*I highly recommend this work and suggest you watch it before reading this review (it can be found on YouTube)*
Although it does feature 2 songs off the newly released Thought Gang album, this review is for Ant Head as a short film and not Ant Head as a music video. Although the difference is pretty negligible, it is worth pointing out because my choice to review it as one or the other changes what I focus on. Let me explain.
If I review it as a music video, then the music itself becomes a huge focus because, likely, the video only ACCOMPANIES the music. However, this is not always the case (see: “This Is America”, whose music and video are inseparable entities). If I review it as a short film, then the music itself acts as a SUPPLEMENT to the video. The music stops being the primary focus and instead is used as a means to draw a reaction from the content of the video. It’s a case of whether or not to think of it as a piece of music-making that happens to be accompanied by a video, or as a piece of film-making that happens to be accompanied by music.
The tracks used in Ant Head are “lost tracks” from the early 1990’s while the footage is brand new. Furthermore, the 2 tracks used are 7 songs apart on the album, and 1 of these tracks isn’t even used for it’s entire duration. So we have 1.5 tracks being used 25 years after they were recorded with a piece of experimental film-making with it’s own title. The music and video are separable entities. The fact that Lynch used his OWN music to create a mood and atmosphere for an experimental film-making endeavor should not be considered argument for it being a music video. Just because a song is used in a movie doesn’t make that part of the movie its music video.
Is that convincing enough? It’s really negligible either way but I find the topic fascinating. The philosophy of what something IS has always been intriguing to me and I think discussions regarding the nature of THINGS is necessary. It allows us to better understand how we interact with the everyday world and therefore how we make decisions about it. So how does this affect our viewing of Ant Head? When I watch Ant Head, I am focusing on the content of the video while the sounds add or take away from what I am seeing. And if you are reading this review and plan to watch it afterwards, I urge you to do the same. Set aside your expectations, remember that you aren’t listening to it for the music (or else you would just listen to the album), and let the visuals be the primary guide in this journey.
Let’s get underway. Ant Head begins with a black screen flashing into white and back into black but now there is a giant white blur in the middle of the screen. Ambient dissonance plays out in the background as the image somewhat begins coming into focus. An audio cue plays and suddenly the image is entirely in focus. There are dozens of ants crawling over what looks like an extremely deformed face in the fore-ground. The face looks like it has been rotting or something. The ants are moving in and out of the holes on the front of the face as avant-garde jazz music plays. It’s very disorienting and plays out for awhile.
In the background, we notice power lines (electricity is a huge theme in Lynch’s work). The black and white scheme that is being used makes the background come off as very industrial. I get vibes of Lynch’s own Eraserhead, his directorial debut released back in 1977. It took me a few minutes to realize this, but the shape of the head is entirely edited in. I guess I was distracted by everything else going on. But examining the outline of the head, it’s easy to tell that it was entirely done on a computer.
I sense a lot of people won’t understand or enjoy what is going on here. Which is fair. Art is subjective, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, whatever. But I think it is absolutely beautiful and atmospheric as hell. Some people may complain about how long this image lasts, but to me it’s Lynch sculpting in time. By not cutting away or changing the shot, Lynch forces us to continually take in information about what is being shown. By extension, Lynch forces us into wondering what is NOT being show. And in this case, due to our lack of understanding about WHY we are seeing what we are seeing, there is a lot that we are not seeing.
As the music gets more and more intense, the screen again fades to white then back to black, and then the original image comes back in. But this time, the image is a negative of the original shot. Not long after, a voice starts talking in this crackling voice as if the audio was being recorded through a shitty walkie-talkie. I’m pretty sure it is Lynch speaking. The story is absolutely terrifying. From the content to the word choice to how it is being spoken, Lynch has a knack for the creepy. It always feels so organic with Lynch, unlike many similar artists whose work comes off us too forced and edgy.
As the story gets more intense, there is a point where the camera begins to zoom in closer and closer to the image. I honestly think that this zoom was done digitally in post-production. It’s way too smooth and perfect to be done manually, although I may be wrong. I know Lynch likes doing things the easy way if there is an easy way. The zoom fits perfectly though. It makes sense to me that the zoom happens although I couldn’t explain it. With Lynch, I usually have an emotional reaction rather than a logical one. It always makes sense to my emotions but then afterwards, I struggle to explain myself.
And that’s why I knew that this review would be a difficult one. Because I absolutely LOVE this piece of film-making. It was late at night and I was wearing headphones the first time I watched it. And I was absolutely terrified and entranced. It triggered a strong emotional reaction in me, and if it doesn’t for you then I don’t think it ever will.
Ant Head is a great piece of experimental film-making and helps to prove that David Lynch is one of the greatest living directors (if not the greatest) and one of the greatest of all-time. As is expected, Lynch makes use of a lot of his common themes in both the imagery and the words. While I didn’t feel like it was anything NEW for Lynch, it was a great mash-up of things he has explored before and it felt distinct enough that it was still incredibly enjoyable.
9/10 – Amazing