Reviews: “Uberlin” and “It Happened Today” Videos

By Linda Sommerville

So my MMT friends, it seems that I am the ONLY person who actually likes the films! Perhaps if I explain my perceptions, all of you will at least look at them a bit differently. I don’t expect you to like them, but maybe a little commentary from an art film lover will allow you to appreciate the efforts of the directors and actors/dancers????


As the proud mom of a very talented, professional contemporary dancer, I immediately said “Oh COOL! A dance film!” happy I looked at this film as a work of contemporary dance. The actor, Aaron Johnson, is a trained dancer , and dancers interpret music in many ways. In some cases the movement is directly linked to the lyrics, in literal fashion. An example here is the fall on the stairs, and collision with the pole (Crash land, no illusions, no collision, no intrusion). Pretty obvious straightforward stuff. The real “meat” of the movement happens as a reaction to the music and lyrics. For example, as the music progresses, the dancer’s movement becomes stronger as he realizes he is going to “make it through the night.” The cocky strut during “I know, I know that I am changing”: He begins to respond to his environment in a “fun” sense, (mimicking the squirrel, walking backwards with the man in black). With each step he becomes more upbeat. He has gone from a sleepy, distracted, somewhat disgruntled individual, to someone who is discovering joy. It culminates in powerful explosions of movement, that reflect the power of Buck’s guitar, and joyful cartwheels and jumps, as the music tells us he is “flying on a star into a meteor tonight.” He moves forward with purpose.

If you would like to see an exercise in contemporary dance performed by my daughter’s dance company, check out the following link. The exercise is designed to explore the combination of fast and slow movement. It is danced to Radiohead’s “House of Cards.” Each dancer must interpret the music her own way. This type of free association, often leads to new choreography. You can get a sense of individual interpretation of music. My daughter, Carly, is the first dancer “on stage” (red hair, black headband). I am sending this review to her as well. I am hopeful that they will eventually create a work to an R.E.M song….maybe “Low?” happy

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It Happened Today

To me, this film is about a young man, distanced from his family, virtually ignored by his Mother and Sister. (“this is not a parable, this is a terrible thing”winking. As he heads out into the snow, he seeks distraction from his life, and follows the black dog (representing something mysterious, awaiting him). The music has been masterfully remixed and reworked to fit the eerie mood, as the boy walks carefully through the culvert, not sure what awaits him ahead. Only when he discovers the dumpster, and the discarded flowers, does he begin to release his pent up anger, through the simple act of vandalism.The music soars here to beautiful harmonies and reflects the growing power of his actions. As he moves forward, carrying his anger like a flame, the film culminates in his final act of vandalism. He “finds his voice’” in setting the hay alight, and only after releasing the anger can he smile again, go home and sleep peacefully (in a house where he has not even been missed). I am not sure about the man with the gun… maybe representing protection for the boy (it was his black dog that led the boy to the tools that allowed him to safely release his anger), who then left the boy alone, when he had accomplished his task.

So those are only my interpretations. You may see something completely different if you look closely. Just as we all hear different things we love in music, so can we experience that in other art forms. The joy of art lies in one’s ability to interpret it as you wish. There is no right and wrong.

12 Responses to “Reviews: “Uberlin” and “It Happened Today” Videos”

  1. Auctioneer Says:

    The most likely reason for the fact that you’re the only one that likes these videos is that you’re the only one who understands them enough to appreciate them! big grin Sterling work as always Linda!

    Yours truly,

  2. Ivana Says:

    Great review Linda! I’m still unconvinced re:Uberlin video. Let’s compare these three dancing videos:

    Fatboy Slim – Praise You

    Brilliant video, one of my all time faves! The “dance” kinda relates to the song lyrics, and yet parodies them at the same time. Plus people who don’t know that the main dancer is the director Spike Jonze himself, might not realise that this “guerilla video” is actually a spoof.

    Radiohead – Lotus Flower

    See, the thing is, this video was released just a few weeks before Uberlin, so lots of people will assume that R.E.M. are copying Radiohead here – while in reality R.E.M. might have finished their video earlier. That’s the problem with waiting for 6 months to release a completed album, instead of doing it out of the blue as Radiohead had done. For me, this video works because a) who could’ve expected to see Thom Yorke dancing like that, b) it’s perfectly suited to the atmosphere of the song – detached, weird, yet intriguing and even seductive.

    R.E.M. – Uberlin

    Now, in comparison to the two videos above, the new R.E.M. video seems a bit contrived. At least Jonze and Yorke are doing the dancing themselves, instead of hiring someone else! The dude Aaron Johnson is obviously a good dancer, but my main objection is that the idea itself is not original at all – I was expecting something a lot more interesting. This video also reminds me of other classic videos with walking in the streets, such as: Massive Attack “Unfinished Sympathy”, The Verve “Bittersweet Symphony”, Bruce Springsteen “Streets Of Philadelphia” etc. Sorry folks, deja vu.

  3. Linda Says:

    Thanks so much Ivana and Auctioneer. Happy you took the time to read the reviews,and think about them happy and thanks Ivana for posting. I enjoy the comments very much from my intelligent, newly adopted childrenwave . Auctioneer, remember, it is all about personal perception, not necessarily understanding. Many folks don’t understand art, music, dance, but still enjoy it for the creativity involved winkingThanks too Ivana for posting the link to Carly and her company. Once again, you may not understand or like it, or maybe you think it’s kinda cool! I am kinda proud of the girl myselfbig grin

    I have seen both the “Fatboy Slim” video and the “Lotus Flower” video and love them both rock on Cracked up the first time I saw the previous one. It certainly does poke fun at creative dance! Haven’t seen the Verve video, but will look it up. I agree with you Ivana, that “Lotus Flower” is all of those things you have stated. It’s a brilliant video, very compelling and it does what a true video does, showcases the music and the star. I think that maybe the main issue is that as REM fans, we always want a “band” video, cause we love to look at the guys as well as listen to them. To me, they have given us that very thing, in the live, in-studio videos. Michael has always said these other films are not designed to be “videos” in the usual sense( Thom Yorke’s is just that-an entirely different animal), rather these short films are a separate project using the only the music from CIN as a starting point. I figure it is the equivalent of scoring a movie, only in this case, the score comes first. Just wanted to put my 2 cents worth in. Hope you all enjoyed the reviews. And as always….to each his own applause

  4. Linda Says:

    By the way…..what would you do if you were creating a video for Uberlin? What would it look like? I would love to hear your ideas.

    Maybe you can all educate me as to the music. I understand some of the things I don’t enjoy in the albums( such as too much reverb hiding Michael’s great voice), and I assume that is a case of overproduction, but when I hear many of you refer to overproduction, I am sure I am missing something and would love to know morebig grin

  5. Ivana Says:

    To be honest, I really loved the lyrics video for Uberlin, I thought that the idea with this “interactive” map was brilliant. So I would probably utilise that basic idea, and interpolate it with some brief appearances of the three bandmembers at various spots in Berlin. As you can tell, I love the literal approach. happy

    As for overproduction, that’s easy to explain. Most bands, R.E.M. included, start with a raw multitrack demo recording, which is very similar to how the bands sound live. It is like a b/w drawing, a mere sketch; but then, the painter would fill his sketch with colours, and in this case, the band and the producer will add layers of studio wizardry. There are many ways to colour the basic recording: by adding new instrumental and vocal layers (overdubs) and by employing various studio effects on selected tracks (for example: echo/delay/reverb, distortion, fade in/out, autotune, transposition, speeding up/slowing down, etc.) For example, Peter Buck used no less than eight different guitars for “Man On The Moon” – each one with different effects and sound colours! Then, the mixing is also extremely important, because that’s when the band and the producer decide which tracks will make it into the finished songs, which parts will be discarded, and they also decide what should sound louder and/or quieter. Usually the lead vocals are the loudest, and everything else is adjusted accordingly. The main problem with early R.E.M. records was that Stipe didn’t want his vocals to be the loudest in the final mix, so the producers had to figure out how to mix the songs without burying his vocals completely! As for instrumental tracks, some are barely audible, but they serve as a background: for example, listen to “These Days” from Lifes Rich Pageant – there’s an organ underneath all the guitars and drums; it is barely audible, and yet it “opens” the song and makes it sound rich and spatious.
    Now, overproduction means that they have spent too much time in the studio tampering with the original recording! Maybe they’ve added too many instrumental layers, or too many effects, or both; or maybe they’ve edited out all tiny mistakes, so the song sounds as if played by robots! In any case, the final result sounds a bit artificial, a bit too slick. That’s my problem with Reveal, I listen to that record and I love all the songs, but I’d love to hear the original demos, before they added all those Pro Tools effects, all those beeps and pings and bzoings. big grin

  6. Ivana Says:

    Oh and btw Carly’s troupe is fantastic! Wish I could dance like that… alas, dear lord had different plans with me, when he made me so tall and goofy and clumsy. nerd

  7. Arek Says:

    Hey Ivana, you know a lot about production, wow, “I’ve got a lot to learn”.
    You’re right about Reveal and the same with Around the Sun, good songs and overproduced. Accelerate contains good songs too, not overproduced, but too loud, I think.
    BTW, I have a physical copy of Collapse since Friday, the production is good, but, unfortunetly we have to forget about the times when Scott Litt was on board.
    What do You think about Collapse and the album mix and production?

  8. Linda Says:

    I really liked the lyric video as well, and I like your idea for a video. Kirste told me on FB that she wanted to see members o the band walking alone through the night…a kind of dark and moody fim. All GREAt ideas. maybe you should all make your own video and post it to You Tube. Budding art film directorsbig grin

    Fabulous info about the production. Thanks Ivana. It is pretty much what I thought, but it must be so difficult to decide what to include etc…what a huge project. Sometimes these producers( and Mike and Michael I dare say) get too involved in all the tricks available, and “muddy” the album with too much of a good thingwinking I will be able to listen more carefully when the album arrives, and be a bit more knowledgeable about what I am listening to. I do know that as I watch the live performances, it seems like the songs come to life. I guess I would refer to them as down and dirty, raw and in your face with the rockers live, and so very personal in the ballads. One of my wishes would be for a simple, unplugged album. The clip of Saturn Return gave me chills day dreaming When I hear the live, unplugged version of I’ve Been High, and then the album version, “live” wins out every time. Pure music, pure emotion,….can’t beat it IMHO.

    Thanks for the kind words about Carly. There are more videos on You Tube and on their website too. xoxoxox

  9. Ivana Says:

    No problem folks! I used to work at a radio station, that’s where I learned everything about studio work and music production. happy

    Arek, yeah, I miss Scott Litt too… My main problem with Jacknife’s production is the way he compresses fast songs. For example, “Mine Smell Like Honey” – the “live in studio” version is great, but the studio recording is too fuzzy, too cramped, too many high frequencies, too many power chords with pedals, plus Stipe’s voice sounds like shit. This heavy production is really a burden on fast songs – instead of energising them, it kills the momentum.

  10. Arek Says:

    the same with “All the Best” the power of this great song went down to toilet! All I can say is: Jacknife is not good producer for REM!
    I thought I was alone with this opinion?!

  11. Ivana Says:

    You’re not alone Arek! A few months ago we discussed this re: Accelerate, and it’s not entirely Jacknife’s fault either, but it has to do with the way the records are mastered nowadays:

  12. Arek Says:

    Oh thank you for link, great 2 small things about mastering and producing nowadays. It is really sad. I thought that only Jacknife is doing it in that loudy-way. I didn’t know the whole industry music produce loud cds!!!
    BTW: I like “Fables” reissue, I think it’s a good remaster work. And what is very sad, Collapse, the greatest REM album in 15 years is screwed-up by the production. My God, why???

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