Blur’s single Country House, the first from their fourth studio album The Great Escape, was released on 14 August 1995. It was the song that would launch the feud between Blur and rival band Oasis, and the beginning of the Britpop era. The music video for the song was directed by British artist Damien Hirst.
How was this work made?
The music video features four primary shooting locations; it was mostly shot in studio, with some external shots of a council tenement building and a country mansion and internal shots of a council flat. Many actors were used, including British actor Keith Allen, comic actors Matt Lucas and Sara Stockbridge, glamour model Jo Guest, other uncredited models and a marching band. Many props were used, including a life-sized board game, a milk truck, bathtubs, hay bales, and live animals. Many of these props would have been sourced, with only some having necessarily been custom made. There would have been a requirement for costumes, hair and makeup artistry. Technical equipment would have included cameras, specialised lenses (to create the honeycomb effect during the bridge), and lighting. I have estimated that the video would have cost around £10-20K, with a fair amount of the budget going towards paying for the director, and perhaps some of the more high-profile actors/models.
What sets this work apart from others?
The music video is visually interesting due to the use of bold colours. It seems to have been influenced by Andy Warhol and the pop art movement. At the same time, there is a dark element that ties-in with the theme of mortality in the lyrics, as motifs of dungeons, skulls and gravestones are used throughout and the lighting is quite dark in parts. In terms of the structure of the video, it is non-narrative but the visuals are quite complimentary of the song and its lyrics. This makes it easy to watch while still paying attention to the music. Finally, the use of intertextuality is probably the most significant element of the music video as it provides more layers of interpretation for the viewer beyond what they can see on the surface.
How has this work influenced (or been influenced by) other works?
The board game and other motifs in the music video (including the giant red trap, the bathtubs, and the use of colour) are very clearly derived from the classic board game Mousetrap. There is a play on 70’s British comedy like Benny Hill and the Carry On movies through the use of scantily clad women being chased by men, the milkman/milk truck (from Benny Hill skit Ernie the Fastest Milkman in the West) and other key motifs such as naughty nurses, milk maids and hay bales. This style of saucy naughtiness is quintessentially British. Finally, the use of the spotlight and the honeycomb effect during the bridge of the song is an exact replica of the classic shot of the four musicians from Queen in their Bohemian Rhapsody music video.
How/why have you responded to this work?
I was a huge Blur fan in the 90’s (and still am today!) It’s a song that I already love and I have always loved the way Blur’s music videos visually tell the stories that are found in the lyrics of their songs. I also love the use of intertextuality, as it gives the song and the video so much more meaning when you understand the cultural references. Finally, I love the use of bold, bright colours to make elements of the music video stand out, giving it that pop art feel.
How does this video relate to the readings/class discussion to date?
Varnallis states that the modes of music video’s narrative dimensions are that it underscores the music, highlights the lyrics and showcases the star (Varnallis 2004, p. 3). I feel that the Blur example is a good case in point, as the music video compliments the music and lyrics well, and showcases the band and uses their signature cheeky wit without them needing to be the stars of the video itself. The music video uses a type of non-narrative structure called “process” (ibid., p. 20); the actions in the music video are arbitrary (the director could have chosen any other setting or set of actions and the music video would still have worked) but, regardless of the story being told in the lyrics, the actions play on independently. Varnallis also states that “the presentation of this process is fragmented, attenuated abruptly by images of the band performing or lip-synching against an amorphous background” (ibid.), and this is exactly how the music video for Country House is structured.
How may this work influence your own music video production?
I think that the use of bright, bold colour will be something that influences the art direction of our video, as it can be very visually appealing. I also think that the use of intertextual references is a clever way to add familiarity and meaning without having to be explicit about that meaning. Both of these elements would contribute a lot to our music video production.
Blur – Country House (dir. D. Hirst, 1995) [link]
Varnallis, C. (2004), Experiencing Music Video: Aesthetics and Cultural Context. 1st edn, Columbia University Press, New York, NY.