“Lover of foreigners/To the dogs with your heart”: Lord only knows why my thoughts instantly wandered off to the dire curse penned by national Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu when I first saw the latest video from California-based Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes. Especially since Wake up the Sun isn’t exactly a folklore ballad. To the dogs with my heart, but it feels like an overdrawn jazz tune is exactly what I needed to put an end to my own associations between Eminescu and tired old romance songs, or patriotic wailing à la „Cântarea României”, which dogged my childhood.
Of course, we’re the only ones struck by the poet’s portrait – the foreign audiences are regaled with a montage of picturesque images from Bessarabia: a folk band on a village street, an argument by a horse-drawn cart, endless fields, sheep in the hills, gaudily painted high-rise buildings, next to which – how, I don’t know – a zebra happens to pop up. Two kids dancing the tango under the eyes of the adults (he, in black, she – in an animal print mini dress) ad two young adults making love. The video, directed by Israeli Noaz Deshe (you ought to also see his movie, White Shadow, really!) adds an artful layer of surrealism over the lyrics about “a religion of love”: “I’m tired of God/ Tired of Church/ I’m trying to serve no religion/ My religion is love”.
The foreigner’s eye, prone to see freshness and unusual things, where all you see is oozing and destruction, has already made its way furtively into various corners of Romana – our country has been visited (can’t help another Eminescu quote), “to ask for land and water”, by Depeche Mode (Peace, starring Maria Dinulescu) and The Weeknd (Twenty Eight insists on some local strippers), while Modest Mouse filmed Ocean breathes salty in the middle of a local field of sunflowers. I suppose I needn’t badger you with the shots taken in the middle of Constituției Square that Robbie Williams posted on Facebook. And Noaz Deshe doesn’t necessarily take a different view of Moldova, compared to Igor Cobileanski (you’ll understand why, once Afacerea Est hits the theaters), but, of course, he has a different kind of rapport to it.
So here are three more examples of gimmicky music videos shot here – two are newish, while the third one accompanies a 2007 song.
Kaada/Patton, i.e. John Erik Kaada, a Norwegian musician and Mike Patton, the frontman of Faith No More and, word has it, the most versatile voice in the entire pop-rock industry – six octaves, man!
An ever so slightly incestuous family drama, or a Freudian nightmare if I’m reading the signs right, directed by Alexandru Ponoran. Ecstatic surrealism, creepy touches, a minimalist song. Th album, Bacteria Cult, enthusiastically sounds like what Blixa Bargeld and Teho Teardo have been doing lately – they methodically make your neurons curl.
Special guest stars
Pigs, lots of pigs: anthropomorphized, plated, on all fours, swinging from the slaughterhouse chain. Don’t neglect the portrait of a youthful Buñuel atop a skeleton and sat at the head of the table.
Holy Fuck, electro-punkers from Toronto, with a passion for vintage synths that borders on obsession.
A rabid bass, as local MC Gojira would have it, grinding beats, natural lighting. A village around Zărnești, which sits “at the bottom of the barrel” and seems to have caught fire, just like the relationship between the two protagonists, a father and a son (also a father and son in their daily lives, by the way: both their names are Marius). Smoldering violence that blows up in curt little explosions, or the junior’s dream of domination? Insisting on their sun-kissed faces, often seen close-up, seems to a me a visual trick borrowed from Haneke: give his portrait shots a closer look, in the church scene toward the end of White Ribbon.
Special guest stars
A whole lot of them: double glazed windows, floral patterned plates into which the polenta has landed, the J&B bottle on the shelf of the village pub, the deer antlers on the wall.
Simian Mobile Disco, an electro-pop band from London, who – I’m sure of it! – did not vote in favor of Brexit.
I believe used to air in heavy rotation on VH1, circa 2007-2008: it looks like an anthropologist ended up somewhere in Teleorman (Giurgiu? Botoșani? Harghita?), camcorder in hand.
Special guest stars
The antediluvian Dacia topped with the loudspeakers, wood chopping, village women in headscarves sat on the bench by the gate, the children’s over-worn clothes, the folk-patterned carpets on the walls and the lint-covered blankets on the beds, the cart drawn by an heir of the horse Bator, of Ion Agârbiceanu fame, the t-shirt of Romania’s national soccer team – for chrissakes, the whole video!
As for the way these videos look, we’ve all heard the refrain a million times: “But we also have an Athenaeum, a Triumph Arch, the Keys of the River Nera, the statue of Deceballus at Cazane, why the hell to these foreigners only look at the ugly things?” Maybe, who knows, because you need a foreigner to illustrate a terrible statistic dated April 2016 in pop music images: one out of four Romanians live in extreme poverty – almost 5 million people, that is. Our local stars film their own videos in expensive cars bought on credit, on the glitzy bridge by the Basarab Railway Station – but the foreigners instantly identified contemporary Romania’s most acute problem and illustrated it. Isn’t this what an artist is supposed to do?
Photo: Outtake from the video to “Imodium”