Picture yourself in a darkened movie theater, or soothed by the pleasing glow of a television screen.
You are watching as a history of the moving image unfolds onscreen, but this history will not take note of D.W. Griffith or Jean Renoir, nor will King Kong or Jaws make an appearance. As the images flicker past - of four ebullient British men turning cartwheels in an open field, a man tap-dancing on an urban sidewalk, a wedding party in a rainstorm, a tragedy in a school classroom - they wax more familiar, the theme growing more coherent, more stable. They keep coming, though, quickly, relentlessly, constantly changing form, changing style, shapeshifting. The parade of images appears to possess a logic of its own, a guiding hand to steer its ship. Finally, as the last picture fills the screen—it happens to be of a shooting on a Brooklyn street—a light bulb goes off: these are all images from music videos, the short films that once ruled the airwaves, and still possess a significant hold on the generations raised by MTV. "I wonder what those were all about," you say…
Money for Nothing is a rip-roaring 75 minutes, taking in the past, present, and future of the music video. The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Guns N' Roses, 2Pac, Madonna, U2, R.E.M., Nirvana, Jay-Z, Lady Gaga—Money for Nothing is a refresher course in the last sixty years of popular music, and the unforgettable images that accompanied them. It is a story in three parts—the holy trinity of the video. In order to properly draw our map of the terrain, we will perhaps have to retrace our steps a time or two. But what is the music video, at last, but a series of deftly retraced steps—over and over and over again, until we almost forget we have seen it all before?
Let us think of the music video not as an artistic genre in its own right, but as collectively forming the advance party for the most successful advertising campaign ever devised. An ad campaign so brilliant, so slick, and so subtle as to occasionally make its customers forget what they were being sold. This campaign was so triumphant, in fact, that a bit of a refresher course might be necessary. Shall we get started?