Music, Sound, and the Moving Image

The Occult Roots of MTV

British Music Video and Underground Film-Making in the 1980s

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (2017), 11, (1), 63–77.

Abstract

This article provides a new exploration of the British underground film scene and its influence on, and relationship with, pop video tropes and techniques, and MTV. It considers the rich sub-cultural interrelations of the early 1980s that embraced esoteric ideas, queer occultism, punk, postmodernism, British art schools, Derek Jarman, William S. Burroughs, home video, Scratch Video, Video Nasties, Super 8, Michael Jackson, Grayson Perry, John Maybury, the Avebury Ring, Duran Duran, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Dr John Dee, Jean Cocteau, and Neneh Cherry. The article establishes the unique film and television context and culture in the UK at the turn of the 1980s which enabled experimental and underground film-making practices to reach a wider audience through innovative programming opportunities at Channel 4 and via the expanding medium of music video. It describes the powerful, exploratory nature of independent filmmaking that existed at this time and its basis in British art schools; several of the practitioners subsequently went on to major careers as pop video directors, demonstrating a two-tiered influence on both the industry, and moving image aesthetics over the next twenty years.

This article was published open access under a CC BY license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

The Occult Roots of MTV

British Music Video and Underground Film-Making in the 1980s

Abstract

This article provides a new exploration of the British underground film scene and its influence on, and relationship with, pop video tropes and techniques, and MTV. It considers the rich sub-cultural interrelations of the early 1980s that embraced esoteric ideas, queer occultism, punk, postmodernism, British art schools, Derek Jarman, William S. Burroughs, home video, Scratch Video, Video Nasties, Super 8, Michael Jackson, Grayson Perry, John Maybury, the Avebury Ring, Duran Duran, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Dr John Dee, Jean Cocteau, and Neneh Cherry. The article establishes the unique film and television context and culture in the UK at the turn of the 1980s which enabled experimental and underground film-making practices to reach a wider audience through innovative programming opportunities at Channel 4 and via the expanding medium of music video. It describes the powerful, exploratory nature of independent filmmaking that existed at this time and its basis in British art schools; several of the practitioners subsequently went on to major careers as pop video directors, demonstrating a two-tiered influence on both the industry, and moving image aesthetics over the next twenty years.

This article was published open access under a CC BY license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

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Comino, Jo (2017) ‘Underground film-making: British Super 8 in the 1980s’. In: Hunter, I.Q., Porter, Laraine, & Smith, Justin (eds.). The Routledge Companion to British Cinema History. London: Routledge, pp.306–316. Underground film-making: British Super 8 in the 1980s The Routledge Companion to British Cinema History 306 316 Google Scholar

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Goodwin, Andrew (1993) ‘Fatal Distractions: MTV Meets Postmodern Theory’. In: Frith, Simon, Goodwin, Andrew, & Grossberg, Lawrence (eds). Sound & Vision: The Music Video Reader. London: Routledge, pp.45–66. Fatal Distractions: MTV Meets Postmodern Theory Sound & Vision: The Music Video Reader 45 66 Google Scholar

ICA (1981) A Certain Sensibility: A New Romantic Cinema. Programme brochure. London: ICA. Google Scholar

ICA (1985) Synchronisation of the Senses: New Romantic Cinema: A Summary. Programme brochure. London: ICA. Google Scholar

Jarman, Derek (1984) Dancing Ledge. London/Melbourne/New York: Quartet Books. Dancing Ledge Google Scholar

Lipman, Andy (1984) ‘Scratch and Run’, City Limits, Oct 5–11, pp.18–19. Scratch and Run City Limits 18 19 Google Scholar

Maybury, John (1981) ‘New Style Cinema’. In: Brooks, R. (ed.). ZG Magazine no. 2. London: Blackrose Press, pp.16–17. New Style Cinema ZG Magazine 16 17 Google Scholar

Mercer, Kobena (1993) ‘Monster Metaphors: Notes on Michael Jackson’s Thriller’. In: Frith, Simon, Goodwin, Andrew & Grossberg, Lawrence (eds). Sound & Vision: The Music Video Reader. London: Routledge, pp.93–108. Monster Metaphors: Notes on Michael Jackson’s Thriller Sound & Vision: The Music Video Reader 93 108 Google Scholar

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1968) The Visible and the Invisible. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. The Visible and the Invisible Google Scholar

Mundy, John (1999) Popular Music on Screen: From Hollywood Musical to Music Video. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Popular Music on Screen: From Hollywood Musical to Music Video Google Scholar

O’Pray, Michael (2009) ‘“New Romanticism” and the British Avant-Grade Film the Early 80s’. In: Murphy, Robert (ed.). The British Cinema Book, 3rd edition. London: BFI Publishing, pp.343–349. “New Romanticism” and the British Avant-Grade Film the Early 80s The British Cinema Book 343 349 Google Scholar

Perry, Grayson (1984) Arts Council of Great Britain award application and supporting information, including CV. Arts Council of Great Britain award application and supporting information Google Scholar

Petley, Julian (2011) Film and Video Censorship in Contemporary Britain. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Film and Video Censorship in Contemporary Britain Google Scholar

P-Orridge, Genesis (1982) ‘Thee Grey Book’. In: The Psychick Bible (2010) Los Angeles: Feral House, pp.37–57. Google Scholar

Royal College of Art (1983) School of Film and Television brochure. London: Royal College of Art. Google Scholar

Wingrove, Nigel & Morris, Marc (1998) The Art of the Nasty. London: FAB Press. The Art of the Nasty Google Scholar

Barber, George (1990) ‘Scratch and After – Edit Suite Technology and the Determination of Style in Video Art’. In: Hayward, Phillip (ed.) Creative Technology and Creativity in the Late Twentieth Century. London/Paris/Rome: John Libbey, pp.11–125. Scratch and After – Edit Suite Technology and the Determination of Style in Video Art Creative Technology and Creativity in the Late Twentieth Century 11 125 Google Scholar

Barker, Martin (1984) Video Nasties: Freedom and Censorship in the Media. London: Pluto. Video Nasties: Freedom and Censorship in the Media Google Scholar

Comino, Jo (2017) ‘Underground film-making: British Super 8 in the 1980s’. In: Hunter, I.Q., Porter, Laraine, & Smith, Justin (eds.). The Routledge Companion to British Cinema History. London: Routledge, pp.306–316. Underground film-making: British Super 8 in the 1980s The Routledge Companion to British Cinema History 306 316 Google Scholar

Donnelly, Kevin J. (2007) ‘Experimental Music Video and Television’. In: Mulvey, Laura & Sexton, Jamie (eds.). Experimental British Television. Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp.166–179. Experimental Music Video and Television Experimental British Television 166 179 Google Scholar

Goodwin, Andrew (1993) ‘Fatal Distractions: MTV Meets Postmodern Theory’. In: Frith, Simon, Goodwin, Andrew, & Grossberg, Lawrence (eds). Sound & Vision: The Music Video Reader. London: Routledge, pp.45–66. Fatal Distractions: MTV Meets Postmodern Theory Sound & Vision: The Music Video Reader 45 66 Google Scholar

ICA (1981) A Certain Sensibility: A New Romantic Cinema. Programme brochure. London: ICA. Google Scholar

ICA (1985) Synchronisation of the Senses: New Romantic Cinema: A Summary. Programme brochure. London: ICA. Google Scholar

Jarman, Derek (1984) Dancing Ledge. London/Melbourne/New York: Quartet Books. Dancing Ledge Google Scholar

Lipman, Andy (1984) ‘Scratch and Run’, City Limits, Oct 5–11, pp.18–19. Scratch and Run City Limits 18 19 Google Scholar

Maybury, John (1981) ‘New Style Cinema’. In: Brooks, R. (ed.). ZG Magazine no. 2. London: Blackrose Press, pp.16–17. New Style Cinema ZG Magazine 16 17 Google Scholar

Mercer, Kobena (1993) ‘Monster Metaphors: Notes on Michael Jackson’s Thriller’. In: Frith, Simon, Goodwin, Andrew & Grossberg, Lawrence (eds). Sound & Vision: The Music Video Reader. London: Routledge, pp.93–108. Monster Metaphors: Notes on Michael Jackson’s Thriller Sound & Vision: The Music Video Reader 93 108 Google Scholar

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice (1968) The Visible and the Invisible. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. The Visible and the Invisible Google Scholar

Mundy, John (1999) Popular Music on Screen: From Hollywood Musical to Music Video. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Popular Music on Screen: From Hollywood Musical to Music Video Google Scholar

O’Pray, Michael (2009) ‘“New Romanticism” and the British Avant-Grade Film the Early 80s’. In: Murphy, Robert (ed.). The British Cinema Book, 3rd edition. London: BFI Publishing, pp.343–349. “New Romanticism” and the British Avant-Grade Film the Early 80s The British Cinema Book 343 349 Google Scholar

Perry, Grayson (1984) Arts Council of Great Britain award application and supporting information, including CV. Arts Council of Great Britain award application and supporting information Google Scholar

Petley, Julian (2011) Film and Video Censorship in Contemporary Britain. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Film and Video Censorship in Contemporary Britain Google Scholar

P-Orridge, Genesis (1982) ‘Thee Grey Book’. In: The Psychick Bible (2010) Los Angeles: Feral House, pp.37–57. Google Scholar

Royal College of Art (1983) School of Film and Television brochure. London: Royal College of Art. Google Scholar

Wingrove, Nigel & Morris, Marc (1998) The Art of the Nasty. London: FAB Press. The Art of the Nasty Google Scholar


Details

Author details

Fowler, William