Like the other examples of Arcade Fire’s multimedia collaborations with Vincent Morisset, the Sprawl II interactive video is incredible. I absolutely love the idea of using interaction to turn one’s computer into more than just a “black mirror”.
However, it’s hard to convey a story or idea when you’re constantly getting stuck in herky-jerky mini-loops while you’re flailing about in front of your webcam.
And so, I’m going to focus on the ‘traditional’ music video.
We open with some long shots of generic dilapidated suburban wasteland, when Reginé Chassagne exits her bungalow, darling as always, even when clad in a cardboard dress and sporting giant vintage headphones—no white earbuds for her! I have to wonder about the paper dress: does Reginé wear it to associate herself and the band with recycling and general eco-ness? Or because it is simply easier to tear off later?
Anyway, we see that this decaying ’burb is also inhabited by anonymous men and women, made faceless by what looks like smears of oil paints. I’m going to go out on a limb and propose that these are the postmodern industrial wage slaves, suburban bluepill zombie captives of the ‘American Dream’. We see a couple dressed for a day at the office (“all those wasted lives in the wilderness downtown”) sit in their driveway, lifeless. Another woman waters her concrete mindlessly; Reginé happens by, singing her line about “just punching the clock”, and the woman begins to scratch at herself. Reginé then curtseys at the man and woman, who also start scratching and begin a rudimentary form of what we will later see as a big synchronized ‘burb-zombie dance.
So, just in this video’s first minute, we see Arcade Fire acting upon ‘burb-dwellers as a catalyst for change and liberation (“kicking up sparks to set the flames free”) against the crippling force of sedentary inertia.
Next we see the paper-mache bobbleheaded versions of Arcade Fire (last seen in these invitations for the Sprawl project) hanging out in an abandoned lot behind an apartment complex. For starters, they’re outside, not indoors where they would be at the mercy of any number of infotoxin-emitting glowing screens. Secondly, what are they doing in the abandoned lot? Playing in the tall weeds with a butterfly net! Exploring and enjoying Nature! Imagine that!
A moment later we see two of the bigheads pushing each other in a shopping cart in an empty carpark—repurposing a machine and using it not as intended (for fun instead of for consumption)!
Unfortunately, it looks like that’s about the extent of the analyzable material, because the rest of the video is all dancing. Nothing wrong with that! I think I do perceive a difference in the dancing styles of Regine and the faceless zombies—Reginé’s is smoother and more free-flowing, while theirs is frankly tortured-looking: much of their dancing looks like they’re trying to tear out of their skin or clothes. And who can blame them? In general, I think it’s safe to say that Reginé’s arm-flailing dancing is the authentic, polar opposite of the too-cool “kids standing with their arms folded tight”.