Don't Take A Look At Him Then



Every so often, you'll find a newspaper or magazine feature charting the Paphides/Mojo-approved Official History Of The Pop VideoTM. With a bit of variance to allow for frowning over the record sales of whoever's proving quite popular at the moment, it normally runs somewhere along these lines: the pop video was invented by The Beatles when they started doing music that was too complicated to perform live, and then invented again by Queen in 1974, and then it took off but also declined with the arrival of MTV. With the exception of one wildcard entry by an 'influential' indie band, the accompanying lists of Best Ever Pop Videos are essentially always more or less the same, although none of the corresponding lists of Worst Ever Pop Videos ever point out that the actual literal worst pop video of all time is November Rain by Guns'n'Roses, a parade of pomposity, pretentiousness and heavy-handed 'symbolism' so mind-numbingly interminable that Slash actually GOES FOR A WALK in the middle of it, and which ends with Axl Rose springing back and forth in what can only be a tribute to that animated rabbit trying to pull a carrot out of the ground in Rainbow.

One thing that they can all agree on, however, is that the eighties was the evolutionary high watermark of the pop video, when everyone blew vast amounts of money on exhiliarating big budget high concept mini-movies that epitomised the perfection of mid-eighties pop except that they also epitomised the imperfection of mid-eighties pop, and that The Smiths reacted against this by refusing to make any pop videos ever apart from all the ones that they actually did. And once they get onto that subject, the same old examples get trotted out again and again and again. There's The Wild Boys, Duran Duran's homage to Channel 4's Ghosts In The Machine, in which a robot head of Lloyd from Byker Grove headbutts a computer or something while Simon Le Bon goes round on a big water wheel. There's Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer, a song-ruining parade of animated click-ting stamps literalism tailor made for clip show representation of a year that everyone knows should only be signposted by Phil Cool drinking Citrus Spring. There's Reet Petite, the Claymated springboard for an unexpected three-hit Jackie Wilson mini-revival, which causes clip show talking heads to perform an elaborate retronostalgic variation on the Charleston when they chuckle that they found it funny, then frown that they also found it offensively caricatured, then chuckle that they found it funny again, all the while utterly oblivious that it was first made as an interstitial for the BBC arts show Arena. And then there's Thriller, in which Michael Jackson effects a terrifying transformation into Barry Grant from Brookside.

What you will never find in any of these articles, however, is the cold harsh truth that the most hilariously awful videos of the eighties were a combination of attempts by visually unarresting mainstream artists to look 'stylish', and clip-interpolating rock ballad big budget film themes. And the most hilariously awful of all were those that were a literal combination of the two. If you want evidence of this, look no futher than Phil Collins' Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now).



Like all big hit movie themes of the eighties, Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now) was the credit-propping pop ditty from a film that nobody seems to have seen despite latterday ubiquity in the hallowed everyone-else-in-school-was-allowed-to-stay-up-but-you timeslot. As far as anyone can make out it's got something to do with a love triangle and Jeff Bridges being framed for a crime he didn't commit except he did or whatever it is; frankly, as it was a contemporary of Spies Like Us, nobody should even be in the least bit interested.

As you can imagine, the accompanying video features an endless parade of clips from the overlong popcorn-challenger, most of them seeming to involve little more than people turning their heads slowly sideways. As you can also imagine, these are interspersed with Phil Collins doing some piano-free power ballad miming to camera. What elevates this above the competition, though - and even above Peter Cetera looking askance at some clips from The Karate Kid Part II through sliding doors, which takes some elevating above - is how they introduce the nation's favourite Mel Smith/Eddy Shah/Bob Hoskins-alike into proceedings; the camera zooms in on some sort of Aztec mask featured in the movie, which promptly starts miming his part. No, really.

We then get a dissolve into his face as he stands in front of a luminescent waterfall, which gradually changes colour from red to green to blue, presumably as some sort of love triangle-evoking symbolism, and leaving him looking like Max Headroom as reimagined by whoever designed the wrapper for Terry's Bitz. The mask sporadically recurs but fails to do any more miming - so you could be forgiven for thinking you'd imagined it - Phil slides in and out of frame like a 'comedy' Roland Rat-plugging TV-am ad break card, and a procession of thuds and wallops from the film accompany the inter-verse drum thudding.

But that's not all. For the finally overwrought chorus repetition, Phil changes location to what appears to be the actual literal studio floor from BBC Daytime quiz show Turnabout, which then in turn appears to threaten to turn into the opening titles of The Tripods. All you really need is a cameo from 'Belouis' 'Some' and that'd be the entire eighties right there.


What any of this has to do with any of the film is something of a mystery, and judging from the look of the clips included here, a mystery it can frankly remain. What it does tell us, though, is that if you want a real flavour of an art form, even something as trivial and ephemeral as the pop video, you have to look slightly further afield than the usual accepted facts and figures. You'll find the most ludicrous of stuff in the most unlikely of places, like in bafflingly thrown-together film advertising thinly disguised as chart fodder, and we haven't even started on movie-plugging promo antics by Starship, Chesney Hawkes or 'Dinners' yet.

And anyway, this is the best pop video ever made...