Mylène Farmer: Music Videos I

Mylène Farmer - Music Videos 1Synopsis: Music Videos I is a DVD recorded by the French singer Mylène Farmer, containing all the singer’s videoclips from 1985 to 1992. It was released in April 1997 in France. It includes all videos (except “Maman a tort”) from the first three albums ‘Cendres de Lune’, ‘Ainsi soit je…’ and ‘L’Autre…’. The DVD also contains “Maman a tort” and two live videos.

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Mylène Farmer: Music Videos I 8.5

eyelights: Libertine. Tristana. Pourvu qu’elles soient douces. Désenchantée. the overall cinematic quality of the videos.
eyesores: Plus grandir. the quality of the remixes. the bonus material.

Mylène Farmer is a European pop legend. Discovered in 1984 by writer-songwriter Laurent Boutonnat, with whom she would collaborate for decades, she became France’s hottest export, having now sold well over 30 million records. She holds the records for the most Diamond Records, the most #1 singles (13 – her closest rival has 5) and the most top 10 single (with 45 of them thus far).

For all intents and purposes, she is the French Madonna: massively popular, hit after hit, sold out tours, omnipresent in one form or another. But one key difference is that Farmer is extremely private and actually avoids appearing in the media. Whereas Madonna made a point of laying it all out and attracting as much attention as possible, Farmer has kept her personal life under wraps and tends to retreat from the spotlight.

For someone who lives on another continent, as I do, it’s been near-impossible to get to know Mylène Farmer. She even eschewed putting up a personal website, disliking the notion of an online temple to herself.

I first heard of her in 1988, after the release of her second album ‘Ainsi soit-je…’. I actually can’t quite remember how this came to happen, but I seem to recall a friend making me listen to it, and pointing out in particular the sexy song “Déshabillez-moi”. I remember having mixed feelings about that guilty pleasure, but also being intrigued by the fact that the album wasn’t a standard pop confection.

It had an artsy quality to it, both in the artwork itself and in some of the arrangements. It also delved into subject matter that isn’t standard for pop/dance music: Farmer has a tendency to write lyrics revolving around melancholy, death, depression, religion, as well as romance and sex. The mixture is quite unusual, because her music can be bouncy, hooky, just as she sings about emotional pain.

In the end, I made a copy of it and played the tape rather frequently. It got under my skin and, by the time her follow-up album ‘L’Autre…’ came out, I made it one of my first CD purchases. I played it frequently, but it could never stand up to the quality of that other album. Still, she remained on my radar, and I bought her first live album and first compilation – the latter based solely on her sexy new video.

In fact, along with the music, which is all composed and arranged by Laurent Boutonnat (aside for one recent one), one of the most notable aspects of Mylène Farmer’s career are her music videos, which are mostly short films – again, almost all directed by her counterpart, Boutonnat. What makes them interesting is the that the songs frequently become secondary to the films themselves, and served as a soundtrack of sorts.

When I was first exposed to Mylène Farmer, one of my friends showed me some of her videos, culled from a short compilation tape that was available then. I was blown away by the breadth of the productions and the elaborate stories behind them. Also, I was titillated: Farmer had no qualms showing skin in her videos, whether it be herself, other women or even men; there were no videos quite like these anywhere.

For many years I’d wanted to collect her videos in one place. Since they were never available in my neck of the world, I tried the download route, but the quality just didn’t do these films justice. When I finally got a DVD player that could play PAL videos, I sought out a European, 3-DVD boxed set that incorporated all four of music video compilations; I could wait no longer: it had been decades of wait.

The first volume of her music videos features the short films for her first three album, ‘Cendres de lune’, ‘Ainsi soit-je…’ and ‘L’Autre…’ in near-chornological order:

(nota bene: I subjectively rated the songs and videos separately, in the following format: song/video)

1. Plus grandir: Farmer’s third single, but the first directed by Boutonnat, this is a six-and-a-half minute widescreen film featuring a remix of the original song. As with all her videos, it is bookended by credits, just like a motion picture. To the sounds of atmospheric synthesizers (which sound like a slightly demented lullaby, complete with breathy vocals by Farmer) it shows MF, dressed as in mourning, pushing a baby carriage through a cemetery, eventually stopping at a tombstone with her name and the song’s title on it.

She imagines herself living alone in a derelict mansion, praying regularly, but being profoundly unhappy. There’s a doll she clings to, which is slightly animated. One night, a stranger wanders into the mansion and violates her as midget nuns watch. Later, the nuns berate her and get her to repent for her sins. She stabs her doll and, released, she twirls around the mansion elated, eventually aging to the twilight of her years (the aging making is hilariously bad!). Then we’re back to the cemetery, and MF throws flowers on the grave before leaving.

It’s an intriguing second look at Farmer (she had a video for her first single, which is included as a special feature), because it establishes her look (this was the first time she dyed her hair flaming red) and themes. It also seems to symbolize leaving behind childish things, fears, religion, …etc. The remix, unfortunately, isn’t really up to snuff and wouldn’t hold up on its own: it sounds thin, dated. But, again, in the case of Farmer’s music videos, the music is almost incidental. 5.5/7.5

2. Libertine: The second track culled from ‘Cendres de Lune’, after ‘Plus grandir’, at 11-minutes in length, “Libertine” is MF’s first video masterpiece. Apparently inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Barry Lyndon’, it opens to wide shots of beautiful scenery, then takes us to a duel. It’s a tranquil scene with witnesses and the only music is a  light military drum beat. Libertine (Farmer) and an unknown man take their guns, walk ten paces and shoot: she kills her adversary, while his shot misses. She runs off and then gets on horseback to escape as the song begins.

Next thing we know, she’s bathing with a few lovely women by day, playing cards with a group of revelers in the evening, and spends the night with a man – during which the music stops for more atmospheric synthesizer sounds. There is ample nudity here, including full frontal. Pretty bold. When she returns to the party, the music starts over. There are dialogues, but they are muted, with no subtitles. She gets into a fight with a rival, and it’s not just catty, but actually quite brutal and bloody. Her new lover intervenes before Libertine is killed by her rival.

The man decides to take Libertine away, and gets on horseback with her. As they ride away, they are intercepted by her rival and her accomplices, who proceed to shoot them both dead, leaving them lying by the river, covered in blood. While the album version is excellent, the video version of the track is lacking. It’s also interrupted frequently for the interstitial music. And, although that instrumental stuff is rather good, actually, the transitions are too jarring for my taste. It doesn’t ruin the video, but it ruins the song itself. 7.0/9.0

3. Pourvu qu’elles soient douces: Although this is actually culled from MF’s second album, it is presented after “Libertine” because the video is actually a sequel to the former. So, from a storytelling standpoint it makes sense, even if it isn’t chronological.

It begins where the last one left off: by a river with the two victims laying in their blood. After a short opening narration in English, they are found by a troop of English soldiers, on horseback, who were off to Prussia but got lost along the way. After debating her gender, they find that Libertine is still alive, and decide to bring her back to their camp. The soldiers all speak in perfect English (even though they’re French actors), with French subtitles to help French audiences not familiar with the Bard’s language.

At the camp, we watch the soldiers go about their business, doing their various duties and killing time. Their General (who, it must be said, thought she was a boy), is fascinated with Libertine and goes to look at her while she sleeps in a tent. After she wakes, he forces her to change in his presence, much to her humiliation. She breaks a bottle on his head and escapes on horseback. He gives chase. Still wounded from her gunshot wounds, however, she can’t get very far, and he catches up to her and brings her back.

Meanwhile, the French pay some prostitutes to go distract the Englishmen. What follows is utterly orgiastic, as they disrobe to party with the soldiers at night, intercut with scenes of Libertine and the General making love. The song fades out, and ominous atmospheric music takes over the film as the French soldiers make their attack. In the chaos, the General is shot in the back by one of the prostitutes, who happens to be Libertine’s rival. Libertine tackles her and a violent fight ensues.

The film turns into a war zone, with both camps marching into battle and a massacre unfolding. It’s quite the production, what with all the soldiers, the costumes, the special effects, …etc. I can’t help but wonder how much it must have cost to make this. Libertine and her rival continue to fight, but Libertine has the upper hand and impales her. The music fades out again for a grim atmospheric piece.

Soon after, we discover that the narrator was the English drummer boy, whom Libertine saved from a beating earlier. Before he is killed by the French, he is picked up by Libertine on horseback, dressed in black on a black steed. They ride away. It is inferred that she is death, and that she has saved him to give him life. I’m not sure how that plays into the whole ‘Libertine’ story, but it’s in keeping with MF’s image. 7.5/9.0

4. Tristana: This is a single that was not from any album, but which was added to re-releases of ‘Cendres de Lune’, as it was from this period. The video is an eleven-and-a-half minute opus based on the tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In this case, it’s set in a cold Russian landscape, Snow White is called Tristana (no doubt lifted from Buñuel), and the dwarves are peasants.

It begins with long shots of the scenery. Then an old monk is seen walking to a palace chamber, wherein a demented Queen (played by the same actress who was Libertine’s rival) asks him if she’s still the most beautiful woman in all the land. He answers that there is a girl named Tristana who is said to have skin like that of peach. The Queen, enraged, demands to have her killed.

Next scene features Tristana and her suitor chasing each other in the woods, gayly. The Queen’s men arrive and they are split up. She escapes, but he is cut down by a horseback soldier’s sword. She passes out in the woods and is found by the seven peasants, who take her to their lodge for warmth and food. The monk returns to his Queen and breaks to her the news that Tristana escaped. The Queen loses it.

Cut to stock footage of the Russian Revolution and then we discover that Tristana’s suitor is not dead, merely disfigured. He is out looking for her. However, he has no idea that the Queen, dressed as a scraggly old witch, is also looking for Tristana – and will find her first, while the peasants are out. Finding Tristana murdered, the man carries her off in the snowy landscape – presumably to bury her.

All this to the sounds of a pop-dance track. Clearly, this is not your average pop starlet, although it must be noted that Boutonnat’s multi-disciplinary abilities are certainly key to her success. As with the other videos, the version of the song featured here is also a remix. Thankfully, though, it is actually pretty decent – it doesn’t take away from the experience. 7.5/9.0

5. Sans contrefaçon: This eight-and-half minute video begins under the pouring rain. A man is thrown out of an inn with his dummy, which falls into the mud. Hungry, he walks off in the rain and journeys across the plains and over some hills. He eventually stumbles upon a troupe of wandering actors who have set up camp in the middle of the field. An old woman offers him some food, which he gratefully accepts.

She becomes fascinated with his red-haired dummy, and borrows it to look at it more closely. The other troupe members make fun of her and quickly take the dummy and toss it around, out of her reach. When she finally gets it back, she runs off with it – its rightful owner soon in tow. When he catches up to her, over a hill, he finds the old woman on the beach playing patty-cakes with the now-animated dummy.

The dummy, now in the form of a very lovely MF (in all her natural beauty), compels the man to kiss her and clutch her against him. Meanwhile, the old woman and the other performers leave, and he soon realizes that he is only holding a dummy again. Distraught, he shouts after them, but they ignore him and he is left on the beach, sitting with his dummy. Again, this is an okay remix. But a remix nonetheless. 6.75/8.25

6. Ainsi soit-je…: A more contemplative piece, this is pretty much the same track as on the album (or so similar that I can’t tell the difference – which is nice). It’s very atmospheric, melancholy, and, appropriately, so is this sepia-toned video.

This one is staged at night, with snow blowing through the air. There are various shots of an owl, a doe, the full moon. MF is on a swing, and then is walking in the cold, in slow-motion. She wakes up next to the doe. She is seen naked against the full moon. She covers her face in mud. She takes a dunk in the icy water.

Does she commit suicide? It’s hard to say, but there is a definite sense that she is unhappy. And there was finality there, seeing as we never see her escape her potential watery grave. Although slightly abstract, it’s quite enjoyable. 8.0/8.0

7. Sans logique: At five and half minutes, the video for this pop confection shows some restraint – it could easily have been a super extended remix. It’s still not as good as the original album version, but it’s decent. The video has a very interesting look: it’s inky, very grey, a style that has become more popular in the last decade. It seems very much ahead of its time visually.

It begins with MF sitting in a man’s arms in a barren landscape. They make a blood pact, cutting a gash into each other’s palm. Soon, peasants show up. They are all dressed in black with white shirts, as though in mourning. For reasons unknown, they put these make-shift horns on her head. She then proceeds to pretending to be a bull as one of the peasant takes on the role of a toreador.

The peasants light up and get excited at the sight of this play; they throw money, clap and cheer. At one point the toreador stabs at her, missing her – but she is incensed and looks back, white-eyed. She charges him and impales him with her horns. Rain suddenly starts to pour and most of the peasants leave, with the remaining ones pocketing rocks. MF sits there crying blood down her cheeks. 7.5/8.25

8. À quoi je sers…: This video starts with ominous music before the song proper begins. The title can be loosely translated as “What am I worth?” or “What’s my purpose?”. It’s the big question that any depressive person asks themselves endlessly, and it’s consistent with her body of work. Ironically, it’s set to a dance beat. The song was not released on an album and, at the time, could only be found on her live album.

This black and white video begins with MF walking to a riverbank with a suitcase in hand. It’s a very foggy, dismal, sight. A ragged-looking ferryman arrives and takes her across the river, pole in hand. She is sitting in the boat, silent, pensive. As they make it through the brush, they find others wandering in the shallow waters. It turns out that these people are characters from her previous videos. She joins them and walks away with them. 7.5/8.0

9. Désenchantée: This is a really catchy number that expresses dissatisfaction with one’s lot in life. It was the lead single from her third album, ‘L’Autre…’ and, at the time, broke sales records. It is considered by some as her signature song.

The video was shot in Hungary in an old deserted factory. It shows MF being brought to the factory, where she is immediately pummeled by the locals. She is then taken to her quarters, where she meets and befriends a young boy. The next day, as they are forced to carry heavy loads, she sees the oppression around her.

At mealtime, she notices that many of the workers are handicapped, presumably due to work-related injuries. She finds a cockroach in her gruel and asks for a clean serving. She is slapped in response, after which she tears across the tables, pulls the boards off the windows, and starts an uprising, which gets rather violent.

After the uprising, she leads the group across a frozen landscape, eager for the freedom their new life promises. They look ahead, and there is nothing on the horizon. This cools their fires, but they soldier on nonetheless. This 10-minute film was backed by an extended remix of the original song which wasn’t all bad. 7.5/8.5

10. Regrets: One of MF’s only duets, it’s an okay track. While I was watching the video, the thing I enjoyed the most was the way Jean-Louis Murat’s voice contrasted Farmer’s, which is a weak, breathy vocal – especially during the chorus, where he adds a background layer while she sings. Nice.

The grainy black and the video is simple: Jean-Louis Murat arrives to a cemetery by tram, and enters. As he sits on a grave, flowers in hand, his eyes are covered by a woman’s fingers. He turns and runs off with her, his beloved (played by MF). They embrace and wander through the cemetery together.

As can be expected, she is the deceased that he is mourning: he has to watch her walk away with his memories at the end of their day together. I found this terribly sad, even though I saw it coming: the sense of loss, the anguish he must have felt after that dreamy day must have been overwhelming.

At the end, he leaves the cemetery and boards the tram. 7.5/7.5

11. Je t’aime mélancolie: I have mixed feelings about this song. On the one hand, the chorus is infectious and it’s got a yummy guitar section in the extended bridge. On the other, her spoken word/rap vocals bore me. Similarly, the video is both intriguing and utterly dreadful.

The video is a mixture of MF preparing for a boxing match. She gets into the ring and proceeds to beat and get beat up by a scrawny, but muscular, man. Intercut with this footage is a rudimentary choreography featuring MF and a dozen other women in the middle of the empty ring.

I find the contrast of the standard video music trope and the violence interesting. I don’t know what it means, but it’s unusual. Having said this the dancers aren’t convincing at all, and Farmer is so emaciated here that it’s disturbing. What the heck was going on with her at this point in her life? 6.75/6.0

12. Beyond my Control: I’ve never really liked this song. I want to, because it’s got some hooky melodies and beats, but there’s this constantly recurring male voice saying “It’s beyond my control”, which I find utterly grating. It might be a reference to ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ but I don’t care.

The video begins with hungry wolves, then shows a man wandering about, recalling his lovemaking with MF. Meanwhile, MF is on a blazing pyre. She is also shown walking, also recalling lovemaking – but what she remembers is finding her lover in someone else’s arms. The wolves are seen tearing away at a cadaver.

It ends with the pair making out passionately, with MF biting deep into his neck and with blood leaking from their joined mouths. This video sees the return of tons of nudity, both male and female – from MF as much as the model that is her rival. It was censored and quite the sensation at the time. 7.0/8.0

The DVD also has few bonus videos in the extras sections

1. Maman a tort: This is Farmer’s very first single and video. Both the song and the video are rudimentary, very ’80s. The lyrics are shown on screen over images of MF making various faces. For the chorus, she sings in front of a cheap backdrop, and there are children around, some of them carrying banners and placards. There’s also an insert of someone jumping. shots of her crying, getting slapped, and her head on a platter on a dinner table.

It’s all silly, a bit childish, and MF seems out of her element, ill-at-ease. It’s only noteworthy for being her first video and for her appearance, which is from before she settled on the iconic flaming red-hair – and slightly androgynous appearance (at least at first). 6.5/6.0

2. Allan (live): This is a live version of a song I don’t find that great and never have – a filler, even. But it was released as a single. The corresponding video consists of live footage, naturally, with an opening and close that was set at a Stonehenge-like location, with a cloaked individual burning it down with a flame-thrower as MF watches. Holy smokes she was breathtakingly beautiful at this point in time. 6.0/7.5

3. Plus grandir (live): Also released as a single, this live version consists of various footage from her stage show – it doesn’t actually sync with the song all of the time. One thing that’s neat is the opening, because it gives the impression that the stage was made up to look like a large gated cathedral, and that they opened the gates at the beginning, pulling it away from the stage. If that’s the case, that’s pretty awesome. Looks good, anyway. 7.0/7.0

The DVD also features a couple of moderately lengthy “Making of” films for “Pourvu qu’elles soient douces” and “Désenchantée”. That was pretty much filler material because there are no interviews and, thus, no actual insight on the making of these short films aside from whatever the behind-the-scenes material can divulge on its own. Watching them make the movie in bits really didn’t add anything.

But it’s nice for die-hard fans to have anyway, and the DVD is a superb compilation by any measure. Between the 90-minutes+ of music videos, we’re looking at 40 minutes of bonus material on top of that; it’s hard to beat, and few artists could offer such a succulent package and content. I look forward to seeing the other two compilations, as most of its content will be completely new to me.

Over the years, I’ve picked up a lot of Mylène Farmer releases, including her most recent, ‘Monkey Me’, on Blu-ray (trust me: it’s well worth it – it sounds amazing!). I don’t like all that she does, however: like Madonna, I’d say that I tend to truly enjoy every other album that she releases; if I like one, then I know I will likely dislike its follow-up – it just works out that way for some reason.

But I will likely always be a fan, because when she hits her target there’s absolutely no ignoring it. Or her. And while she’s getting on in years and I suspect that, for the first time, she’s beginning to cling to life, maybe even to youth (as suggested by some apparent cosmetic surgery), I imagine that she will forever continue to express the angst that some of us feel in a way that makes it bearable.

And in a pop landscape that is vacuous and uni-dimensional, she’s a much-welcome breath of fresh air. A breath of life, ironically enough.

Dates of viewing: May 3 + 4, 2014

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