Thursday, October 20, 2011

Love and Other Drugs (Not the Jake Gyllenhaal/Anne Hathaway Movie -- No Naked A-Listers Below!)

The Lost Weekend.

Days of Wine and Roses.

Requiem for a Dream.

The Country GirlLady Sings the BluesLeaving Las Vegas.

One of my strongest weaknesses -- a sort of cinematic addiction --  are movies in which couples are about to implode due the dependence of one or both on drugs and/or alcohol. God knows I've been there, in love with someone who loved vodka and drugs more than he loved me. I'm no good at coming in second. After he was arrested for trying to score pot from an undercover cop in New York City's Washington Square Park, I knew he had to go.

From what I heard afterwards, things got a lot worse before they got better. The last time I saw him, he had been clean for a number of years. We may not have gotten a happy ending together, but his being alive was far more important, and if I hadn't let him go, he might not have hit rock bottom so hard that the only way was up and off to rehab.

Which brings me to... more thoughts on Rihanna's new video.

I wonder if the guy she walks out on at the end of "We Found Love" will be so lucky. Like her recent "Man Down" clip, in which she exacted vigilante revenge on a man who sexually assaulted her, "We Found Love" is dark, foreboding and as hopeless as that word that keeps popping up in the song's chorus.

"We found love in a hopeless place," Rihanna sings over Calvin Harris's propulsive beat. I've seen kids throwing down to it in clubs from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, and until I watched the video, I had every reason to believe that it was a happy song. It very well might be. But after watching the video, that "hopeless" hangs in the air every time I listen to it.

The musical euphoria makes sense. Under the influence of all-consuming love, everything shines more brightly. That glow of love is almost blinding, especially when it's brand new. The sky is bluer. Music sounds better. Food has more flavor. All is so right with the world that you want more -- more love, more sex, more everything. Love under the influence intensifies that illuminating effect (brighter brighter brighter, more more more), an idea that's underscored in the video by an Irish voice over before the beat kicks in.

If it all sounds a little unhealthy -- physically and emotionally -- that's because it is. I prefer my love more measured and sane (without narcotic enhancement). The drugs that are so carelessly consumed by the two main characters in the clip seem to be a stand-in for the romantic obsession and co-dependency that's detailed in the song's lyrics. It's more than just a shock tactic to guarantee more hits on YouTube. Every time I watch it, I can't get Amy Winehouse out of my head.

I wonder if it's just a coincidence that Rihanna's love interest in "We Found Love" bears a passing resemblance to Chris Brown after he dyed his hair blond. There's even a scene of an argument in a car that echoes the infamous roadside showdown that resulted in Brown beating up Rihanna. After the frothy pop of the Loud hits, "We Found Love" -- the video, if not the song -- is a return to the real-life references of Rated R, which echoed Rihanna vs. Brown everywhere. I love how she's not afraid to go back there.

I also love that Rihanna, a singer who started off as pretty much just another pretty face with a few good songs up her producers' sleeves, has turned into such a daring artist. She's still not the greatest singer, but she doesn't need 187 back-up dancers to make her visual point. She can be edgy without trying as hard as Lady Gaga does. Rated R, particularly its premiere single, "Russian Roulette," was the first glimpse of the edgier, darker Rihanna. Then came "I Love the Way You Lie," her 2010 duet with Eminem, then "Man Down," now this.

Though I wish there was less editing -- I miss the '80s, when videos would linger on a scene, allowing you to take it in for more than three seconds -- and that it played more like a mini-movie than a series of rapidly rotating images. I know it's catering to a Twitter generation that's been raised on sound bites and complex ideas in 140 characters or less, but a good story deserves to be told slowly and carefully. (See Winehouse's "You Know I'm No Good" to watch it done right.)

Despite the slightly choppy, disjointed feel, it's still one of the more essential videos to be released by a pop diva this year. "Born This Way" and "You & I" from Gaga, whose videos are never as important as she thinks they are or wants them to be, feel garish and noisy in comparison. I still love "Judas," though. Along with Kelly Rowland's "Motivation" and Jennifer Lopez's "I'm Into You," it brought sexy back to YouTube, thanks, in large part, to Gaga's leading guy. who could be the dark-eyed brother of Rihanna's blue-eyed stud. I love strong arms and six-pack abs, but cheekbones are everything!

That "We Found Love" the video is open to so many levels of interpretation and gives the song an entirely new dimension, making it a confession on the dance floor as bold as any that Madonna has made, is the mark of a great video. And Rihanna navigates the emotional terrain as well as she did in "Man Down." She's a natural actress. It's a shame that she's making her film debut in the upcoming Battleship, which is practically destined to be unwatchable. "We Found Love" is proof that she's capable of so much more.

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