A Brief History of the One-Shot Music Video

03/02/2011 3:37 PM |

Last week, the Wombats released their single-shot music video for “Anti-D,” a slo-mo ballad to irony and anti-depressants. In it, sluggish lead singer Matthew Murphy makes his way through a bright, suburban dystopia full of porn-star trophy wives and kleptocratic nuns before getting the shit beaten out of him by a couple of doctors. Psychiatrists, I guess. Anyway, this video’s neat for a number of reasons, but mainly because it was captured in one camera’s single, continuous shot. But “Anti-D” comes from a long tradition of one-shot music videos. And they tend to come in a few sparkly varieties. Here’s a brief history of the one-shot music video with a focus on its fairly predictable subcategories.

Moving As Really Weird Shit Happens

We started with the Wombats example, so we’ll continue in the same vein. It’s difficult to pin down the exact origin of Moving As Really Weird Shit Happens, but perhaps we can point out a fledgling effort in Weezer’s “Undone – The Sweater Song.” The camera meanders through the set to find that band just doing their thang—that is, just doing their thang until a bunch of household dog breeds are released onto the set. For some reason this is a catalyst for Weezer drummer Pat Wilson’s hips to get loose and for the rest of the band to get loose too.

Another cool Moving As Really Weird Shit Happens example? Vampire Weekend’s “Cousins.” Not strictly shot in one take, but most of the video was done while members of the band stood moving on a track in an alley, trading props, suits and instruments. And then there’s confetti!

Reading Rainbow

Bob Dylan – Subterranean Homesick Blues
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When state education fails, sometimes it’s up to musicians to test public literacy. The earliest example we can find is Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” directed by D.A. Pennebaker in an alley behind the Savoy Hotel in London. Pretty straightforward Bobby Dylan holding up cards with the lyrics on ’em. But those cue cards were actually written by Dylan, Donovan, Allen Ginsberg and Bob Neuwirth. And the clip was used as the opening shot for Don’t Look Back.

A more recent effort at the Reading Rainbow One-Shot was by Justice in their “DANCE” video. While not technically a single-take, this video can be thought of as a compilation of single-takes. Look at all the cool stuff happening to their t-shirts while they’re walking! Look how much they don’t care! Note: Justice’s ability to multi-task is also reflected in live performance. Smoking while DJ-ing is not recommended for people with heart problems or pregnancies.

Tricky Choreography

One reason to make a single-shot music video is that it’s impossible to capture what’s going on any other way. Just look at practically any Ok Go video. It’s safe to agree that dancing on treadmills is NOT easy.

Feist’s “I Feel it All” would also be pretty difficult to do in anything other than one take, given that it relies on timed fireworks exploding out of oil drums.

Gary Jules’ “Mad World” also relies on some tricky birds-eye group choreography. They also, literally, make a bird.

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