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Destroyer's Music Video: The French Film Reference Everyone Missed?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Destroyer, a.k.a. the Vancouver-based indie rock songwriter Dan Bejar, is known for writing inscrutable lyrics. But when the big-haired musician recently released a video for "Savage Night at the Opera," one of the songs off Destroyer's 2011 soft rock-mining album Kaputt, it was surprising how few noted where the inspiration for the video came from. That’s where The Takeaway's digital editor Ben Brock Johnson comes in. He recognized Bejar's nod to a once-banned French film that features a real life high-speed chase and a few near-death experiences. Here's more from Johnson on the connection:

The usual suspects of the music blogosphere dutifully posted the Destroyer video when it came out, which Videogum described simply as a "golden-hour motorcycle’s-eye-view trip through some urban downtown without breaking its point of view or switching camera angles." But as soon as I started watching the piece, directed by David Galloway, I had an idea where it came from. By the time I saw the end, I knew it was a near carbon copy of C'était un Rendez-vous, a nine-minute one-shot film from 1976 that got filmmaker Claude Lelouch arrested.

I don't remember how I happened on it originally, but Lelouch's bit of cinéma vérité made a lasting impression. It was reportedly created by mounting a gyro-stabilized camera on the bumper of either a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 or a Ferrari, and it shows a driver's-eye view of the vehicle racing through Paris just as dawn breaks. The driver, rumored to be Lelouch himself, narrowly misses pedestrians and flies past many of the city's most iconic locales, like the Champs Élysées. Depending on your perspective, the piece is either exhilarating or terrifying, but it was definitely highly illegal. Like a lot of edgy material, it has surely inspired plenty of discussion about whether the art is worth the danger. But it seems difficult to argue that, judged simply, it isn't a pretty amazing and eye-opening bit of footage. 

The music video for "Savage Night of the Opera," shot in Vancouver, also manages to show its driver running lots of red lights, though I would guess at much lower speeds. The ending, which I'll let you discover for yourself, is almost exactly the same in content in both pieces, and each features the roar of the vehicle's motor as it shifts and careens through an urban landscape. 

It's hard to imagine that the more recent piece isn't an homage to the 1976 film, and if you disagree please tell my why I'm wrong. I grant that the reference is obscure, but it's one that I'm surprised so many bloggers missed. I'm not the only one who caught it of course; fans on Twitter and other social media certainly noticed. Maybe that's yet another argument that the audience can be more informed than the critic.

I should note that the ad put before the Destroyer video is a handbag commercial that features a motorbike riding through Paris, perhaps proving that your average advertising robot may be more adept at identifying references than your average music blogger. Whatever the case, it's an interesting reference that fits Bejar's aesthetic: catchy melodies set against strange, unnerving lyrics; a near miss in a potential collision of beauty and adrenaline.

Here's Destroyer's video for "Savage Night at the Opera."

And here's Claude Lelouch's 1976 C'était un Rendez-vous.

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