Not to turn this place into a music video review joint or anything but I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t post my thoughts on Duquesne Whistle, the video for Bob Dylan’s newest single, which premiered exclusively on the website of The Guardian this past Tuesday. The Nash Edgerton-directed video has come in for much criticism from Dylan fans on social networking sites and internet message boards, most of it focused on the clip’s supposed “shocking violence” (thanks a lot, Rolling Stone!), while some others have expressed bewilderment at the allegedly confounding narrative and/or irrelevance to the song’s theme.
To address these criticisms in reverse order of ridiculousness: first off, the violence in this video barely surpasses the G-rated mark. A man is hit three times in the knee with a baseball bat and then punched twice in the face, causing a bloody nose. That’s it. Journalists who have drawn comparisons to Goodfellas and Tarantino are laughably off the mark; there is way more violence to be found in any cop drama on U.S. network television any night of the week. As far as the video’s imagery not “matching up” with the theme of the song, shouldn’t this be considered a good thing? Okay, this isn’t a work of art along the lines of Vardeldur (Edgerton is, after all, a stunt man, not an acclaimed experimental filmmaker). But I thought everyone knew that the worst music videos were those that attempted to literalize a song’s lyrics. Watch or watch again Paul Schrader’s truly cringe-inducing video for Tight Connection to My Heart to see what I mean. (Just make sure to hold onto your powder blue wig!) Honestly, what the hell were people expecting? A bunch of sepia-tinted shots of old trains?
But to get down to the real meat and potatoes of this video, the content of this thing is really not that bizarre. On the contrary, it actually makes perfect sense and I can’t believe the simple and lighthearted theme has seemingly eluded everyone who has written about it so far. The video for Duquesne Whistle is a deconstruction of the conventions of the romantic comedy genre. The “rom-com,” whether we’re talking about The Graduate, Say Anything, Chungking Express or Amelie, has long been predicated on the notion that its protagonists exhibit behavior that may look cute and charming in a movie (e.g., blasting a boombox outside of someone’s window, breaking into their apartment to rearrange their furniture, etc.) but that, in the real world, would come off as positively stalker-ish. Duquesne Whistle is nothing more or less than a humorous illustration of what the real world consequences of this behavior would be; thus we see an annoying hipster-stalker’s romantic shenanigans leading to him getting sprayed with mace, arrested and beaten up. Okay, so what does this any of this have to do with Bob Dylan you might ask? The video’s “love stalker” plot is intercut with shots of Dylan strutting around the streets of downtown Los Angeles, hilariously fronting a bad-ass, multi-ethnic posse, a “don’t fuck with me” look in his eye. Edgerton’s use of parallel editing invites us to see the stalker’s relationship to his crush as a metaphor for the relationship between that of a stalker-fan and the Voice of Every Generation (TM). This connection is made implicit at the video’s beginning (a glimpse of a billboard featuring John Lennon, who was, of course, shot by a “fan”) and end (Dylan and Co. stepping over the unconscious hipster-stalker without so much as batting an eye).
I should also point out that Duquesne Whistle bears an uncanny similarity to the plot and theme of the indie feature Love Stalker, which, in an amazing coincidence, will be returning to Chicago’s Portage Theater for a week-long run beginning next Friday, September 7th. Love Stalker also deconstructs the conventions of the romantic comedy genre by telling the story of Pete (co-writer/director Matt Glasson), a thirty-something player who gets a taste of his own medicine when he falls for and is subsequently dumped by Stephanie (Rachel Chapman), a beautiful relationship advice columnist. I interviewed the filmmaking team behind Love Stalker (Glasson and co-writer director Bowls MacLean) earlier this year when it made its Chicago debut as a one-off screening at the Portage. Any of my students who attend any of the upcoming Love Stalker screenings will receive TWENTY points extra credit if they write a one to two page response paper about the movie. Please note that you must save your ticket stub from the Portage and staple it to your paper in order to receive credit. Bonus points if you also compare and contrast it to Duquesne Whistle.
UPDATE: I will be introducing the 8pm screening of Love Stalker on Friday, September 7 and conducting a Q&A with the filmmakers afterwards. Come on out and buy me a green drink!
Ticket info for Love Stalker at the Portage can be found here: www.lovestalker.com
Duquesne Whistle can be viewed here: Duquesne Whistle