“Pan the room . . . Random use of candles, empty bottles and cloth, and can you see me through this fan?”
Yes we can see her: She’s raspy-voiced, wild-haired 1980s vocalist Bonnie Tyler. Normally in the video for her big hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” which is among the more unforgettably cheesy clips from the early days of MTV, she’s singing Jim Steinman’s angsty lyrics; words such as “Turn around/Every now and then I get a little bit tired of listening to the sound of my tears.”
But we can’t hear Bonnie in this version:
We hear, instead, the hilarious descriptions of what’s going on in the clip. And like a good million or so other people, the sound of my own tears has come from riotous, food-spitting laughter, due to the “literal video” version of a music clip that, when I was much younger, skillfully and accurately summarized everything terrifyingly awful about the 1980s.
The original clip is so painfully bad that after four or five viewings, most terrorist detainees would probably start talking. Seven or eight viewings would be pushing the limits of the Geneva Convention.
But not anymore; not after this.
Literal videos such as “Total Eclipse” have rendered permanently hilarious a whole era of soft-focused, badly-lit clips featuring feather-haired sirens, painfully serious dark-eyed guys in high-collared jackets, odd carnival acts, open doors that lead only to blinding pastel colored lights, inexplicable acrobatics and, almost always, a slo-mo flying dove. They’re a worthy evolutionary step in a parody parade that began with Pop-Up Video.
The “Total Eclipse” literal clip features such amazing observations as, “And they shouldn’t fence at night/or they’re going to hurt the gymnasts,” “I walk onto a terrace where I think I’m alone/But Arthur Fonzarelli’s got an army of clones (Fonzie’s been cloned!),” and my favorite literal line, “I’ll pose like Rocky tonight!” And the ending is not to be missed.
You might argue that these videos were always hilarious, and you’d be right. But 25 years ago, when I was a serious, dark-eyed guy in a high-collared jacket, I never really permitted myself to laugh. Now, it’s impossible not to.
And now it also doesn’t matter if old videos have literal versions or not. Pop on the ones that always seemed very bad; simply imagining the literal version makes it a knee-slapper. Try watching, say, the creepy, uncomfortable clip for Lionel Richie’s “Hello,” or—dare I suggest it—the guffaw-producing Billy Squier video “Rock Me Tonite.” (Actually, that one was already much too funny on its own. The moment Squier starts dancing . . . that’s my cure for a rainy day.)
To test the theory, I turned to what was, for me, the single worst video in the early years of MTV, a clip so abysmal, the thought of it once made me say to myself, “I wanted my MTV—for this?”
I speak, of course, of “Harden My Heart” by Quarterflash:
One cannot watch this now without breaking into peals of laughter. The acrobats. The dwarf. The inexplicable leotard. The tuxedo-wearing motorcyclists carrying blowtorches. Oh my goodness.
So thank you, dascottjr, maker of “Total Eclipse” and five other literal videos (including the brilliant “Separate Ways”). And thank you as well, makers of versions of “Head Over Heels”, “Take One Me” and “White Wedding.” You have given Bonnie Tyler another 15 minutes of televised media fame. And you have reminded us of how painfully funny the 1980s were.
Not that we really needed the reminder.
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