Analysis 2: “Subterranean Homesick Blues” ~ Bob Dylan

29 08 2007

The classic Bob Dylan track is one of the earliest modern music videos. It’s also very easy to analyse because it contains no editing at all. It’s funny, because I bet if he’d been doing a media studies course and he’d submitted it to the exam board they’d have rejected it (philistines!) but it’s one of the most iconic music videos of all time, so the minimalist approach clearly has something going for it.

1. The video opens with a slow zoom out to reveal Bob Dylan standing outside the Savoy Hotel with a set of cue cards, the one on top reading “BASEMENT”. The camera is totally stationary throughout. Incidentally, the video was shot only in black and white, because it predates the time when colour TV became popular (it was filmed in 1965, and colour didn’t really catch on in the USA until the start of the ’70s).

2. As the word “basement” is spoken, he tosses the card aside to reveal the next, which reads “MEDICINE”. He then proceeds to do the same with each card in turn – “PAVEMENT”, “GOVERNMENT”, “TRENCH COAT”, “LAID OFF” and so on. In the background, Allen Ginsberg and Bob Neuwirth can be seen conversing for no apparent reason.

3. Sometimes deliberate mistakes creep in, so that as the track sings “eleven dollar bills” Dylan holds up a sign reading “20 DOLLAR BILLS”. Similarly, he later picks up and discards “IT’S HARD” and “WRITE BRAILLE” too early, and there are some rather bizarre misspellings (such as “MAN WHOLE” for “manhole” and “PAWKING METAWS” for parking meters). This gives the video a clumsy, humorous tone, reminiscent of silent comedy films such as the early Charlie Chaplin comedies. Additionally, sometimes other messages not present in the lyrics are displayed, such as “WATCH IT HERE THEY COME”.

4. He holds up the last card (“WHAT??”, which is not present in the lyrics and seems to indicate defensiveness or puzzlement) and walks off screen, seemingly oblivious to Ginsberg and Neuwirth exiting in the background.

The only online versions I could find were rips from a countdown of songs, which is why this YouTube video features pink writing that pops up in the corners of the screen, but this was the best I could find for now.




One response

31 10 2010
Spray Insulations :

Bob Dylan is an American singer-songwriter and musician who has been a major figure in music for five decades ”

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