Analysis 6: “Helena” ~ My Chemical Romance

17 09 2007

My Chemical Romance are not the most widely respected of rock bands, but you can’t really fault them on the music video front. I was spoilt for choice for which to analyse – should I do “I Don’t Love You” (clever use of CGI, and bursting with semiology and mise-en-scène points, plus blowing up a guitar and an amp in slow motion always looks cool) or “The Ghost Of You” (cuts between a 1940s dance, complete with ’40s guitars and haircuts, and the D-Day landing, combined with a touching narrative) or maybe “Welcome To The Black Parade” (mixes bizarre narrative about a terminally ill patient with dark homage to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band)? In the end I decided on “Helena”.

1. The setting of this one is a church, with everyone dressed in funeral gear (black suits etc.). Visually speaking, this whole video has quite a gothic tone (more on that later). At the start, Gerard Way is standing at the pulpit in front of some candles. A close-up on some order of service-type booklets tells us that this is “In Memory of Helena”. People file into the church, incense is wafted around and mourners pass a coffin where the body of a young woman (presumably named Helena) is lying. A close-up shows a woman’s crying face.

2. There are many frequent cuts between two scenes – the first, the band performing at the front of the church, the second, Gerard Way in the pulpit singing as the mourners dance. In the latter, Gerard Way is cast as some sort of preacher, leading the service.

3. When the chorus begins, Gerard Way lifts his arms and the mourners stand up with books and sing along (inaudibly) as though singing a hymn. At the end of the chorus, they sit down again.

4. During the second verse, there are frequent close-ups of the band playing. Mention should perhaps be made at this point of Gerard Way’s performance style. Simply put, it’s a little OTT, but his expressions and hand gestures are undeniably emotive. A high-angled shot is used to show the dancers lying on the floor and moving into various poses, possibly, given the context, symbolising death.

5. The congregation stands up again for the second chorus, and Gerard Way falls to his knees at the front of the church and reaches out, wide-eyed, towards the camera, which zooms in on him. The other musicians are shown briefly, and a pan shows the mourners singing, but the main focus of the camera is Gerard Way, and the dancers writhing behind him. He looks up to the sky as though despairing or crying to a loved one in Heaven, and a high-angle shot emphasises this. There are several cuts between him and the corpse, until, at the end of the chorus, he shuts his eyes…

6. …And the corpse opens her eyes. At this point everyone bows their heads and puts their hands together as though in prayer, and while their eyes are closed, the corpse dances down the aisle, unseen by any of them. This is a very gothic image, to my mind. A close-up shows her feet lowering themselves to the ground, and then there she is, in all her pale, undead glory. Tossing her bunch of flowers aside, she moves down the church, passing her hand over the head of a praying woman, and comes right up close to the camera, seizing it (note that the fourth wall is broken). Then she pushes it away and twirls around in a graceful, ballet-esque manner, before – this is clever – there is a cut to her feet twirling and coming to a halt, and when the camera cuts back, she is holding the flowers to her chest, gives a little gasp, shuts her eyes and falls backwards. Then there is another cut, and she lands back in the coffin. This whole sequence is very weird, and perhaps symbolises that her spirit lives on, or maybe a voyage to the afterlife.

7. I’m singin’ in the rain… oh, no, wait a minute, that’s something else. Cut to outside where we see some appropriately black umbrellas being put up and the mourners dance with them. It is raining heavily as MCR (plus one extra) carry the coffin down the steps. There are more close-ups of Gerard Way’s face as he sings, now displaying an expression of grief.

8. From inside the hearse, we see the coffin being loaded into the vehicle. Gerard Way shuts the door with a loud thud, this being the only use of diagetic sound in the video. He looks in through the window in the door at the coffin, perhaps saying a final goodbye to the deceased. His expression is grave. Then he turns and walks away. The funeral – and the song – is over.

And that’s the analysis.  Morbid, or what?  Anyway, here’s the video on YouTube.  Sorry about the resolution; it used to be available in shiny Warner label-uploaded format, no less, but that video is no longer available.




4 responses

18 09 2007

very good analysis. just as a random point of interest the plus one extra guys name is cameron.

all in all, very good.

~ harley

18 09 2007

I’m glad you liked it.

Since I was tackling it from a media perspective, I only looked at what you could see. For example, the song is actually about the Way bros. late grandmother, Elena, but she is not the woman depicted in the video.

27 08 2008

Wow, that is a very unbiased observation of the video. I especially like the explanation of the horizon level of the video.

Due to my attraction to the video, I feel compelled to further analyze the design of this video and gauge their success as being artists.

Other design aspects that may grab the viewer’s attention are the symetry of 5 candles and a red curtain in dividing the back wall in 1/2 in the opening sceen while the lead singer sways across the midline causing the viewer to be attracted toward him. The symetry appears again with the high angle shot of the stairs as the dancers leave the sceen. The very last sceen as the lead singer says good bye; the herse acts as a tunnel with the lead singer’s face at the focal point and a perfect reflection of his face off the casket. These symetric immages mark the beginning and the end of the video.

Another symbol was the lantern with smoke rising representing a spirit.

Also, the ballerina’s dance move where she outlines a woman’s hat then suddenly lowers her velocity causing a distortion of time represeting a slowing of heart beat.

The climax is when helena is reanimated. The amazing part is that the song’s cadance becomes iambic. She is reanimated by the whispered prayer “can WE preTEND to LEAVE and THEN we’ll MEET aGAIN when BOTH our CARS coLIDE”. Which is a question of meeting her in the after-life by ending his own. He doesn’t because the repeating chorus explains that it he is better off staying alive. The iambic words are pressured so the sylables are highly exaggerated.

The question of living on is a personal battle that we humans have in times of crisis. The lead singer’s Grandma, Helena died before he wrote the song and before he performs the song at a live concert he points at sky and says, “This is for you grandma.” This reinforces the audience that they can cope with suicidal thoughts.

My motivation for writing this is that I found myself attracted to the song when I saw the music video. I wanted to know what were the design aspects that caused this emotional reaction and why other videos lack these designs. Appearantly the lead singer is an artist and is capable of drawing story boards to convey camera angles and proportions.

The most ironic part is that the video follows proven designs on how to attract the viewer’s eye to the lead singer. This will bother homophobic people that are ignorant of design since they find their eye mechanically attracted to the male lead singer so they must defend their heterosexuality by projecting that the band is infact homosexual!

In conclusion, if art is a message that transcends generations, then the lead singer to my chemical romance is an artist sending the message that was once expressed by shakespeare. The lead singer’s success as an artist can be measured a by the number of people expressing that he saved their life AND the number of people projecting their homophobia.

27 08 2008

Woah. That really is an in depth analysis. I tip my hat to you.

Thank you for your comment!

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