Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Daily Dose 5/19/10 - "Virtual Insanity" by Jamiroquai

The triumphant return of the Daily Dose is pleased to present one of my favorite videos of all time. From the 1996 album 'Traveling Without Moving', Virtual Insanity:

Sometimes directors have great ideas that just don't translate to the screen for some reason. Either the execution is lacking, or the concept doesn't really fit the song, or any one of a million other reasons. However, sometimes your one idea is going to be just enough to create one of the most popular videos of all time. Jonathan Glazer struck gold with his concept for "Virtual Insanity". Apparently comprised of a single shot (Glazer does admit that compositing was used to get that effect), the video follows Jamiroquai front man Jay Kay as he dances around, and with, a room and its furniture, often seeming to violate the laws of physics. Certainly some credit for the video has to be given to Jamiroquai themselves for coming up with the name of their album (Traveling Without Moving...yeah, there's probably a connection there...), but the execution is phenomenal.

From a technical standpoint, the effects are pretty mind-bending. I remember the first time I saw this video and being absolutely blown away watching Jay Kay dance around the furniture as it moved. While the name of the song is "Virtual Insanity", there was nothing virtual about the way the onscreen effect was achieved. The three walls that comprise the 'room' (or the 'hallway' in the shot with the band) are actually on wheels, with the camera in a fixed position on the fourth wall. The entire room (and camera) is then moved around to create the sensation of motion. The fact that Jay Kay is a smooth and talented dancer certainly doesn't hurt, as his movements, even in the shots where the room is static, seem to match those of the moving room very well.

But I think it's the way the video conceptualizes the song that is the real strength. The song is credited to the whole band, and I don't know any of the gentlemen well enough to ascribe responsibility for the lyrics, but suffice it to say that whoever wrote them painted a very bleak picture of the future. A poisoned environment:
And I’m giving all my love to this world
Only to be told
I can’t see, I can’t breathe
No more will we be
Mankind driven into sterile living in underground refuges:
Futures made of virtual insanity now
Always seem to be governed by this love we have for
Useless, twisting, of our new technology
Oh now there is no sound, for we all live underground
Thematically, it's somewhat heavy handed as Jay Kay (and in one shot, the rest of the band) cruise around in a bleak monochrome room sealed off from any evidence of the real world, with the exception of the black crow (carrion feeder) and cockroaches/beatles (assumed to be able to survive a catastrophe that would end human life) providing a sort of dark counterpoint to Jay Kay's isolation. The lyrics of the song tell a story of a future where human reliance on, and love of, technology eventually prove our undoing, and for much of the video, Jay dances alone, perhaps the last remnant of the human race. It might all be a bit much, except for the whimsical way that he moves around his surroundings. He's a bit of a harlequin in his big hat and zippered fleece, and his appearance and enthusiasm for the dancing give just enough levity to keep the ship from sinking under self-importance.

I actually thought, when watching this video again to write the piece, that I had seen Fred Astaire do something related, if not similar, once upon a time. It took some searching, but as a special addition to today's Daily Dose, I'm pleased to present Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer in "My Heart". If you're too impatient to watch the whole thing, the moving platform section comes in at about 7 minutes into the piece, but I highly encourage you to watch two extremely talented dancers perform in what was once probably the hottest spotlight in popular culture - The Ziegfeld Follies:

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