Marlena Stuglik

“ Be There” vs. “ Army of me” - women in modern art


Vienna 2005
About the artists: UNKLE & Dj Shadow feat Ian Brown


Before the Gallaghers, before Damon Albarn, before Anne Heche – Ian Brown was the kid to beat. Manchester's coolest singer circa 1989-'91, Brown fronted the Stone Roses.
As an Ex-Stone Roses front man - Ian Brown teamed up with UNKLE for the one-off single “Be There” in 1998. "Be There" gave the group their first top ten hit in 1999. It featured the adroit Ian Brown, who again joins the group for the symphonic odyssey, "Reign" - a beautifully constructed sounds cape record that mixes personal and political fears of apocalypse.
The music on the ‘Psyence Fiction' album served by James Lavelle & DJ Shadow is rather instrumental. The beats are decent.

Late 90’, the rock album with hip-hop grooves saw the daylight. It was quite an event, the album received great hype. You could notice quickly that guest appearances would overshadow a little the tracks from the album since many of the vocalists appearing there had became famous by the time the tracks were released. One example was Richard Ashcroft, co-working on the album, founder and leader of the British rock band “The Verve” a band who became very popular in UK and then abroad during the late 90s’.
The music on the track was composed by Dj Shadow. The sound reflects the brilliance and undisputable talent of his. He really rocked when playing with the desk and sampler in the studio , during the time the trio was working on the album.. The vibe is fairly deep, its not a party album. There are no jiggy hip-hop tracks, in fact some tracks are downright dark in style, but this just makes the whole thing more listenable, like rock music.
Lavelle's basic approach to music-making hasn't changed. He still trades in texture and atmosphere, favouring sweeping strings, cinematic grandeur, a mix of pop sensibilities with downtempo music, and an obsession with science fiction.
UNKLE's 1998 debut album Psyence Fiction--which James Lavelle collaborated on with DJ Shadow--was heralded by many as one of the most notable revolutionary albums of its time.
“ Be There" is a remix of "Unreal" from UNKLE's “Psyence Fiction” . The mix has been tweaked a bit and the muffled electric guitar has been replaced with vocals by Ian Brown from the Stone Roses. With Lavelle’s organizational know-how, DJ Shadow’s song craft and the talents of unit-mover guests, the music press’ famed knack for hyperbole and linguistic fellatio took hold of “Psyence Fiction”, inflating it far beyond realistic hopes.
I'm not sure what the lyrics mean but that doesn't distinguish it from most pop/rock songs; allmusic.com doesn't dig it but I find it oddly fascinating.
Musically, the album features all the standard DJ Shadow touches (terror-filled vocal samples, unpredictable drumming, airy, atmospheric melodies).
On this track, the music basically takes a back seat, but in doing so , it creates a wonderful atmosphere, evocative of a spooky night in some foreign city , in a indefinable subway.


“ Be There”

A long corridor with fluorescent light. Bright, glowing colours fill the space. The hallway is an empty, curved tunnel. It is clean and builds a clear background for the action. The atmosphere is motionless. It is reflected by the sterile walls and floor, unsettled only by one newspaper lying lifeless on the floor. The tunnel of death is appearing (1)- the tunnel at the start , this is signifying the start of her journey , she is looking back - as though she doesn’t want to go , that’s why the footage is like she is leaving somewhere- leaving her life.
We are now in an elevator. The door just opened and the elevator is getting empty. Five people, two young white guys, a young girl and two black portly bouncer-type men, enter it now. We don’t really know where they are coming from, neither if it is night or day. However, the subway seems pretty empty so they might have just left a party. The two ‘gangsta’ guys, dressed hip hop like seem to be tough, imposing and even dangerous. Wearing leather jackets and golden jewellery they look authoritative. The men, who appear to be with the girl, are standing in the background, at the door.
The two white guys are slim and small compared to the previous one. The clothes definitely don’t demonstrate any power, the look they have is more of Britt-average-cool look, with blouses worn rather sloppy and hair put in a moderate disorder.
The girl that is standing in front of the two young-musicians in elevator is the main character in the video clip. She is wearing a black coat. With no make up and chaotically styled hair , she seems not to care about her looks too much.
You can see at first glance she is a contrast for the guys standing on the other side. She demonstrates it by the way she leans against the elevators wall when facing them. You can see the self-confidence on her face and the feeling of awkwardness on the face of the young men (2). She, the weaker sex, is the one that holds the power . She is strong and dominant. If the white guys have any doubts about that the rappers’ freezingly cold looks take them all away. The only thing they can do in this situation is simply leave the girls ‘territory’. Preferably using the door placed opposite to the one blocked by the ‘black power’. the guys become nervous , they know where she is going, they know she is leaving , accompanied by the angels, they can’t look at her, they look away - they leave quickly. They may be spirits who haven’t crossed over (3).
These five people are not interacting directly, they are not talking, only their eyes are expressing feelings each one of them may be living inside. Dominance, interest, uncertainty, impatience, tension, aggressiveness, finally relief of being freed from that awkward situation.
One of the white guys gave the girl a look, but there was no response. This act seems to reflect our new age society where people have problems with interacting and communicating – these five people are standing in the same room (elevator) but we can feel that there exists a wall between them. We can observe a game that is taking place in the elevator amongst the people within it. You can easily notice who seems to be more powerful, who tends to have control over the others and would try to influence the other passengers. Some people are pre- or just disposed to be leaders, we are the ones who adjust to them in some way. It happens everywhere and most of the time, in every society, every culture. Here the black angels won the girl.
The girl leaves the elevator followed by the black men (4). She is doing it defiantly - like she is not scared -but she is , she just doesn’t want to show it. She leads the way , like she doesn’t care. The black guys follow her. While walking along the subway hall they stay close to each other. You could say there is some invisible bond between them. They walk next to each other but there is no conversation between them. They are walking along the corridor. The black guys are looking like bodyguards of this young girl, they are taking care of her. The action starts to speed up.
Observing this scene , old stereotypes concerning young girls came to my mind. It seems that she can be hurt very easily and needs somebody who will take care of her. These enormous black guys symbolize for me an archetype of masculinity. They are protecting the delicate and lost girl which leads the guys through the subway corridor and the guys stay behind her . Her eyes are downcast and she seems absent-minded but nevertheless she realizes the company of the guys – she turns back to check if they’re still following her. She smiles, she feels safe – she knows her fate.
They get to the end of the corridor which splits in two directions - but when she gets to the bottom , she stops, maybe aware that she is going a different way or maybe she doesn’t know. It’s time to say goodbye.
The first angel walks straight by ignoring her , signifying that they are parting, the second angel shows her compassion , aware of her fear. He touched her cheek smoothly, as he is saying – take care of yourself (5). She watches them leave , pausing , contemplating what is in her path , knowing but not wanting to accept it in her mind. When she leaves the “black angels” , she is on her way to meet the grim reaper.
That’s the next gender relation – the guys are leaving her and she will stay alone, she has to be tough and show strength – but not like men, she has to become a strong women , able to protect herself – but the death is very close and nobody can hide.
The “black angels” are entering the subway and the girl enters the subway station in another direction - it is the next step. She is on her final journey , drug overdose maybe. She enters the empty station , signifying her loneliness
The subway station is an average station a little bit dirty with a bench and food vending machine. The lights are not so fluorescent- like in the beginning of the video clip- more warm but dark and we can feel that troubles are brewing up. This atmosphere reminds me of horror movies – a young delicate girl totally alone in a subway station and we have only to wait for the scary part.
The girl is alone at the station and she seems to be bored waiting for the last tram. She looks at the vending machine then she walks up to the bench and sits carelessly on the bench - thinking , trying to think of something else (6).
She looks untidy – she is not very stylish and her hair is straggly. Nevertheless she is very feminine, she is dressed in a black coat, a black T-shirt with white drawings or writings – possibly from a concert – in pink trousers and blue shoes with high heels. There are no masculine attributes .
The atmosphere is becoming inpatient. Then we can observe that the scene in the video clip switch to another – it is a zoom of the hand of the girl. There are some drawings, stamps and something written on her hand ( we can only imagine where the stamps come from – maybe from a club, party or perhaps from a hospital because she has a plastic armband, which are wearing patients).
The most important objects on the hand - which are giving us a significant information about the girl – are ants (7). But the ants remind her , they signify decay or death. Ants and other insects are often a sign that dangerous situations will arise and when the ants or insects occur in crowds the psyche is giving alarm signals.
The girl brushes the ants away trying still to forget It is possible that she doesn’t recognize her problems and that she is unaware of them. Perhaps she doesn’t want to deal with her troubles - that’s why she threw them away – or she as a women is not able to solve her problems (if that is the purpose of the video director, we - as the viewers - are finding our self on a different, indefinable and spooky level). The problem is with defining this lost girl – with her black coat, pink trousers and blue shoes sitting carelessly and bored on the bench - which is “…falling, falling again…”. Is she real? Is this place real? Are her troubles real? Where does she come from? She is blind, she will not recognize her death. The ants are eating the already decaying body. She is more nervous.
This impatient atmosphere intensify the appearance of a figure hooded in a black coat. The girl noticed this huddled figure. We don’t know where this figure comes from and we didn’t realized that the figure occurs. The figure is close to the girl and only the presence of the figure terrify. Then the thoughts return. She is aware. She looks now and sees death - the grim reaper sitting there , but maybe only in her mind (8).
The girl stood up rapidly and went to the opposite corner. She became scared a little bit but observed the scary figure. She seems as if she recognises the figure – she knows the figure.
We as the viewers go over to a different dimension, a very spooky one. Are we in a horror movie? Will something happen to her?
He hasn’t reached her end yet. She gets up , walks away , in denial -maybe she wants to run , escape -but the wind comes , the train arrives. She can’t escape, she can only enter -the doors close , they signify she ‘s trapped. Only one way , she has to go.
We can only imagine that she will be accompanied by that figure because the figure was no longer on the subway station.
The girl is sitting lonely in an empty tram (9). She seems bored and lost – the lifeless atmosphere reflects in her feeling. She has a walkman and she listen to some music – we can imagine the beats because she is moving her foot. She stares , lost , deep thoughts , she tries to drown them out with music. She turns the volume right up. The still shot - a sad face , just on the screen long enough to register her sorrow enough for the viewer to feel it themselves. Then she is traveling nearer. We see the tracks pass quickly , we know its soon -but then the tape jams , the music isn’t enough , its not enough to block it out. The end of her journey is nearing - no tape !! she has now only to accept her fate. She rips it out , not in frustration but something to occupy her mind , something to block out the reality of her fate (10).
The tram is riding - it is dark outside – and suddenly the tram slowing arrive at an empty station (maybe the end of her life). The tram stopped and the door opened but the girl closed them immediately or maybe an indefinable power closed them – and made it impossible for the girl to leave. She tries to leave (11) , but the doors don’t open , they tease her , but then slam shut (12). The final irony, now she looks panicked , she doesn’t want to be there - maybe she regrets the reason her journey began , maybe she wishes shed done some things different.
The girl doesn’t know what to do with herself, she looks around but she seems senseless. She is sitting mechanical in the tram (13). She reminds me of homeless people which looks lost – persons without a place to go, they look lost and we can see in her face the same scared and nervous mimic.
She appears extremely lonely in the tram, which is still riding – nobody is there -getting closer to her fate It is dark outside and we can feel that this darkness is occupying the whole tram and that the darkness is an essential part of the video clip because it is surrounding everything. A dark character (darkness) cause worrisome and chilling feelings(14). During the night everything can happen – there are no limits, there is an accumulation of bad attributes which are close to the girl. But now she feels it, she sits nervously , unable to block it out anymore, her mind is numb, she plays with her hair , rocks in the seat, her head is down , she is very uneasy, then her head is up , she stares in front, she knows , feels something is coming, her eyes are wide , fear , adrenalin , she feels it all now. Then she accepts it.
The camera goes down to the level of her shoes. A can rolls to her foot and the girl starts to play with it (15). When she turns the can over and over she begins smiling, she laughs at the tape , as though laughing at her fear ; laughing at the way she tried to deal with it (16) – the tape is laying, because now she has accepted it , its easy - now she is tired, just wants it over with, she is bored, she thinks about it all , like the thoughts you have before you sleep, the video flash backs (17), brings you back .The girl dreams about this mysterious figure which she has seen at the subway station and about this unexplained situation. Her dreams are true, it is not a imagination because this strange figure never felt behind – the creature has been always with her, following her - then she sleeps.
The atmosphere is becoming nervous, the camera shows the hand of the girl – we recognize one more time drawings, writings and a plastic armband.
There are screen shots showing her lips and neck. She is very feminine and sexy for the last time (18)– she attracts. The video underlines the redness of her lips as well as the sexuality and the shape of her body (neck). A small light emphasize her skin and her beauty. This only reflects the norm of hegemonic sexuality, for even still the female body is used as the generalized object of sexual pleasure for men (creatures)...and this persistent portrayal of erotic images has its influence on, and is influenced by, symbolic meanings which are culturally pervasive. She seems that she is “falling” in a different dimension, that an indescribable energy is occupying her . Finally its over, for her, when she accepted death , she died, the worst part of dying(19).
Then we can observe in the dark – the camera is one more time at the level of the shoes – that somebody is coming nearer and near.
Suddenly a newspaper bangs at the window (20). The girl opens her eyes because of the noise, the lights in the tram are on and we can realize that in the corner of the compartment is standing this black creature (21)– which we have seen at the subway station. The girl is falling asleep. The lights turns off and on – and we perceive that the death is not more standing in the corner. The lights turns one more time off….
The sleeping girl is alone, covered with darkness. She becomes now a part o the darkness. The atmosphere is growing to a very frightening. We perceive that somebody moves the can toward her – the figure is close . The creature extends his hand towards the face of the girl and tries to touch her (22). The girl belongs at this moment to the creature, there is no possibility to escape. She is an element of the dark side now. The journey doesn’t matter , its over now - then she’s gone , with him. The subway is still riding – without destination.
We had the opportunity to follow a girl, to observe her last trip – it is a journey threw her life – because not everything is so simple like it is expressed in the video. If we look deeper in the video we recognize symbols which demonstrate us the truth about this girl. She is not only an innocent girl which has problems in her life – monsters, indefinable creatures are surrounding her, death is occupying her. It is possible that she has mental or physical problems – and she has not got the possibility to solve them or she won’t solve them ( because she is not strong enough ). During the whole video clip somebody is taking care of her – they lead her to the death. She looks lost , absent minded and her clothes underline the way she behaves. The guys around her are not sexually interested in her, they take care of her – but the relationship between them is distanced. The ghost train is riding in the darkness. The last scene is a metaphor - the director of the video put the girl to sleep in an everlasting dream.


From the “spooky” video clip “Be there” to the quasi-industrial “Army of Me”.

“Army of me” was written by Björk & Graham Massey. Produced by Nellee Hooper & Graham Massey and Björk. This is the second video directed by Michel Gondry (1995) for Björk.
Björk’s second solo album, Post, was a reason for celebration. To set up the debut of the album, the new track “Army of Me” was leaked to the soundtrack of the Lori Petty movie Tank Girl. The song is as destructive as its title suggests: “And if you complain once more, you’ll meet an army of me.”
Similarly, the video shows Björk running rampant in a massive tanker truck. She is on a mission to set her loved one free from an art museum that holds him imprisoned as an (dead? asleep?) exhibit. He is laying in the museum like “The sleeping beauty” in Ch. Perrault’s story (1). But first- The confrontational video for “Army of Me” immediately refutes any charges of Björk as infantile. In the first scene we observe Björk’s lover laying in a machine – it is hard to define what that machine is for – but it is possible that he is sleeping or dreaming ( it is also probable that he is lying in a glass crypt ). In the second scene we see Björk in a massive tank driving through a big industrial city with huge skyscrapers (2) – like Manhattan. The dominating colour is grey – the colours underline the industrialization of this city. Dressed in a black karate outfit, Björk sings in a bored, cold voice, “I won’t sympathize anymore” as she drives a massive truck the width of a city street. She seems a little bit tired after a long road- but she grins, revealing teeth that are sharp metal pistons. Her chest elongates into that of a snake’s as she checks under the hood of her truck; her tank breaks down(3) (there’s a vagrant inside the engine(4)) and she needs to refuel it. We notice that the tank has also teeth and the teeth of the tank look untidy and not healthy. Parallel Björk’s teeth are also unhealthy and they hurt, so she goes to the dentist (a gorilla – but the door opened to show a nice old lady(5) which seemed reliable), who finds a unique treasure inside her mouth later, as she walks through a hall of mirrors in a dentist’s office, she becomes a real army of Björks(6), who will battle (as a singular Björk) with the gorilla dressed as a dentist (or a dentist dressed as a gorilla?) who is taking an instinctively growing jewel found in Björk’s mouth(7). The scene is very surrealistic but this scene demonstrate that we have to fight for our happiness - a dentist that's a gorilla to find a diamond in her mouth - but it's probably the most realistic way of expressing what situation some people are in - all these people trying to take things away from them (her), and the gorilla finding a diamond that she doesn't know she has and then stealing it.
“ Army of Me” is so much about women actually learning that they have to defend themselves. They have to stand up and fight with the awful gorilla(8,9,10) ( possibly also a synonym of masculinity). Once she has got the diamond and she has run away with it, it becomes massive because it is her(11). But if the gorilla had kept it, it would have gone really tiny. Björk put the diamond in the inside of the tan (12) and suddenly the teeth of the tan became healthy (13) – she saved the tank, she healed her machine. Now she can continue her mission. She drives to an art museum and takes a bomb with her – the bomb is in her rucksack (14)– but nobody pays attention to her ( the museum personnel is annoyed, one of them is sleeping (15)). Björk uses dynamite to blow up this art museum, freeing an Asian man who could be her lover, brother or friend -no connection between them is made. She put the bomb close to the face of her lover and ran away(17,18,19). People are staring at the bomb and they don’t know what to do.
Like any action/adventure flick, “Army of Me” called for some great special effects. The tank itself is quite large. New to Michael Gondry’s video norm is the use of mirrors to multiply: multiple Björks are created at the dentist’s and in the museum.
The video clip is full of visual details in defining the reality , they provide in “Army of Me.” The museum sequence furnishes an example: Before Björk bombs it, there are many artworks on the walls, each piece reflecting the apparent banality of the museum. One area shows a person observing a work which is a painting of a person in an art museum observing a work (16). After the explosion, everything is torn apart, bathed in smoke(21). Björk comes and retrieves her loved one who is sitting and waiting astonished for her (22), crying small diamonds onto his shoulder (23).
We have entered the world of the dreamlike grotesque, where techniques and compression, enlargement and miniaturization applied” to Björk’s body and other objects with astonishing effects. “Army of Me” continues the paradoxical themes seen in “Human Behaviour,” eliminating any strict definitions of Björk as exclusively human, animal or machine. Björk saw “Army of Me” as being consequently, they put together three different forms (machine/human/animal) and created an indefinable form in the video, they generate a body that is strong and capable, which matches the self-confident theme of the song. Gone are the lyrics about love and sensuality, and in their place Björk anxiety, “self-sufficience, please!/ and get to work.” While the video’s conclusion sees Björk reuniting with a loved one, she has had to free him using her own “self-sufficience.”
A clear articulation of the feminine as positive, powerful and free is still a fantasy in Björk’s composition, a teamwork between her and a number of music video directors, fashion photographers and designers from 1993 to 2003, displays a marked repetition of themes and images about feminine desire and the body. This is particularly noteworthy, as the music video is one of the most contested forms of media for feminist expression. Music videos have been since their inception, a heavily sexist store of images and lyrics. In them, women have been relegated to the position of sex object, of fulfilling the desires of men in a “dreamworld” where women exist for and invite the sexual attention of males within the videos and from male viewers in our post-modern, aggressively post-feminist popular culture.

More importantly, Björk’s videos take a view of feminine sexual enjoyment as intensely central and transforming, and as existing independently from the power of heterosexist men. Björk’s definition of pleasure is largely autoerotic, but its circulating over the outward appearance of her body through the grotesque means that the involvement of another is not an impossibility.
Certainly, Björk’s confirmation of her own pleasure as existing in and of itself, leaves space for others, for new ways of connecting with others that are not mutually dependent and destructive.
In Björk’s dream world, there is space enough to “create our own phrases”.

Conclusion

Björk’s music and interpretation of life differ enormously from the way the life is demonstrated in the video clip “Be there”. The main characters are also different. Björk is fighting to save her love while the girl in the Uncle video seems to have some problems – she will always need somebody to protect her. Björk is on her own. She is really brave (fighting with a gorilla-doctor, than she puts a bomb and blows up the museum her lover (?) is lying in) she wants to be seen as a masculine man with a touch of feminine. With a look of a little girl Björk’s statement seems to be very clear: women doesn’t need give up, they are not predicted to be weak nor addicted to men! Björk doesn’t need to be protected like the protagonist from the first video. She is dressed like a young karate kid and already this fact speaks for itself. This would be her declaration of being independent.
The similarities between the two videos are as follows. In both cases we can observe a one day journey of the main characters, delicate and passive girl of the first clip and strong, brave incarnation of Björk. However, the videos finish totally different. The girl in the first video looses herself in the ‘death train’ while Björk saves her man. She is the winner, a woman who wins her lover without any support. She proves she is strong enough to take care of herself. She is brave enough to fight. As the title of the song she creates an ‘army of her’ and bravely takes over the part that usually belongs to men.
Even more interesting could be the fact that clearly both characters are not meant to be sex objects in the videos. They are not to attract males. In the “Be there” video the girl does not act like she was to flirt with anyone or thought about men now. Still, the roles in the video are distributed traditionally and the young girl is protected by the men. Björk’s clip is more extreme and she is playing already a male role. She is the one that protects her love instead of men who we would expect to protect her according to the standard role sharing acknowledged widely for the past centuries in western cultures.
The difference in the above mentioned aspect is obvious, in opposite to the surprisingly active Björk ”Be there”-girl is passive and submitted.
Like in the “Be there“ video there are also people in the Björk video that have problems with interacting. They are just walking passively along the streets bored with their simple everyday life. They are not communicating, when watching the museum scenes we easily notice the loneliness of the people and the annoyingly peaceful life they all live. The only important value is love. This is the second manifested thing in Björk’s peace of art. The love is blooming and it over shadows everything else. She is happy to get it back. Her joy and happiness about that is worth everything to her. No money can buy it. We should learn from Björk about that and remember before we get old, dirty and no man will want us anymore.
The video clip „Be There” stands for calm death - Björks video stands for aggressive life, she fights uncompromisingly for life.

Stills:

“ Be There”

“ Army of me”