Iterations of a dying genre - analyzed for your conveniece!
Michael Jackson - Earth Song
by Beata Gruszczynski
A music video consists of an filmic and a lyric part. The filmic part is used to visualize the lyrics and is therefore often seen secondarily as a means to the end. Nevertheless, every camera movement has a purpose and tells the story so to speak without words. Therefore, the filmic part does not only support the lyrics, but carries its' own meaning, which sometimes even goes far beyond the lyrics and creates a more profound or sometimes even new meaning. According to that, any kind of analysis in this paper will be based on the filmic part, such as different film techniques and camera movements. Its´ meaning and message to the audience will be analyzed and its' impact on the recipient will be discussed.
About the song
Michael Jacksons' 'Earth Song' was released in 1995 and was the third single from his 'History' album.
Michael Jackson was inspired by various circumstances to write 'Earth Song'. In an interview he explained:
"I remember writing 'Earth Song' when I was in Austria, in a hotel. And I was feeling so much pain and so much suffering of the plight of the Planet Earth. And for me, this is Earth's Song, because I think nature is trying so hard to compensate for man's mismanagement of the Earth. And with the ecological unbalance going on, and a lot of the problems in the environment, I think earth feels the pain, and she has wounds, and it's about some of the joys of the planet as well. But this is my chance to pretty much let people hear the voice of the planet. And this is 'Earth Song.' And that's what inspired it. And it just suddenly dropped into my lap when I was on tour in Austria."
For the analysis of the music video this quote might bevery important because it helps to understand why Michael Jackson uses certain film techniques in his video.
Most of the scenes are shown from the bottom angle. Michael Jackson mentioned in his statement that he wants the people to hear the voice of the planet and this could be the reason why this kind of perspective has been chosen: It is the planets voice and thus everything is shown from the earth's perspective. Furthermore showing the subjects from below gives the impression of being more powerful or dominant. People for example have the power to destroy everything on earth, but at the same time they have the power to rebuild everything again. Especially at the rainforest scene at the beginning of the video it becomes very clear. All the objects and all creatures are shown from the bottom angle, but at the end of this scene the steamrolleris moving towards the camera and seems to roll over it and thus, the earth. In the next scene a jump in time takes place and shows the impact of man and at the same time the helplessness of nature by showing the whole destruction caused by human beings.
The camera movements in this video are very soft and natural. Most of the time the camera scans the scene either horizontally or vertically. These movements are called Pans and Tilts.What's conspicuous is that a tilts movement in this video is always moving from the bottom to the top. This could also refer to the special perspective in this video which was mentioned in 3.1. There are also a lot of scenes where there is no camera movement at all. Although the camera seems to be part of the action (camera as eye of the earth) it appears to be a silent observer, that observes the events, but is powerless against them.
Overall, the camera and thus, the earth seems to observe the events without being able to stop them. But There is one camera movement, that is different. When the storm starts the camera is shaking as if there was an earthquake. This shows that the earth has still some kind of power after all. The camera and thus, "the planet feels the pain" and wants the people to hear its voice. Furthermore, this proofs that the camera is not an external observer, but in the middle of the action. This unique camera movement gives the video a dynamic which also addresses the audience.
Light and Color
The colors in the video are also significant. The dominant colors in this video are red, black and green. Whenever the rain forest is seen the color green dominates the picture. But once Michael Jackson is seen on the destroyed field, the picture is dominated by the colors red and black.
The color black stands for death and mourning, but also for power and malice. And the color red represents blood and fire, but also love and passion. In contrast, the color green stands for nature, hope and peace. These three colors could relate to the current relationship between man and nature. People destroy the peace of nature, which makes them evil. It is conspicuous that even Michael Jackson is dressed in black and red, which could refer to the special image of people that is created in the video. But although people are mostly seen as destroyer , they are also able to feel love, which could be illustrated by the color red.
Furthermore, there are color changes, which have a different purpose. When there is a change in time, colors are used to illustrate the time delay. One example is the man who remembers the time before the war. The gray image turns into a colorful image which is dominated by the color green. Here the green color could symbolize peace.
Another example is when the dead elephant disappears in the foreground and some other elephants and monkeys appear instead. Even though the background does not change per se, the color of it changes and turns from a .... into a colorful image which is again dominated by the color green.
Overall, the colors appear to be particularly important. On one hand, they have a symbolic function, and on the other hand they illustrate the time jumps within the music video.
In the video, both invisible and visible cuts occur. When an invisible cut is used the attention of the audience is directed to the content. As long as the continuity of the action is preserved, the transition remains invisible. As the natives stand in front of the rainforest and watch how the trees are felled there are some cuts used which are not visible due to the continuity.
But in this music video most of the transitions are visible. This forces the audience to create a connection between two images and to think about it. This method is very effective especially in music videos, as they only last a few minutes but still have something to tell.
The most common type of transition in this video is the simple cut, which means that one shot is replaced instantly by another one. This form is very common in music videos because they do not take much time.
Another form of transitions is used to signify the passage of time. This effect is created by using a dissolve or by overlapping. The first example is a typical dissolve.
The dissolve is used to indicate that a period of time has passed between the two scenes and the hand indicates that it is still the same location. So, when a dissolve is used one picture overlaps another one and at one moment both pictures can be seen at the same time.
There is also a special form of overlapping in the video. One object in the picture disappears, while another one appears. The background stays the same. That makes the transition to the different time very soft. And the background of course indicates that the location has not changed.
Another example in this video is the one where Michael Jackson is standing on the destroyed field and the camera is tilting up to the clouds and above these clouds suddenly beautiful treetops appear. It seems as if this field where Michael Jackson is standing was once the beautiful rainforest which is shown at the beginning of the video. So again there is a connection between the place in which Michael Jackson is singing and the rainforest shown afterwards.
At the end of the video there is a rewinding part, where everything goes backwards. The killed elephant stands up, the shot man opens his eyes, and the tree is reconnected to its trunk. This part appeals to the people and gives the impression that people still have the power to rewind all the bad and make a change to save the earth, which is a rather naive view. In the end, Michael Jackson does not only show the current situation with his video, but especially with the rewinding part the video has a didactic function.
In conclusion, all the camera techniques and movements create their own story without saying any words. The camera is personalized and seems to be the eye of our planet earth. It shows the audience its point of view and how it sees the world. It shows how powerful people are and what they are capable of. The colours also seem to fit perfectly to the image that is being created. This creation of a story is possible only by placing the camera in the correct position and by using different film techniques. According to that, the lyrics seem to be less important for understanding the meaning of the song because the camera tells the story its own way.