Thursday, August 19, 2010

Pearl's Dreams

This blog post was initially going to be about something completely different, but as the month is running away from me very fast and I’m short of time as it is, this is going to have to do until I’ve got the chance to write something with at least a hint of depth.


I watched Terrence Malick’s ‘Badlands’ again recently and it suddenly occurred to me that there may be references to the film in the Bat For Lashes’ song ‘Prescilla’, since Prescilla is the fictional name Sissy Spacek’s character, Holly, gives herself when she and her homicidal boyfriend go on the run.

Disordered, distorted and anarchic visions of homemaking and domesticity run through both the film and the music video for ‘Prescilla’.

Prescilla from Bat for Lashes on Vimeo.

This then led me to wonder whether Natasha Khan has a soft spot for Sissy Spacek films, since I was always sure that in the lyrics of the same song Khan sings the line, “her name is Carrie”. Although I’m not alone in thinking this, it turns out most lyric sites disagree and seem certain she’s singing “Karen”.

Either way, I’d say an irrefutable film reference made in the song is ‘Prescilla: Queen of the Desert’ (1994) - repeated lines implore Prescilla to “run away, queen of the highway”.

So, anyway, the point, really – if there is one – is that BfL’s songs and especially their music videos are not merely littered with film references, they are a veritable patchworked collage of film references!

So I decided to have a go at finding as many of them as I could in the time I’ve got (or before I could no longer justify such gratuitous self-indulgence when I should definitely be doing other things).

Daniel from Bat for Lashes on Vimeo.

The most obvious one is ‘Daniel’ – obvious because the song’s release rocketed Bat for Lashes into pop-starry-ness and its film reference point was so explicit and so well documented by fans, as the following video demonstrates:

Daniel from Jay Cruz on Vimeo.

Also from their newest album, Two Suns (2009), is the music video for the single, ‘Sleep Alone’, which figures Khan in a red mac: girls in red coats is so prolific a motif that there are more film references than I can possibly mention.

Sleep Alone from Bat for Lashes on Vimeo.

In this particular case, however, and largely because the red cloak in question is clearly waterproof, I’d suggest the main reference is ‘Don’t Look Now’ (1973), but it could just as easily allude to other iconic red coats: the girl in 'Schindler’s List' for example, and there’s my blog’s namesake too – arguably the original founder of the red-cloaked female figure.

As a territorial early fan, however, I’ll take this opportunity to state that Bat for Lashes had clearly been making its visual hints and planting its cinema clues way before 'Daniel'.

It was immediately evident to me in ‘What’s a Girl to Do?’ – their first single release from Fur and Gold (2006) – that the music video for it was positively oozing with Donnie Darko-ness.

My dad spotted the same video’s allusions to Jean Luc Godard’s ‘Week End’ (1967) and Khan herself has sited David Lynch as a general influence throughout her music. The crashed car in ‘What’s a Girl to Do’ could be the crashed car in ‘Mulholland Drive’ (2001). But I’d say Lynch’s influence is more obviously apparent in ‘Pearl’s Dream’.

Pearl's Dream from Bat for Lashes on Vimeo.

For me, ‘Pearl’s Dream’ has the most interesting and subtle film reference of all BfL’s music videos, as Khan herself explains in the documentary about the making of Two Suns.

In addition to the Lynch influence, is Khan’s notion that Pearl is the grown up version of the child character in Charles Laughton’s ‘The Night of the Hunter’ (1955). In particular, Khan cites the river song scene in the film as the spark that ignited the idea, and I’d suggest that this scene is the cinema moment core to all BfL’s creative visions:

The scene epitomises key themes that run throughout BfL’s videos and indeed lead them to all their other filmic influences: the strangeness of nature, the expansive, unpopulated landscapes indifferent to lone human intrusions, providing neither help nor hindrance to human characters, all of whom straddle innocence and evil, and the blurred defining lines between the strange environments of reality and the strange environments of dreams. Infusing Malick’s indifferent landscapes, amoral deserts, and the dangerous, ambiguous transitional nature of roadsides and river banks, is the equally amoral, blank-canvas of childhood Khan sings about – a childhood that is being led down, chased down, or drawn along, rivers and roads, by dark human forces: usually men: men in cars, men on horseback, men with guns.

Khan’s worlds, cinema’s worlds, are alluring, beautiful, dangerous places. They experience growing up as a journey that happens at ghastly, terrifying speeds and with darkly dangerous and unforgiving consequences should the vehicle of choice be derailed. BfL utilizes cinema as a realised form of dream, which processes and explores the fantasy within the real.

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