Today: April 17, 2024

Power To The People: Music On Film

Power To The People is a unique collection of 200 landmark British videos produced between 1966 and 2016.

The collection is the result of a three-year research project funded by the Arts &  Humanities Research Council and run in collaboration with the British Film Institute and the British Library.  The videos were carefully selected by a panel of over one hundred  directors, producers, cinematographers, editors, choreographers, colourists and video  commissioners. Each represents seminal music video history; each pioneered  a new genre, film technique, post-production method, distribution channel, or other  landmark.

A long-standing mistaken assumption is that music video evolved in response to the  launch of MTV in the USA in 1981. British videos predated MTV and arrived in response  to changes in youth culture and popular music marketing in the 1960s and 1970s. But the  earliest videos made in 1966/7 by The Who, The Kinks, The Beatles, and the Dave Clark Five were part of the first so-called ‘British invasion’ of the USA. They were screened on  such shows as the Ed Sullivan Show.

Between 1975 and 1980 British labels started to commission most videos because  European release dates were being harmonised in order to prevent audiocassette piracy  – labels needed footage of the band to send out to European TV stations in lieu of a live  TV performance. It was this shift that saw the commissioning of iconic videos such as  Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (1975), M’s ‘Pop Muzik’ (1979), and the Boomtown Rats’ ‘I  Don’t Like Mondays’ (1979) in the late 1970s.

By the time MTV launched in the USA in 1981 there was already a production industry  here in the UK and a recognised stable of video genres for labels to draw on. By contrast  video production in the USA was in its infancy and the majority of videos broadcast on  MTV in the early years were British – fuelling the oft-cited wisdom that it was MTV that drove the so-called second-invasion of the USA by British pop music in the 1980s.

Not every video in this collection is 100% British but every one contributes to the overall  story of the British music video scene. The creativity, energy and vision behind most videos  comes not only from the video director but also the artist and video commissioner, the  production company, and the post-production house. If the video concept was born of a  certain creative production culture in the UK, primarily for a British audience, and/or had  a major impact on the way British videos were made afterwards, it has been included it in  this collection, even if the director wasn’t British or the artist was not from the UK.

Videos are presented as they were originally broadcast and viewed. Most predate high definition (HD) technologies – videos from mid to late 1960s  were shot either on 16mm or 35mm and were generally edited on film. Videos such as ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’, created for TV shows like Top Of The Pops, were mastered to a 4:3  format (a.k.a. ‘academy’ frame or ‘aspect ratio’) for the box-like shape of the old TV sets.  That convention persisted into the 1990s – with the result that masters of iconic works  such as Jonathan Glazer’s ‘Street Spirit’ video for Radiohead exist only in 4:3 format  despite the fact that they were shot on 35mm. However, during the 1980s some directors  (such as Russell Mulcahy) expressed their cinematic aspirations by framing the action  of their music videos within a more rectangular aspect ratio used in cinemas of 16:9 or  widescreen. They did so by taping strips of black gaffer tape to the camera to create a  black strip along the top and bottom of the 4:3 frame. These historical circumstances  and differences in director aesthetics account for the variation in aspect ratios across the collection.

That said, there are two videos in this collection that were remastered and restored. One  of the archivists at the National Film Archive identified old film prints of a 1968 Manfred  Mann video for ‘The Mighty Quinn’ directed by John Crome. The 35mm crumbled under examination but the 16mm was strong enough to digitise. WIZ had carefully kept the 35mm print of Flowered Up’s  ‘Weekender’ in his loft since 1992. Sony Music UK and the research grant invested the  funds to digitise the rushes so that an eye match edit and a grade could be done, to  produce a new work

The result is a staggering collection of music videos that will tickle your nostalgia bone and have you rushing back to your vinyl and CD collections.

Power To The People is available on DVD now.

Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email:

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