t think it takes Sigmund Freud to figure out what act is being imitated here. The woman’s expressions mirror John Christ’s ecstatic guitar playing as the camera fades back to Danzig after the song’s climax. No wonder this video was banned from MTV and is now “too hot for Youtube!”

All of these videos can be found on the Danzig home video. Other highlights include: Glenn revealing his songwriting process, reading Wolverine comics, discussing his book collection, chugging a box of Milk Duds before an encore, and Eerie Von being a badass. I highly recommend hunting down a copy!

— Tom Brandow

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