January 23, 2006
Great videos #1: Fiona Apple's "Paper Bag"
Tonight I was reading Lucas Miré's blog and there was a post about one of my favorite Fiona Apple songs, Paper Bag. This is the song that convinced me she was a fully rounded person and not what the press made her out to be: some crazy Upper West Side/Woody Allen neurotic. Visually, this one stands up with about 10 other music videos as one of the finest ever done. A true mini-film.
My personal story here is that in 2000 I was alone in a city on, literally, the other side of the globe, sleepless at 4 am, when I turned on the weird combo computer/TV in my hotel room and saw this video for the first time. I already loved the song and was amazed it was getting video play in Asia, but not the US. Typical, really. This was the era of Titney Spears. It was such a comfort to find something so familiar, so far from home.
At the time, Fiona was dating Paul Thomas Anderson, the Boogie Nights director, and it was he who made this video for her. I guess this is their baby then...they are no longer together.
A few details about this song and video: the lyric is really funny, especially when she mistakes a paper bag for the dove of hope. Musically, Jon Brion's horns on this song are a huge part of this song - they give it a kind of trapped-in-time feel that works well with the lyric, which is a contemporary theme wrapped in Fiona's typically arcane syntax.
This video cannot have been easy to make with 20+ pre-pubescent boy dancers doing complex moves in long takes. The inspiration is clearly retro, with Anderson going for sort of Bugsy Malone kid gangster feel. I love how for the first moments you don't really see the kids and then they appear in way that is unclear at first, like "what/ who is that behind her?" It's so clever though, like the part where the boys rise up on ropes (below).
I especially love the looks Fiona gets on her face at various moments, like the scene below, which is just before the camera zooms in on her face - she is kneeling, doing this sort of balletic, fluttery arm movement and singing how "hunger hurts - oh it kills", but if you look closely in the film, you'll see that the drama of the movement becomes too much and she slips a smile in.
One question - there is one line I have never quite figured out:
He said "it's all in your head"
I said "So's everything," but he didn't get it
I thought he was a man, but he was just a little boy.
Is she saying that it's not just her fear that's in her head, but the whole relationship is phony?
[2009 comment: HOW did I not get this line before. The song makes it clear he's not playing along with her when she says, "Baby said he couldn't stay, wouldn't put his lips to mine,
And a fail to kiss is a fail to cope"]
Fiona has never looked more perfect than she does in this video. The red dress is beautiful and clearly a careful choice. Apparently, Anderson has an obsession with red and blue, which you'll see develops further in this video. These great stills, by the way are from a site called Cigarettes and Red Vines.
Just when you think the video is done, Anderson slips in one final bit of genius that's really touching, with the boy picking up her suitcase and Fiona mimicking him (at his silent behest) as he slowly twirls. Amazing. That's what happening in the shot below. It's like a silent goodbye.
I also love the very last shot where Fiona turns and looks back, smiling. I wish more people had seen this than Criminal, a video that I think captures a more prominent, cliched part of her persona. You can watch Paper Bag You Tube now.