The history of music video production begins with movie musicals around 1920, and leaves off with iPod apps, mini movie screens and videos for your cell phone in the 21st century, in 2010. Every year in New York, Lincoln Center holds a Video Festival, specifically to celebrate music videos as an art form. Event proponents contend that mainstream media tends to dismiss videos as low brow; a way of manipulating listeners with packaged images, rather than affording listeners their own visual interpretation.
In essence, the movie musical was made up of a series of videos compiled into one film. Didn’t they have the art down, really? The great movie musical producers were and are masters of juxtaposing music with a visual story in song.
First came musical shorts in the early 1920s. They featured singers, dancers and musicians. Sound anything like MTV? Then in 1927 came the first film to mix music, dance, and story line, The Jazz Singer staring Al Jolson. Musical films in full Technicolor soon followed.
From the 1930’s to late 1950’s the movie musical enjoyed huge popularity, showcasing such stars as Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Judy Garland.
In the 1960s, movie musicals were widely paned. The exception was Richard Lester’s’ A Hard Day’s Night, a precursor to what was to come. Following that, Ken Russell gave us the sizzling hot Tommy. Until the late 70’s, other than Grease and the Disney adaptations, there were film musicals to speak of. Fast forward to 1975: Queen made some of the first music videos; David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes was huge, created by videographer David Mallet. Madness also etched a place in the history with their 16mm music video production of The Prince. And of course, 1979’s Another Brick in the Wall by Pink Floyd was a seminal event.
Public Enemy, U2, Alice Cooper, Madonna and Michael Jackson have made significant contributions to music and culture, although that’s so……. far from a complete list. It’s noted by the producers of New York’s annual video event that with Hip Hop videos shown along side Janet Jackson’s dance pop or the rock of U2, a great comingling of cultures– and an understanding there of–occurs.
And were it not for the music video art form this would not be the case. MTV and other video channels in the 80s, 90s, and on, have shown another side of life, the inner city, black culture turmoil, drugs and crime. These realities had been largely glossed over by feature films, favoring a Pollyannaish version of these sad to tragic sides of daily life.
That is the definition of art of depth – that which expresses the life, the feelings of a people, and gives others an outlet and the ability to acknowledge a life less than sublime, that they may take action to right the wrongs. The history of music video production leads to a place in history of this art form, significant, poignant, and every bit as important and relevant as the works of literature from Yeats to Jack Kerouac. It will be part of world history for generations to come; A smart people knows, you must look back to understand and adjust on the path to a better future.