In the first instance: montages of Doctor Who scored to ‘Everybody Hurts’ are all over the internet. Said videos are usually a composite of Doctor / Rose scenes (heavy on ‘Doomsday’, for obvious reasons) or shots of random characters crying, drenched in pathos, with occasional (mildly tenuous) links to the lyrical content. I say this in utter confidence despite not having actually watched any of them in their entirety, because that’s YouTube in a nutshell.
That’s not a dig, of course. Montages are arranged and sequenced for emotional impact, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve done quite a few myself, at least one of which I’m reasonably proud of. But look, here’s the thing: I’ve always prided myself on trying to do stuff that is relatively fresh, and if someone’s planted the flag first I am hesitant – with certain exceptions – to do a different take on the same source material. And then the idea came, not in a thunderclap or with a light bulb appearing over my head like a cartoon character, but in the process of preparing material for a Sunday evening service, and the realisation that R.E.M’s video for ‘Everybody Hurts’ is set in a traffic jam.
And a hell of a traffic jam it is too. The camera pans and swoops, almost documentary-style, in and out of static vehicles, as the silent occupants find their hidden thoughts broadcast in terminal text across the screen in what is, to be honest, a gross invasion of privacy. They come from all walks of life and at least two ethnicities: some of their issues are transparent, others more subtly rendered. Meanwhile, the rest of the band join the traffic: Michael Stipe, bearing a curious resemblance to either a priest or a Hassidic Jew, takes charge of the situation by walking over the top of the stationery cars, becoming genuinely upset just before the third verse, and then seemingly summoning the upset passengers with the simple power of his voice. Unshackled from their mechanical confines, the crowd silently walk down the highway and then vanish, like something out of the first Left Behind novel.
I’ve always loved ‘Everybody Hurts’, but seeing this video for the first time – back in 2001 or thereabouts, when I bought the DVD – was an incredible experience. It completely changed the song – a song that’s always been said to resonate particularly with teenagers, and which indeed may even have been written for teenagers, but which, accompanied by these visuals, somehow seemed to transcend intended age. It was a video I played to myself in an empty house the day my grandmother died, with a moment in the third verse (you know which, if you’ve watched it) causing me to weep buckets. If that sounds emotionally overwrought, it probably is, but it’s also the sort of sob story that will get you through an X-Factor semi-final, so don’t knock it.
Of course, R.E.M.’s video - amazing as it is - is heavily derived from the opening of Fellini’s 8 1/2, which is included here for posterity.
(One of these days, you know, posterity is going to have to drop me an email – or at least leave a comment – thanking me for all the times I’ve done this for her. Honestly. I go to all this trouble to source links and all I get is silence. Ungrateful cow.)
I put this together over two or three evenings. The first thing to do was to re-watch ‘Gridlock’ in order to trim all the unusable footage. The rule of montage construction is to avoid moving lips where possible, as it distracts from what’s going on in the background, and I wanted lingering close-ups of the characters in their vehicles so that I could drop captions in underneath. This is fine, except that the Doctor Who editing process is designed to cram in as much as is humanly possible within the space of forty-two minutes, so lengthy stares are at a minimum. There were quite a few, but not enough, and that’s why there’s some mirroring / reversing going on, as well as a number of special guests, whom you’ve no doubt encountered by now if you’ve seen the whole thing.
There’s anchoring throughout. If you look, there are waypoints that mirror the original: the Doctor’s descent through the lanes of traffic emulates (or is at least designed to emulate) Stipe’s journey across the cars in the R.E.M. video. I also needed an appropriate ending, and the image of the cars flying up through the roof, as if to heaven, was an obvious choice. Aside from that, it was just a question of digging out the characters and finding out what they might be thinking. It turns out that most of them think in puns. Who knew?
Finally: this is respectfully dedicated to someone who’s having a hell of a week. She knows who she is. And I can’t help thinking that it shaped the second half. Most of the captions were designed to be fairly ridiculous - Martha’s internal pleading for Milo and Cheen to ‘Stop singing. Stop singing. Stop singing’ was essential, but perhaps more interesting was the death of the Face of Boe, which lent itself to inclusion towards the end. The result is a curious hybrid of the straight and the satirical - but I suppose Doctor Who always worked best when it managed to be funny and moving at the same time, and while I’m not saying that this is necessarily either of the above, at least it’s something decent to aspire to.
Emily and I touched on this last night when we were discussing stats and hit counts. “Have you actually watched it yet?” I asked.
“I have,” was the reply. “It got silly, didn’t it?”
“Actually,” I said, “I think it got serious.”