Montreal Monsters: Making the “Pretty Boy” Video


Still photo from the music video “Pretty Boy” by Luke McCutcheon

Guest blog by Sean McCutcheon

A music video featuring contradancing—the first to do so, as far as I know—has just been released.

Music videos originated as clips shown on TV to promote a recording. Now, though still associated with songs, they have become an art form. As tools for producing them have grown cheaper, and web-based distribution channels such as YouTube and Pitchfork grown larger, they have become the means by which many young film makers hone their chops, reach wide audiences, win prizes, and launch careers.

After recording their fourth and latest album, Young Galaxy, the Montreal-based indie band, invited my son Luke to make the official video for the album’s lead song, the dance-pop anthem Pretty Boy.

According to Stephen Ramsay, co-founder of Young Galaxy, this song was inspired by reading Just Kids, the autobiography of Patti Smith (the godmother of punk), and her story of finding love with fellow misfit Robert Mapplethorpe (the iconic queer photographer).

The chorus of Pretty Boy goes:

“And I know you feel isolated
And I feel what you won’t say
I don’t care if the disbelievers
Don’t understand, you’re my pretty boy, always.”

Luke decided to make a video exploring “the uncanny valley, that space where something looks human but is just slightly off.” The term ‘‘uncanny valley’’ was coined to describe a curious feature that appears when you chart our emotional response to robots. The more they become human in appearance the more we like them. When they look and act almost but not perfectly like us, we start to feel revulsion, and the chart dips into the so-called uncanny valley. Finally, as they become indistinguishable from us, our responses become positive once again.

In the video, shot during a hectic weekend in Montreal, two weird, lost characters (a wrinkled man and a blank beauty; the actors were wearing very tight, uncomfortable latex masks), meet in a bar, sadly shuffle around a dingy, snowy city, and end up dancing together at a contradance, all in slow motion.

For the final scene, a dozen or so dancers came colorfully dressed to a church basement rented for a Sunday night and there, as the camera changed angles and the two weary actors busted their moves, they cheerfully repeated a few dances over and over again.

Since being released this Spring the video has racked up more than 50,000 views on YouTube. The reviewers like what one called “the story of a winter friendship between a pair of ugly ducklings.” Several see it as a twist on Harold and Maude. A few detected the models Luke actually had in mind: the film Trash Humpers and the video for the song “Pass This On” by the Swedish electronic duo The Knife. All see the relationship that blossoms between the creepy monsters, and their happy integration into the contradance, as sweet and redemptive.

What’s surprising about this, to me, is that it was my son who made it. Once, when Luke came to the contradance we organize in Montreal, he declared, with glaring illogic, that clearly none of the dancers had ever had sex. And when he was a willful adolescent our most effective deterrent was the threat of waiting for him after school, dancing on the sidewalk with signs identifying us as his parents.

To the adult Luke, however, contradancers represent “a spirit as wholesome, provincial, and non-sexual as cookies.” And thanks to his dancing parents, he happened to have access to this welcoming dance community, the perfect antidote for urban monsterdom.

Sean McCutcheon lives in Montreal and his interests include music and dance.

Caroline says: My thanks to Sean for writing this article, and thanks as well to Nils Fredland who shared Sean’s email with me a short while ago, alerting me to the video. When I first watched it, I spent most of the time thinking “What is this about?”, and by the end I was thinking, “Absolutely.” Tell us your reaction.

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