Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Metallica, ... And Justice For All (1988)
Directed by Bill Pope and Michael Salomon
Debut on January 20th, 1989, 7:45 minutes.
Based on the film & novel Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
Taken from Metallica - The Videos: 1988 - 2004 DVD.
After seeing La Jetee and 12 Monkeys, I decided to further explore the relationship between shorts and features. From what I've seen, shorts usually develop into feature films. In the case of 12 Monkeys, Terry Gilliam took elements of La Jetee -- time travel, dreams of a woman, inevitable death -- and incorporated them into a longer interpretation of the short. But with this music video, the short condenses a feature film into a seven and a half minutes without (miraculously) losing the depth and poignancy of the original film.
Dalton Trumbo wrote an anti-war novel named Johnny Got His Gun in 1938, and was published a year later in 1939. Yes, an anti-war novel written during a pro-war period of World War II. He received some criticism for his work (and hate mail), but still received a National Book Award later that year. Consequently, in 1947, he was blacklisted along with other writers, directors, and screenwriters that created the infamous Hollywood Ten.
For those who have never had the pleasure (or horror) of reading the novel, it is about a man named Joe Bonham who becomes completely paralyzed after losing all his limbs and face when he steps into a landmine during World War I. Told in a jarring, disjointed first-person POV, we learn about Joe's past, his current situation, and how he tries to contact the outside world without any use of his mouth or arms: by bashing his head on his pillow in the rhythmic notations of Morse Code. And Metallica's music video conveys this story brilliantly well in a short amount of time.
The music video to Metallica's "One" from their critically acclaimed album ...And Justice For All (1998) tells the story of Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun in two ways: lyrically and visually. Penned by James Hetfield, lead singer and rhythm guitarist, the lyrics parallel Joe's thoughts from the novel, written in first-person and describe his feelings and thoughts of the situation. At times the songs blatantly take repeated phrases from Trumbo's 1938 novel, such as "I can't remember anything" and "nothing is real but pain now." To further connect the song with the story, the music video utilizes clips from the 1971 film adaptation that Trumbo directed himself.
Mixing band clips with film clips create a high risk of detracting from the power of the story itself. But with Metallica's One, this is not the case. The setting of an undisclosed warehouse does not distract from the film's images of a hospital, warfare, and soldiers. In addition, the band's black-and-white shots correlate well with the film's own B&W clips. When the band's shots either overlay or fade in/out of film clips, they work well together, like they are from the same movie. In addition, because the band is in black-and-white, the viewer pays much more attention to the color film clips, which consequently contain galvanizing lines of dialogue. What works so well with the movie clips are the shots made of the band's performance. Tight close-ups of them playing with precision and their expressions during their performance add to the intensity and depth of the story itself: the menacing growl James makes as he sings, the sorrowful look on Kirk's face, the wincing Lars does as he drums, the pursed lips Jason sports.
If anything, the main aspect that adds to this music video is, of course, the song itself. The machine-gun intro with the melodic rhythm opener followed by lead guitar's sorrowful overlay, twin harmonizing guitars, the power chords, the progression of tempo from slow to fast, the hold of an E chord while the drums double-kick foreshadowing what is to come-- and then the switch into the ratta-ta-ta later half, with chug-chug of the guitars in time with the double-bass drum kicks, the cry-whine of the guitar solo and the harmonized guitars into it's ungodly fast ending. Already from the novel and the movie I'm left speechless by the image of Joe slamming his head repeatedly into the pillow in the rhythm of Morse Code. But add onto that the song's chug-chug riff and double bass drums, the image of James' face screaming "darkness, imprisoning me" over Joe's bashing head while the nurse looks on -- and I'm pretty much beyond galvanized.
This music video I feel is a successful adaptation of a feature made into a short film. Even with music and band shots, they didn't detract from the story, but mixed well with it. Personally, this music video actually conveys Trumbo's novel much better than his own film adaptation did. The film itself is long and trying at times, with scenes that could have been cut to reduce filler. The video not only reflects the story Trumbo wrote but the messages and themes he conveyed. It actually leaves me more speechless at the end than the movie itself does.
But go see the movie once you're done watching the music video -- and read the book if you haven't! Best to try them out, then come back to this music video, and see what your thoughts are. Until then, I'm going to go watch this short film one more time... then go play it on my guitar. And Guitar Hero 3.