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.