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.


Anonymous said...

The Johnny Got His Gun elements in this video always did chill me quite a bit; in fact it's so effective as to be disturbing, and its power often leads me to watch the jammin' version without the clips from the movie simply because its effect on me is so powerful. James' growling voice while singing the verses directly contrasts the soft voices other people would often use when accompanied by such beautiful guitar-playing, making the song suddenly heavy with the attitude of the band, and saturated with a darkness that is communicated surprisingly well for such an old video.

Thanks for writing, I found this very insightful!

Phantom Lord said...

I found this post to be very good about the video for One by Metallica and the movie Johnny Got His Gun. In a way you could probably adapt the story for Johnny Got His Gun to any war past or present and it would make perfect sense about the true horrors faced by many wounded soldiers. The song and video are now 20 years old and it still holds up as much today as it did back then. Metallica was able to take important scenes from the film and use them in a way to really drive home what the main character Joe was going through.

It was a great read and perspective on the video.

Kelly Ann said...

Very interesting perspective on the video.

It's interesting on how Metallica incorporated the movie into their music video for "One"...and made it almost into their own mini movie.

Anonymous said...

I always liked this song, but, I never realized it had a historical background that went along with the video. I thought it was just a general WWI-esq video, and this synopysis of the video makes a lot of sence, including how Metallica themselves are seen in the video.

Anonymous said...

I don't have much experience with Metallica and even less with history/war knowledge so I’ve never seen or heard of the song or story before. But with my inexperienced opinion, the idea behind the narrative coupled with the band's representation was really frightening.

The band was able to isolate key scenes and sounds from the film and incorporate them into the "One" song perfectly-- it's almost as if the song should have been in the film itself or that it was made specifically for the novel. The lead singer’s facial expressions fit with the injured main character because he looks so upset, frustrated, and depressed at different moments. The slowing melodic tones and then jarring and fast-paced chorus show that the character was really struggling and in a state of mental turmoil.

The end of the music video with the footage of the nurse killing the main character was absolutely chilling. It’s not just the footage that makes me feel this way but the way the music climaxed. The faster the music got, the more I knew what was happening but I was still shocked. It reminded me of a heartbeat racing really fast—maybe because mine was as I watched the ending.

Overall, it was really scary but perfect music video by Metallica.

Anonymous said...

This video stands as one of the most emotionally charged works of art I've ever seen. This blog post emphasizes a few of the key insights I've had watching the video over the years. The interplay of the film clips and band shots do work very well. Rather than detracting from each other, they reinforce the emotions and power behind the music and the clips. The dialogue was always the most chilling aspect for me. The post brought up something very important that I never considered - how powerful the color clips are when contrasted with the black and white images. It really is a wonderful interplay of pounding music and a crushing portrayal of the horrors of war.

Overall, an interesting, insightful read, and a good take on something I've been viewing my entire life.

Anonymous said...

You summed up perfectly why I get the goosebumps on my skin and feel the chills going up my arm when I'm watching Metallica's video for "One." A chilling short feature based off a full-length film that you told in great detail, and this video right here is a winner.

Despite knowing a lot about Metallica's background, it still comes as a shcking jolt to me when I see the video's beginning - the panned shots of James as the opening gunfire rings out before James plucks his way into the first intro. The war aspect definitely goes hand-in-hand with Metallica's stance and offers sequencing visuals to the band's story. Likewise, the band members make sure their shots compliment the film well with the style, editing, and action of their scenes, in order to heighten the essence of the actual film.

A metal music video, and a World War I based film - two media forms that, at a glance, seem like polar opposites. But when put together, they create a chilling retell of an event that, unfortunately, is as common then as it is now. And you did that perfectly with your descriptions and reasonings. A truly enjoyable read, and I hope to see more of these from you in the future.

Anonymous said...

Metallica's - One definitely does a great job at capturing all the essence and story of the movie/book in just 7 and a half minutes. I watched the video for years, then when I was finally able to watch the movie itself, it felt like I had already seen the movie because of the great way that Metallica was able to portray the story. As you mentioned the band being in black and white along with the movie's black and white images, its almost as if the movie was sort of made for Metallica to act as Joe's narrator, seeing as the black and white shots in the film are only when Joe is on his hospital bed thinking to himself about all the things that James sings about.

It's always been my favorite Metallica video and probably always will be. Good job!

Jp said...

Very interesting prespective on the analysis of the short. I've always enjoyed just how well the trio music/band/film clips joined together to create a super powerfull (and, unfortunately, still relevant) anti-war message.
Your trained and rational analysis certainly have prismed this caleydoscope of colors that is this short, despite of beeing predominantely in black and white!

Thank you for helping me gain some more appretiation for this amazing short/videoclip. Respect all the way from Portugal!

Anonymous said...

I have always enjoyed this song, but this is my first time truly watching the video. It adds a completely new level of understanding and intensity to the song and your analysis highlights the various visual and musical techniques the band and directors employed to create such a work.

I am stunned by how effectively the narrative is translated to the viewer through such a short video, and I agree that the shots of the band do not detract away from the narrative but instead enhance it. The nostalgic scenes in colour versus the black and white shots of the band and of the hospital emphasize the difference in settings and mood, and as you said, make the viewer pay more attention to the important and heartwrenching dialogue.

I am impressed by how much the expressions by the band members add yet another level of pathos. You drew attention to the close shots of their expressions and precision of playing in your analysis, and upon second viewing, I noticed the pairing of the character's increasing hysterical pleas for help and Kirk's sorrowful, painfully young face during the solo which is both subtle and helplessly sad. James' frustrated, angry face is impossible to ignore in the close-ups and builds the visual and musical intensity. Before watching the video, I had appreciated the precision in the playing, but the close-up shots of James playing the chug-chug riffs or of Lars kicking the bass drums really show both how frighteningly good this band is and how frightening the effect of those sounds are. The song is one of barely contained aggression that is fueled by the main character's frustration and helplessness.

What also struck me particularly was the artistry of the shots, how Lars is reflected on the heads of the drums like mirrors, the coiled tension in James' arms in the opening shots and the blue-ish lighting effect. (It is interesting for me to remember the lighting and staging when I heard One played live, as James adopts the same pose, under the same type of lights on stage as he does in this video.)

I agree with you hundred-percent that the music intertwines incredibly well with the narrative. And I am impressed that you condensed the important musical aspects into one paragraph, which is not easy to do considering the number of rhythmic and melodic motives which express the narrative, and the sheer length of the song. You highlight the moments in which band, movie and song work very well together to create that feeling of horror in the viewer.

I am now thoroughly motivated to go read the book and watch the film. Your analysis was insightful and informative and drew attention to aspects of the song, and to the relationship of music and visuals, which I had never before noticed.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea Jaymz got some of the lyrics for one from the book. i knew the book inspired the song, never knew the opening lyric was from there O_o
from reading your blog i appreciate the video much more. ONE is such a powerful song by itself but as you said the way they have taken audio & visuals from the film and put it in with MetallicA playing...it's just mindblowing.
the video is painful to watch as none of us would want to be in that situation but the music is what helps me not to look away.
very well written Trinny >=:)

Anonymous said...

Interesting perspective, for me I've always felt that not only was the story told lyrically and visually but musically too, from the opening "disjointed intro" which creates a feeling of disorientation perhaps the protagonist coming to in hospital, the acoustic tones played over the lyrics ". . . oh please God wake me!" adding a sense that the character has faith and by stark contrast the lack of acoustic tones in the last section indicating a loss of faith. Most people say that they think the "heavier" section sounds like machine guns but to me its always sounded like morse code in a syncopated dot dot dot stop kinda sound like the morse code used for S.O.S.

But overall I agree entirely with your assessment and it adds a new perspective to the video for me.

Shane Donovan