Sunday, 29 January 2012

Two 1965 pop videos where the women don't move

Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs: Wooly Bully (1965)

The Zombies: She's Not There (1965)

I remember both of these (just) but had forgotten the still women. In Wooly Bully they stand as if they were shop dummies while the woman in She's Not There lies on a chaise longue and looks confidently enigmatic. But she doesn't move either. Sam the Sham was an oddly memorable novelty song. The Zombies were genuinely original and haunting.

But why are the women still? I'm sure a feminist analysis would offer plenty of explanations. They are sexual objects. The have no freedom of action. They have no subjectivity. They activate the idea of feminine mystique at a safe distance. They are cardboard-cutout Muses. They are trophy girlfriends. They are wallpaper, decoration, status symbols. They are the lay figures of pop-surrealism, entirely passive subjects of the potentially sadistic male gaze.

And all this would be true, or might be true, some of it or all of it, and yet it isn't enough. Or if this more or less describes the truth then the truth is deeper and stranger and not quite at safe distance.

Apparent stillness is inanimation. The last stage of inanimation is death. In how many corny ghosts films have we seen the eyes of apparently inanimate portraits begin to move? (I think of The Cat and the Canary, for instance, a comedy based on such tropes). How often, for spooky effect, have statues that we have taken for inanimate stir and threaten. This may be taking things too far but there is something a little unheimlich about those beautiful unmoving female figures who are not altogether powerless, especially the one in The Zombies video, since, surely, she must be the woman who, according to the title, is - unsettlingly - 'not there.'


Paul Hellyer said...

I felt a lot of guilty pleasure at watching Wooly Bully. So much feels wrong (the implied racism and sexism), but goddammit, that's one catchy tune.

George S said...

I am not sure about racism here, Paul. It's fancy dress without any pejorative associations. The sexism - whatever that means in this context, and I nod towards received understandings of it in the post - is more complex than polemics would make it seem. Most things are more complex than polemics: that is what I am thinking about in the last paragraph. And Wooly Bully is catchy. I didn't much like it at the time but it has stayed with me.