Did you know there are more than 200 rock songs (using rock as loosely as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does) about robots? The first one — this is real, because it’s too weird to be made up — was “Robot Man,” sung by 50s rock diva Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero, better known as Connie Francis.
Mmm, we’d have a steady da-ate (yay-yay-yay-yay)
Seven nights a wee-eek (yay-yay-yay-yay)
And we would never fi-ight (yay-yay-yay-yay)
‘Cause it would be impossible for him to speak
With robots being as wonderfully visual as they are, it’s surprising that so few robot rock songs have accompanying music videos, although one exception is … “Robot Rock” by Kraftwerk. Their robots are extremely dull form is function, in the best Bauhaus tradition. Not much snazzier are those in the short film Styx used in concert by during their Mr. Roboto tour.
The one that blows all the others away, in typically loopy rock serendipity, has nothing whatsoever to do with a robot song or with its source material at all.
When MTV first burst into the arms of a waiting world in 1981, the repertoire of music videos was uncertain and unsettled. What were they supposed to be? Weird strings of imagery like The Beatles used in Magical Mystery Tour? Snazzy special effects like The Monkees’ “Goin’ Down,” used in a full half dozen episodes of their TV show? Thematic interpretations of lyrics, like those regularly featured on the first season of Laugh-In, with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Buy for Me the Rain” an exceptional example?
As MTV viewers would find out, the answer was an emphatic “yes.” Directors did everything and anything, striving to look big on zero budgets, going bigger on extravagant ones, then reversing themselves to minimalist amateurism. And more. Only seldom were they minifilms, with coherent stories and beginnings, middles, and ends. Steve Barron was the king of video minimovies. A-ha’s “Take on Me,” Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing,” and Joe Jackson’s sublime “Stepping Out” were all his visions. His work clutters the list of all-time best music videos, probably because few other directors wanted the challenge.
Soon everyone was making videos out of everything, including major motion picture companies wanting yet another promotional vehicle. Some studios took longer than others to get the message, though. When Pierce Brosnan became James Bond in 1995 with Goldeneye, U2 wrote the theme song and Tina Turner sang it over the credits. No music video was ever made. The Bondistas corrected that in 1997 with Sheryl Crow’s “Tomorrow Never Dies,” a standard, albeit lush, movie-derived production of female forms and clips of stars Brosnan and Teri Hatcher.
For whatever reasons, when the calendar ticked over into 1999 and The World Is Never Enough loomed, the company tried something unique. They eliminated Brosnan from his own movie theme. They even tossed Bond girls Sophie Marceau and Denise Richards. What did they need them for? They had Shirley Manson.
Manson contains all the contradictions of modern female portraiture sensibilities. An ardent feminist who has written about her body dysmorphia and cutting herself as a girl, she also modeled for magazines and went from punk to glamour on stage, showing off her diamond-cutting cheekbones and perfectly symmetrical features. Those may have stimulated the imagination of Philipp Stölzl (Stoelzl if de-umlauted).
Stölzl was a young German music video director, just about Manson’s age, probably most noted in 1999 for a series of videos he made for Rammstein. I don’t see anything in them that would have lead me to expect him to devise a perfect mini-Bond movie, which is probably why I can’t draw a decent stick figure. He came up with a plot compressing into three minutes a full beginning, middle, and end, implausibly set in 1964, about a set of mad scientists in a clean room building a female android assassin.
Ex Machina’s half robot, half human Ava dazzled viewers in 2014, but The World Is Not Enough video beat them by fifteen years. We see the android’s disembodied face come alive when Manson turns her head and mouths the words of the song (written by veteran Bond themester Don Black with lyrics by David Arnold). A leg cut off at the knee moves. Her braincase is exposed. An arm cut off at the wrist flexes its fingers. Half a body has its back opened while a bomb is implanted. The bomb is strictly for volume deaths. One on one, Manson kills by kissing. Smoke leaks from a test subject’s mouth along with his blood.
John Pennicott, of Pennicott Payne Ltd., built the android’s innards out of “aircraft parts, bits of guided missiles, tubing, metal, and plastic.” David Carr, the Post Production Compositor, spent about 40 hours digitally grafting Manson’s face onto the android’s body. Manson’s inhuman beauty, aided of course by a thick coating of makeup, made her as perfect for the part as Alicia Vikander would later be in Ex Machina.
The android drives to a theater in Bond’s BMW Z8, the only literal Bond reference in the video. That’s a bit of a cheat, since Manson shouldn’t be calling attention to herself. She’s supposed to be sneaking in unobserved, since she’s been made to look exactly like the singer at that night’s performance. Who she kills with another smokey kiss before donning her slinky red backless gown.
The rest of Garbage, Duke Erikson, Steve Marker, and Butch Vig, finally make their entrance in the video, playing while Manson emotes from on top of a giant spark-emitting bubble and later struts into diva poses before the timer hits zero and the screen goes black.
Many people consider this the best Bond video. Judge for yourselves.
Steve Carper writes for The Digest Enthusiast; his story “Pity the Poor Dybbuk” appeared in Black Gate 2. His website is flyingcarsandfoodpills.com. His last article for us was Verne – The First Federally Funded Robot.