When I first saw the new Modest Mouse video for the song "King Rat," I thought of two things. First, how terrible it is for the world to have lost Heath Ledger. Second, how much the music video called to mind the fascinating 1980 short film "Fisheye" (Riblje Oko) by Josko Marusic.
"Fisheye" is a product of the Zagreb School of Animation, a Croatian institution that had its peak in the 1960's, and which was one of the most important centers of instruction for European modernist animation. "Fisheye" is terrifying, and in parts touching. It is humanizing and dehumanizing, and leaves the viewer questioning the concept of seafood (I did have some delicious mussels for dinner), as well as our place in the ecosystem and universe. The film's modernist style, classical score and black backgrounds, fading into oblivion, are chillingly memorable.
So is "King Rat." Modest Mouse has been one of my favorite bands over the past few years, and I am glad to see that they have survived rumors of internal tension, as well as meteoric mainstream success of their catchy tune "Float On." I was outraged the other day when I overheard someone refer to "The Mouse" as a "one hit wonder." The imbecile! From their haunting song about a wild pack of family dogs that comes to take their sister away to "Dramamine," the ultimate dreamy roadtrip song, Modest Mouse are true indy rock artists, with many layers and textures of intelligent sound. Oh, and they're from Washington State.
All the proceeds from the iTunes video downloads of "King Rat" in the first month of release will go to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Paul Watson's warriors on the front lines of whale defense. The "King Rat" video was directed by the late great Ledger, to be a "visual plea against the legal commercial whale hunts taking place off the coast of Australia."
It certainly is that. It is haunting and shocking in parts, with some gross-out graphic scenes. It is also humorous and light in other sections, with whales that are comical and lovable, despite what they are up to. Like "Fisheye," it does challenge our roles in destruction of the oceans, and asks us to plumb the depths of what makes us human. Despite its content, "King Rat" doesn't feel as dark to me as "Fisheye," and it seems to offer more hope for a better world, to an end to the slaughter. I remember "Fisheye" as fatalistic and a bit nihilistic, as if we are forever trapped in our roles as hunters and hunted. But then again, it was made in 1980.
According to the press release, Heath Ledger had asked Modest Mouse to direct the video back in January of 2007, while visiting his native Australia. Ledger opposed the illegal commercial whale hunts that take place off the coast of Australia each year. The project was apparently fully realized, yet unfinished, when the actor passed away.
By the way, I had those tasty mussels this evening at Five Leaves, the hip, chillaxed bar that was also unfinished when Ledger died. The nautical-themed Brooklyn hangout co-conceived by the star was completed after Ledger's family contributed funds they believed he intended to invest. Sipping on a local Sixpoint ale at the bar, I could almost imagine Ledger ambling into the relaxed place, tipping a cowboy hat.
So, has anyone seen The Cove yet?
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