A “No” is free – so ask for what you want
– John Waters
Simple, isn’t it? Just ask for what you want. You never know, you may just get it.
Herb Ritts. Legend.
Herbert “Herb” Ritts Jr. was an American fashion photographer who concentrated on black-and-white photography and portraits, often in the style of classical Greek sculpture.
He shot Olivia Newton-John for her Physical album in 1981. Five years later, he would replicate that cover pose with Madonna for her 1986 release True Blue. Then, again in 1993, he would do the same for Prince with his The Hits/The B-Sides collection.
To say that he worked with all of my idols (except for Robyn Loau), is a huge understatement.
While more well known for his photographs and as a commercial director, it’s his music videos which I’d like to talk about.
It was on Madonna’s Cherish that he got his break into music videos, an incredibly auspicious start if ever there was one. In this video Madonna plays a woman who falls in love with a Merman. It’s an incredibly simple video, but a romantic one. It features a lot of his signature style. The Leni Riefenstahl influences in his camera’s adoration of the male physique at peak condition, the romanticism, and the underwater shots. There is also a nice reference to the iconic shot in On the beach, where Madonna lies on the beach while the waves crash between her legs. This is Madonna at her most romantic, something we have not seen in her work before or since.
He next worked with Janet Jackson on her Love with never do (without you) video. Here we see the exploration into the body at peak physical condition explored even more. Without a doubt influenced by Leni Riefenstahl’s work on the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Here again, we see Herb Ritts once again working with a woman not known for her soft features, and making her incredibly romantic. He introduces a limited colour palette into the video, and shoots Janet during golden hour. For those of you who are not sure what I’m referring to, “Golden Hour” is the hour around sunrise and sunset where the light is golden and on film, makes everything look like a million dollars. His next videos for Chris Issak further this same theme, of beautiful bodies in peak physical condition at the beach.
His next major music video is for none other than Michael Jackson. To me this is Herb Ritts at the very peak of his powers. His work for Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, when he was near the end of his life, in the throws of AIDS, don’t really have the same power. Here he is working with the biggest artist in the world, on a video designed to sex-up his image. An interesting side note to this is that the song was originally supposed to be a duet with Madonna, but Michael baulked at her lyrical suggestions. Michael wanted to sex-up his image, but not too much. And the video succeeds at this. Set in the Mexican desert at a deserted farm, the video is hot and sweaty. Naomi Campbell features in the video as the object of his affections. Again a woman not known for her warmth, but here again, at the hands of Ritts, she comes across both beautiful and unattainable, yet also warm and inviting. Ritts also manages to give Jackson a masculine sensuality which was unseen in his videos prior to this. This video is probably the best he ever looked after his skin lightened. This video also introduces some subtle story elements to the mix. In the video, you never really see either Jackson or Campbell touch each other (although they do touch themselves) for the first three minutes. They closest they get is in shadow, their silhouettes almost touch, but never quite get there. Even in the later half of the video, it never really gets beyond a slight touch of the thigh. You think they are doing quiet a lot, but actually they do very little actual touching. For this video is about illicit desire. The video certainly gets that point across well. For me, there is one thing that I would have liked to add to make it perfect. Just one simple shot of Naomi Campbell with a wedding ring. For me then all of this would make more sense. As the video stands, they never really explain why these two people, who are obviously very attracted to each other. Who are alone in the desert. Never really seal the deal. We never find out why this relationship is illicit. It was recently revealed that the voice on the album version of the song was Princess Stéphanie of Monaco, which again would make more sense. If the woman is Royal, and Jackson is just a regular man – they couldn’t be together because of her position. In any case, the song itself presents a hard story to tell. As written in the wiki for this song:
The song, written and composed by Michael Jackson and Teddy Riley, is about keeping a relationship secret between lovers. “In the closet” is an English idiom used when one is not open about an aspect of their life, particularly in regard to sexual orientation. Despite the song’s suggestive name its lyrics do not allude to hidden sexual orientation but rather a concealed relationship; “Don’t hide our love / Woman to man.”
So, when the song itself presents mixed messages, perhaps it is best just to create a mood, as Herb Ritts has done so successfully here. While it is a hard song to listen back to and not draw conclusions to it’s actual meaning, now more than twenty years later, in a post-court case Michael Jackson. I still like to watch this music video for what it is, and not for what my mind wants to say about a man singing about a dangerous, illicit love that he must keep “in the closet”. In terms of the look, he revisits the dilapidated old white house that he used so successfully in Janet’s video. And he later revisits the themes of the video in his work for Chris Isaak’s “Baby did a bad, bad thing”. And he often recreated this hot, steamy look on later videos, notably for Jennifer Lopez in “Ain’t it funny”.
To sum things up, Herb Ritts was an incredibly successful music video director. While his early work was by far his strongest in his earlier videos, they always had a very strong vision. Romantic, worshiping the body beautiful, hot and steamy, yet never gratuitous. He shows that music videos require interesting shots and a singular mood to tell their stories. And it never hurts to make the artist look the best they’ve ever looked in their entire careers.
It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve been busy promoting my short film, “An American Piano”, which is on the last leg of it’s world tour (next stop TIFF Kids 2015). I thought I’d weigh in my thoughts on the ramifications of the “Blurred Lines” case. No, not the issues with it promoting sexual assault. The other problem with the song. You know, the little plagiarism case. Like you do.
Recently a judgement of over US$7.4 million was awarded to the decedents of Marvin Gaye (whom the songwriters of “Blurred Lines” were always open about getting their inspiration from). I’m not going to argue the relative merits of the case, which is similar to Apple vs Microsoft/Samsung “look and feel” argument (and for those not in the know, Apple lost to Microsoft, but won against Samsung). Nor am I going to point out that this means that the band Journey could sue every pop songwriter for ripping off their “four to the floor” style on “Don’t stop believing”.
Don’t believe me? Check this out:
So, yeah, the music industry has a more liberal view of plagiarism than the rest of us do. But, what really interests me is this next statement:
Pharrell Williams has warned that “the entertainment industry as we know it will be frozen in litigation” if this becomes a precedent. “The verdict handicaps any creator out there who is making something that might be inspired by something else. This applies to fashion, music, design… anything.”
OK. So, now I’m listening. And you know what. I agree with him – to a degree. I come from a background in Art, where young artists learn their craft through copying the masters. But, this is education. Through this process, we find our voice. The first script I ever wrote was a sequel to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the second script I wrote started out as a take on Eye of the Beholder, and ended up a terrible miss-mash of every dark thriller I so happened to watch that day. And a few years ago Paul and I made a fan-film for Silent Hill. And we both learned priceless information from it. But, we never monetized it. Never claimed it as our original work. Which is what the songwriters behind “Blurred Lines” did.
Let me show you an example of what “inspired by” looks like.
Let’s look at the inspiration:
And now let’s look at the homage:
And it’s perfect. It has all the same elements. The comparisons of sex to physical exercise. The awkwardly funny music video. They are both disco songs. But, they are different.
It’s been a hot minute since I last posted. Life has really got in the way of blogging. Scratch that. Got in the way sounds like what happened isn’t want I wanted to happen. A lot of wonderful things happened, which in turn, lead me in directions that didn’t include writing.
Now, I’m back baby! Life has gotten very, very real. 2014 was a wonderful year where I basically got to achieve all of my (non-financial) dreams. I cried going to Europe. I’d got to the point where I never thought that would happen. My film was at Cannes, recently was at Sapporo Int. Short Film Fest, and soon is going to another large festival (TBA). Between there, it’s been to upstate New York (USA), Portland Arts Centre (USA), Chino (Japan), Nagoya (Japan), and Pakistan. Soon it might even go to Dubai! It’s even been shown at my hometown cinema, The Regal, which was my window to the world as a young boy.
All of this is wonderful, truly wonderful. But none of it is real. It’s like that moment in The Wizard of OZ where Toto pulls back the curtain and Dorothy finally sees that what she thinks is the Wizard is just an illusion. In fact, he was just a little old man pushing buttons. Which, in a nutshell, is what my experience of the Cannes Film Market was all about. It wasn’t sad, it was just a moment where the fantasy fell away, and I realised that, “Oh, that’s what this is about.”
When you realise that the red carpet is just a carpet, and that you can’t hug a DVD at night… it’s time to get real. This year some relationships ended, and others began, both professional and personal. Best of all, I met the love of my life.
That’s what the image of the Jams is all about. I tried three jams when I went back to Australia. One is a supermarket brand, 45% Raspberries, the middle one, a jam from France, is 55% Raspberries, and the final one is from a restaurant, was 60% Raspberries. All of them claim to be real Jam, and to a certain degree they are. Certainly more real than most Jams that are filled with glucose, but even then, there are degrees of real. If you think of the film work as the sugar, and the real life as the Raspberries… it’s a good analogy for life. How to find balance. And finding what’s works for you (which by the way, was the 55% one with the lemon twist).
Very sad that we have lost so many greats.
Originally posted on Screenwriting from Iowa:
According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, improv as a structured theatrical art form began in 1955 when David Shepherd and Paul Stills started the ensemble group the Compass Players in Chicago. Many of the alumni later went on to be part of Second City.
Along with Compass Players Ed Asner, Alan Alda, Valerie Harper and others was a German born, former pre-med major, and method trained actor named Mike Nichols—who would later go on to be one of the few people to win the rare combination of Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards.
When Nichols, who passed away this week, was asked in 2013 if there were any ground rules for improvisations with the Compass Players he replied:
“The greatest rule was [Elaine May’s], ‘when in doubt, seduce.’ That became the rule for the whole group. And looking back, because I did teach acting for a while, we figured out over a long time that there only…
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Meet my two new favourite Disney characters.
I don’t think Disneyland will ever be the same again. Seriously, Pixar needs a world all unto itself.
What a fantastic idea. Making a kids animation out of all the emotions. There is something very American and disappointing about the teaser trailer, “let’s all get together and be friends – together we can make it happen!”
But the one good thing about it is that it reminds you just how big of an emotional punch “UP!” had. I can already tell that I’ll be lining up to buy a plush version of Sadness and Anger. Love those characters already. But, I just get this strong feeling that the movie itself is going to let me down.
What are your thoughts?
It’s great when someone gets it. “Big Gay Horror Fan” always gives us great press, so if you are a horror fan, please go subscribe to his page xxoo
Originally posted on Big Gay Horror Fan:
Accomplished director Paul Leeming is finding this out with his visually stunning, syrupy ode to female regret, Pieces of 8. A quick yet potent look at the specific damages that personal freedom can promote, this ripping horror piece has been gaining protests from those who believe it buys into a pro-life agenda.
But here, Leeming, a pro-choice atheist in real life, seems to be simply acknowledging the fact that, while a vital option, there is nothing easy about the decision to terminate a life. This is something that this richly acted, agonizingly gorgeous piece brings home hard.
You can keep up with Leeming and his production company Visceral Psyche at
Until the next time – SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan