Picks and Pans Review: David Bowie
The first two clips on this “video 45” merit serious attention. Directed by David Mallet, they resist the tendency to try to pass off slick production for artistry; they show that a music video can make a statement as well as sell a song. They also do justice to Bowie’s music, which over the years has demonstrated the same kind of integrity. Let’s Dance, shot in Australia in 1983, takes a pair of ruby heels as a symbol of the Third World’s ambivalence toward Western culture. Put them on and your feet look fancy, but they also cramp and bind. In a montage of Images contrasting city and outback, the video shows an aborigine girl and her boyfriend living out their cultural dilemma. Technology allows the easy spending of a charge card but also threatens enslavement to the machines of an unjust social order. A nuclear explosion destroys but also exerts a mysterious magnetism. The images seem distant from the song’s lyric intent, but they don’t seem gratuitous, as too many videos do. In last year’s China Girl, a love affair behind the Bamboo Curtain offers a more literal interpretation of a tune, but the pleasing ambiguity remains. Bowie, as the Western lover, appears to be both liberator and imperialist exploiter of his China doll. Both he and she are androgynous figures, playfully imitating each other’s ethnic features. The video is erotic, graphically so at the end, when we leave the East-West couple thrashing in the surf. This scene didn’t get past MTV’s censors, but it remains tastefully arousing. The last clip, a concert-performance treatment of Modern Love directed by Jim Yukich, lacks all the virtues that the first two possess. Its purple production and empty intent end this otherwise vibrant tape on a flat note.