Arcade Fire: Scenes from the Suburbs
It’s no secret that Arcade’s Fire, The Suburbs, album is brilliant-It snagged a Best Album award at the 2011 Grammys. There may have been other albums I listened to more at the time of its release, but nothing impacted me more than this fierce addition into Alternative rock. While “Alt” is a broad generalization, and Arcade Fire has been labeled as “Indie”, “Art Rock”, and even as far as “Baroque Pop”, I label them as innovators in melancholy enlightenment, a category that transcends mediums. Continuing on though, I do not believe that I, nor my peers would quite be the same without it. Especially without the in-between medium-short length video that encapsulates the theme of the album in a mesmerizing 30-minute music video. Directed by Spike Jonze, “Scenes from the Suburbs” was first released at SXSW in 2011, making tracks by spotlighting in a new category in it of itself with 2 other entries. This piece would go on to then define Jonze as a cheeky auteur, along with Arcade Fire continuing on paving a genre with their own sounds and inclination.
While some immediately reminisce Spike Jonze as the director/writer of Being John Malkovich back in ’99, he’s always been a video artist making music videos. Working with artists like the beastie boys and Weezer, he established himself at making videos that are a little quirky and fit with their music companions, such as Weezer’s “Island in the Sun” and “Buddy Holly.” This collaboration with Arcade Fire on “Scenes From the Suburbs” with the help of intimate handheld close ups/long takes from Director of Photography, Greig Fraser, Jonze first explores a theme to appear in his later works: Memories. He proves this notion in his film “Her”(2013). Other than Theodore’s wardrobe, the brightest images throughout the film are the mystic memories of his past love, her smiling face with the bright sunlight behind her making her look angelic.
“Scenes From the Suburbs” begins with a voice-over narration from frontman, Win Bulter. Memory as a theme is engrained from the start of the video, in a way that feels like it is for true fans of the album as it begins with the last song, "The Suburbs (continued)." The opening scene with the narration shows our main subjects standing along a fence with barb wire, staring into what lies beyond. As the title track begins to play (indicating that we are now seeing the story from the beginning), It is established that the group of kids are the main subjects and fulfill a narrative in a dystopian US, where bordering towns are at conflict. We are shown just enough to be fully involved and in belief that this world exists, but not shown enough that the vagueness still eats away at us and the question remain-How did this happen? For my generation, where the first taste of the real world was the day the towers fell, the possibilities are endless. Us millennials have never known anything but conflict.
While not all the songs from the album appear in the music video, it’s unnoticeable with how well-crafted the songs set the tone for each segment. The perfect blending of diegetic noise and the featured songs allow them to be felt, even if not heard to full luster. It is notable, however, that there is a brief scene where our two best friends of the group, Kyle and Winter, along with Winter’s girlfriend, lightly talk about masculinity and sexuality whether they actually know it or not. This song that plays during this scene is “Modern Man,” and I don’t think it could be more appropriate that this conversation begins with them having the talk about interactions with a woman while alcohol is involved or whether or not she intoxicated. Fellas, these are the conversations we need to be having with one other. This conversation evolves into Winter admitting he liked the movie, Hitch (2005), and catching flak from Kyle about it. Winter retaliates by commenting on Kyle’s beanie (it’s the middle of summer, mind you) and Kyle responds with he’s “trying out a new look.”
While we continue to follow the group of kids around, who are appearing more as young adults by this point, we begin to see the violence of living in a military state creep closer and closer to the tight knit group. Nature vs. nurture is brought up along with this. While we see our group of kids play fight with air soft guns, we don’t see an aggression in them that is typically thought to go hand in hands with this kind of play. It comes across as more of a summer delinquent and camaraderie than anything. There’s even a specific scene where Kyle jokes with a sheriff as the crew ride past an armed stakeout on the corner. This lightheartedness slowly seems to drain as Winter begins to drift towards what is being nurtured in him. His brother returns from what can only be assumed is prison and we catch a brief glimpse of his sickly, maybe alcoholic mother, as Kyle is on his way back from the bathroom while over for supper.
The breakdown in Kyle and Winter’s relationship can be targeted as the premise of the video in the setting of a dissolute society. There’s an ambiguous climax that just seems to happen without much insight and reason. Then again, if we’re seeing this world through Kyle’s eyes, did any of us know what was going on in this point in our lives? This piece becomes about remembering times, and someone who is lost to us. Sometimes a memory of person or event is exactly how it was when you think back, other times it’s different. All that really matters is that you remember.