Monday, July 2, 2012

National Anthem

I had just finished reading the first chapter of Dreaming in French: The Paris Years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis when I saw Lana Del Rey's video for "National Anthem". 

Maybe it's because I had Jackie on my mind but I feel completely bowled over by the thing.

There is so much stuff to talk about. Stripes and spangled stars, two cars and three kids, vacations and big hair, Ralph Lauren, but especially Tommy Hilfiger, youth and huge money. It's all here.

Amidst all the thoughts about this video I have swirling around in my head, there are a few fashion touchstones I keep coming to.

First, the pink Chanel (via Chez Ninon) suit that the real Mrs Kennedy wore on the day her husband was assassinated. Jackie refused to remove the blood-stained suit for fifteen hours after her husband's death - meaning that she was wearing it when Vice President Johnson was sworn in.

Lady Bird Johnson, who had also been in the motorcade in Dallas, described her predecessor's appearance: 

"I looked at her. Mrs. Kennedy's dress was stained with blood. One leg was almost entirely covered with it and her right glove was caked, it was caked with blood - her husband's blood., Somehow that was one of the most poignant sights - that immaculate woman exquisitely dressed, and caked in blood."

It's good that Del Rey stays away from the gore of JFK's assassination, even if a lot of the clip has a Zapruder feel. The closest we get to reenactment is a beautiful short of Lana climbing over the rear of the car, as Jackie herself did, moments after her husband was shot.
I studied JFK's assassination as part of year 11 modern history and as a result have seen the footage of his death several times. Without knowing much about Jackie and John's marriage, apart from the fact of his philandering, I always had a particular understanding of what happened - JFK gets shot in the head and, almost instantly, Jackie is scrambling out of the car, trying to get out of harm's way.

Just a few days before watching the "National Anthem" clip, I learned that I had been quite mistaken. Apparently - and it certainly seems this way when you watch the Zapruder film - Jackie instinctively reached to retrieve a piece of her husband's skull that was blown away by the gunshot. I found myself deeply affected by this revelation and how my misinterpretation of a single gesture could so drastically alter my understanding of the moment and the people in it. It's because of this that I find the shots of Lana on the back of the car - where she seems as though she could be smiling - quite poignant 

Del Rey's main look for the clip is GOAT's bell-sleeved Orion dress in a powder blue. (It's actually for sale at a marked-down price here.) 

Though the dress is demure, there are hints that things may not be quite what they seem. What should be a string of pearls around her neck turns out to be a necklace of diamonds. If she is Jackie then it's probably Mrs Onassis, not Kennedy.

Then there is Marilyn Monroe's 1962 "Mr President" dress by Jean Louis.

I mean come on. So overtly sexy and risque, it's ridiculous.

And I can't help but think Lana drops the ball on this one:

So half-assed - Marilyn was sewn into hers, after all. The dress works OK in the grainy videoclip footage but seeing the high def pic above is a definite mood killer.

But anyway, as it turns out, Lana is neither a Jackie or a Marilyn, but a Priscilla. Presley, that is. Of course Lana has been rocking this vibe for a while but she becomes Priscilla in this video.

And, thank heavens, Lana's trailer park manicure is still going strong:

I was always intrigued by Lana's nails but it was seeing her make the international hand signal for 'toke it' in her "Born to Die" clip ("... let's got get high"), that sealed the deal. True love. I am utterly flabbergasted by fashion types who criticise those fabulous talons. For me they are by far the most compelling aspect of her entire look.

Though I find Lana's unrelentingly retro style a little tiresome at times, it works perfectly in "National Anthem". Along with the cinematography of the video, we're basically smacked over the head with a sense of misplaced nostalgia. I mean, I wasn't alive in 1963 (of course, neither was Miss Del Rey), so  how does this video so effectively invoke in me a sense of mournful longing for the era? Can you miss something you never had?

My mum suggested to me the word saudade, a "vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist ... a turning towards the past or towards the future". This seems kind of perfect.

Add to the mix the casting of A$AP as Del Rey's JFK and things get really interesting. For me, as with  Bradley Soileau in Lana's previous videos, A$AP is pitch perfect, in that he is a pitch perfect babe. 
I'm not sure if the idea or (more to the point) the image of miscegenation is still considered shocking. I do know that 'sexy' is way ahead of 'shocking' in the list of words I'd use to describe Lana and A$AP's interactions in this video. [NB. A$AP has been added to my list of oddly benign rapper names. List already includes Ice Cube, Ice-T and Q-Tip.]

I can only think of one other music video in which a white female singer kisses a black man; Madonna's "Like a Prayer". But while there's basically no attempt to create a sense of romance or even intimacy in "Like a Prayer", the love story of "National Anthem" is remarkably convincing, not least due to Lana's impressive acting skills. The comparison between the two videos ends up seeming a little, shall we say, superficial. 

Miscegenation and its representation in film has such a complicated history in the US. I really do love that in this video Del Rey has given us an image so attractive and desirable that you almost forget everything else.

What I really like is how successfully Lana and A$AP portray a spectacularly envy-inducing couple. They Have It All - beautiful boats, cars, houses, friends and kids - but more than that, they're just totally hot for each other. They touch, gaze and kiss like teenagers. When Lana breaks outs some dancehall moves it is unquestionably all for him. All this contributes to intensifying the impact of the final scene of the video, which according to its makers is about the loss of innocence. 

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