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FAST CLIP: Video for Beck’s “Heart Is a Drum” by Sophie Muller

FAST CLIP: Video for Beck's "Heart Is a Drum" by Sophie Muller

Beck has always had the capacity for expansiveness inside
his songs, even during the goofy days of One
Foot in the Grave
and Loser; the
song “Jack-ass” from Odelay always
read to me as an audio version of a Super-8 tour of a flat, marsh-infested
landscape of unchecked emotions rained upon by pure cool from the artist
himself. He has found a likely chronicler in longtime video maker Sophie
Muller, whose video for “Heart Is a Drum,” from the recent Morning Phase, takes us through and around cycles of life, death,
and aging. It’s been said that the piece owes a lot to Maya Deren’s Meshes in the Afternoon, which may
indeed be true, on the surface, but there are other influences lurking here, as
well, in the dust-bowl era pastoral Muller carries us through: the starkness of
the earliest and most aesthetically pure Bergman films; the Terrence Malick of Days of Heaven in its broad, sparsely
punctuated landscapes; a little bit of early Peter Bogdanovich, of the The Last Picture Show period; possibly
Jim Jarmusch’s brooding but also ambulatory realism that lends itself so
beautifully to down-at-heels domestic scenes. The video tells us a circular story,
as Beck sings his song of universality, of a beating heart “keeping time with
everyone.” We see the mature Beck, suited, standing in a deserted farmhouse,
staring outwards, looking within. Then we see different figures standing at the
end of a dusty road; Muller has played with the actual focus in such a way that
we are never sure where we stand with this story, even at its end. A caped,
masked figure of Death, tall, dark, scythe in hand, stands in a field, far
away, now closer, now walking swiftly towards Beck and a small child. A woman
is stricken down, as is her husband, whose face has an intensity and severity that
recalls the great silent film actors. There is a tremendous sense of poignance here.
The song itself goes in praise of embracing life in its completeness, and the
difficulty of doing so is brought home clearly by Muller’s film. Beyond this,
though, Beck has weathered change within his own work, from punk to funk to
bossanova, and so he has earned the right to slow down, in a sense. There is a
confidence to the way that he sings, “Need to find someone to show me how to
play it slow,” that suggests, in fact, he already knows how, as is borne out by the sound
of his recent albums, which has been, if anything, larger, more declarative,
more resonant than those of the past. As the video drifts towards its
conclusion, we see a hipper, younger version of Beck, bedecked with pony-tailed
ski cap and flappy clothes, walking with Death, in a small party that also
includes a small boy and the doomed couple who appeared earlier—a nod to The Seventh Seal, but also a haunting
image, suggesting that all that has occurred was only for the purpose of moving
onwards, or maybe inwards. Sometimes, there’s nowhere else one might rather go.

Max Winter is the Editor of Press Play.

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