Martin Scorsese’s Music Videos (1986-1988)

The moderate success of 1986’s THE COLOR OF MONEY gave director Martin Scorsese the leverage he needed to finally put his longtime passion project THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST into production.   Before the latter film would be realized, however, Scorsese’s rediscovered value as a filmmaker led to two music videos for some of the biggest names in music at the time—the late Michael Jackson and former The Band frontman Robbie Robertson.

MICHAEL JACKSON: “BAD” (1986)

Scorsese’s music video for “BAD” is arguably Michael Jackson’s highest profile music video, second only to John Landis’ groundbreaking video for “Thriller”.  The video is set underground in an archetypical New York City subway station while Jackson and his tough-looking friends aggressively dance around and mean-mug to the camera.  Scorsese’s hand is very evident in the video—not just in the NYC setting but in the dynamic camera movement, which incorporates a series of whip-pans, zooms, dolly, and Steadicam moves to match Jackson’s explosive footwork.

One very interesting aspect about the video is Scorsese’s decision to incorporate production sound into the video.  We can actually hear the chains of Jackson’s outfit clank together, boots scuffling along the concrete, and the guttural yells from the dancers.  The overall effect is a liveliness and sense of presence that’s missing from the grand majority of conventional music videos.

“BAD” is perhaps Scorsese’s best-known work within the music video genre, and it is still highly regarded today as one of the best ever made.  However, like other pop culture artifacts of the 1980’s, the video contains none of the timelessness of Scorsese’s feature work.  While Jackson’s cadre of backup dancers might have passed for intimidating, tough street hoods in 1986, today it just looks like Jackson is hosting a leather daddy party.

ROBBIE ROBERTSON- “SOMEWHERE DOWN THE CRAZY RIVER” (1988)

Scorsese and Robbie Robertson have had a long, fruitful working relationship for many years, going all the way back to their concert film THE LAST WALTZ (1978)—so when Robbie Robertson released his new single “Somewhere Down The Crazy River”, hiring Scorsese to direct the music video must have seemed like a no-brainer.

“SOMEWHERE DOWN THE CRAZY RIVER” is a minimalist performance piece, with Robertson singing and speaking to camera while he stands against a series of stylized one-color backdrops.  The lighting is very theatrical, washing over Robertson with bold, glowing color (and alternately framing him in silhouette).  Besides Robertson’s presence, the only other thing that suggests Scorsese’s hand is the appearance of a blonde woman wearing white, which we should recognize as one of Scorsese’s most-visible tropes in his narrative feature work.

Ultimately, the video is rather forgettable, as is the song.  If it does manages to stick in the mind, it can probably be attributed to the creepy, sexually over-aggressive vibe Robertson gives off, akin to a dirty old man undressing you with his eyes.