“Danzig’s Mother was about silent films and horror movies-Fritz Lang, Nosferatu. Hot girls, shot in black and white.”
– Ric Menello
“Mother” wasn’t that the one with the chicken in it? That was a good one. We definitely wanted it to look like we killed the chicken, as you would in a horror movie. It worked a little too well – it didn’t get much play.”
• Rick Rubin
Ric wrote this to me, in some saved notes that were to form part of his bio, “My work usually eschews the typical music video techniques and fads in favor of images inspired by the classic films of the past. Whether it’s the 1960s “foreign movie” look of “Going Back to Cali”, the dark, sinister images of “Mother”, fueled by the classic horror movies of the 20s, 30s and 40s, and the film noirs of the 40s, or the silent comedies of Chaplin and Keaton for “Children’s Story. Each tries to echo and acknowledge their cinematic past.” Mother was a wonderful opportunity to explore a world of violent contrast while burrowing through a litany of interesting filmic references.
Rick Rubin wanted this video shoot to go off without any problems because it was critical to the launch of his new band. He put together Glenn Danzig and Ric to begin hammering out a concept. The rough treatment was cobbled together quickly and was a crazy quilt of unusual film references and ideas to be shot in Black and White.
Ric had a visual reference for most of the shots he wanted. They ranged from the work of Fritz Lang, who was very important to him, to specific films like F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu shot by Fritz Arno Wagner for some of the other ideas.
The hard, stark shadows and well-composed shots of the earlier films was what Ric was after. The video treatment, like most in the development stage, was constantly adjusted to fit what Ric wanted within the fiscal constraints of a one- day shoot on a sound stage. But he kept a rolling dialogue on what he liked visually, so we could figure out how to tie it all together into a cohesive visual design on a low budget.
Ric also vocalized his appreciation for the work of the great cinematographer John Alton who shot such films as T Men, Raw Deal, The Big Combo and He walked by Night, as well as his classic book Painting with Light, and he heavily influenced the overall texture of the video.
Another visual influence for the later sequence of the woman on the sacrificial slab is from the German Film, Die Grobe Abenteuerin (The Great Adventuress) from 1928 shot by Otto Kanturek. Though a silent comedy directed by Robert Weine, who did the influential Cabinet of Dr. Caligari earlier in 1920, the way they shot Lili Damita in the bedroom scene was striking.
A Fritz Arno Wagner shot film Schatten (Warning Shadows) from 1923 also provided some influence. But all references and influences were just that. They became a short hand for getting to the core of what Ric was thinking. They would all melt away and dissolve into shots that were perfect for the music video itself.
The final concept for the video was still worrisome to me. Rick, Ric and Glenn had come to an agreement that the end would feature a chicken sacrifice with the blood splattering on a topless woman. I sincerely hoped that someone had a master plan for how they were going to get this played on MTV. They felt so strongly about the idea that no plan B was set into motion, outside of having the girl on the sacrificial altar shot with and without her top on.
Rick Rubin often used outlandish, controversial ideas to gain publicity to push his bands. For the release of Slayer’s Reign in Blood for example, he had me build a set of what looked like a normal teenager’s room then he had the kid hanging in the center of it with a Slayer jacket on facing a Slayer Reign in Blood coming soon poster.
Slayer and Rick then turned the ad into the infamous Mandatory Suicide (Hanging Boy) T-shirt that came with a letter from a military academy to the kid.
So you essentially never knew where things were headed. You just hoped for the best. He developed and courted the controversy but how it would turn out was anyone’s guess.
The opening shot was actually inspired by the opening of The Doors video for Break on Through (to the other side). The opening shot in that video pans across flaring lights to find a quiet, sedate Jim Morrison singing with his eyes closed.
We dramatically adjusted the shot by opening on John Christ in the rear ground playing guitar then tracking over to full faced shot of Glenn singing his first verse with his eyes closed. This required a massive focus pull from rear ground to foreground for 1st AC Michael Garofalo. We bumped up the exposure to give him as much depth of field as we could while maintaining the dark, ominous dramatic look.
The rest of the video flowed together effortlessly with Ric well prepared to move from one set up to another. The only troubling shot was of Glenn and the flaming hand. His hand was so covered with this thick white protective gel that it completely obscured his hand from view. We tried several options but nothing seemed to work. The video was shot in one day and when you have to cover so much ground, one glitch can really trip you up. We had to unfortunately settle for what we got but the shot didn’t work as planned and Glenn was not happy with the end result.
The whole altar sequence with the chicken and the blood (actually chocolate syrup) was executed smoothly and efficiently without incident. It was actually the first thing we shot to get it out of the way. Everything was simple. We were just carving things out of the darkness with a harsh light that would give the piece a unique mood and feeling. The final sequence though is what got us into trouble when the music video was submitted to MTV.
Ric explains, “We had a chicken sacrifice at the end. We didn’t kill a real chicken. It looks like Glenn Danzig is ripping it apart, but he lets go and I did an Eisenstein, a hidden edit. MTV was like, “This is Satanic. You killed a chicken.” They went through it with a fine-tooth comb. I made the changes they asked for. But I sent them the wrong cut. For a whole weekend, the original version was on the air.”
Actually, what happened was the censors at MTV wanted more and more changes, which got very confusing. We started with one edit Danzig Final Edit A and the date to keep everything clear. Then they wanted another change and it was Danzig Final Edit B and a date. I think we got to Danzig Final Edit D and a date before they were finally satisfied. I personally submitted the new master to them so there was no further confusion. Ric never really talked to MTV or delivered anything. Nobody sent them the wrong cut. The edits though just gutted the video. There was nothing left and it didn’t make any sense. I asked Rick Rubin in desperation if he wanted to go for a live video and many of my friends would work for free but he said no he wanted to roll with the video we made. Years later, the live Mother 93 music video would be a huge MTV hit and give a massive second life to the song.
MTV called days later to say that the final edit was approved. The video would finally premiere on Saturday night’s Headbangers Ball.
Come Saturday night the complete original, uncensored music video is shown. Someone on the MTV side made a mistake. Rick Rubin was overjoyed as Ric explains, “ Rick Rubin got one hundred people to call MTV, “Yo, I want to see the video where they sacrifice the chicken.” I knew Monday morning was going to be hell and even before I got to the office there was a frantic message to call MTV.
MTV was blunt even though I tried to explain that the correct master was already with them and the mistake was on them, they replied as Ric previously mentioned, “Get the edited version to us by five o’clock or we will never show this video again.” I might add they also said possibly any other video you make!
We ran another copy of the video over to them with a note explaining to separate out the other masters and only retain this one for broadcast.
Ric concluded, “So they showed it in a butchered form. It was one of the few videos Beavis and Butt-head liked.”
Glenn Danzig talking with Mariana Zogbi for her article Danzig on Thin Ice expresses his own frustration, “At the moment, he’s highly displeased with MTV’s refusal to air “Mother,” the first video from his band’s debut album. “It’s done like a 1930s German black and white Expressionistic horror film and I thought it was pretty tame. With my background, I could have done something really wild.” The video features some “controversial” images: a chicken being sacrificed, blood, religious symbols (crosses, a pentagram.) Glenn points to other, worse (to him) images that are shown on MTV. “It really pisses me off because they’ll show Freddy Krueger, his bones, and the dog comes over and pisses on hisbones and all of a sudden, his skin comes back and his guts.” (promo for Nightmare On Elm Street, IV.) Perhaps it’s the fact that Freddy Krueger, to most folks, is a big joke, a monster they can almost view with affection. Danzig’s music, like its video, isn’t funny at all.”
The video failed because in it’s heavily edited form it just didn’t work and didn’t do any justice to the song or the band. It only really saw the light of day when the Danzig Long Form video was released on the home market.
Eerie Von, in the book “Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal” shares his views on the video situation and what transpired afterward, “Nobody gave a shit the first time (we released “Mother”), and it was all because of the video, (which depicts Danzig sacrificing a chicken above a scantily clad woman lying on a pedestal). We gave the video to MTV, which was the dumbest thing we could have done. From that moment on, they were not going to play any video we gave them. They’d give them back to us and tell us what to edit one hundred times, and we’d do the edits. They still wouldn’t play it. If we had started with a video they would have played, we might still be together.”
MTV did closely monitor every Danzig video that came from the band after Mother. At times, they would even scrutinize a shadow on the wall saying there was a nipple showing. A shadow of a nipple? It was hard to swallow since the woman was fully clothed with a bra on. But they would make us change it anyway.
Ric went on to direct the music videos for Danzig’s She Rides and the studio segments of Am I Demon. Ric enjoyed shooting the Am I Demon bits because Glenn actually owned the original Mask used for the Goat of Mendes in the 1968 horror film The Devil Rides Out and wore it in the studio music video segments. She Rides ran into problems when the record company called for a re-edit and the addition of some new footage. Ric refused to come to Los Angeles and the edit and re-shoot went on without him though the structure, editing and most of his shots remain and he is rightly credited as a director. Ric vents on this situation, “SHE RIDES (which I directed the original version of but Danzig wanted to recut and I wouldn’t go to LA to do it with him and Rubin because I had quit working for Rubin and was sick of that shit, so Glenn got mad and reshot like 3/4 of it and left 1/4 of my stuff and my concept in). I ALSO had directed the concept portions with him of his half live/half concept video AM I DEMON but he was so mad about SHE RIDES and how he thought I wasn’t “into” it enough and how I didn’t come to LA to help re-edit and re-shoot parts of it, he DROPPED my name from the video as co-director. So I ended up getting co-directing credit on SHE RIDES with Glenn, but NO credit on AM I DEMON which I actually directed MORE of in collaboration with Glenn. The upshot of it was Glenn wanted to do more videos with me IF I’d APOLOGIZE for not being “into” SHE RIDES enough and trying to as he saw it sort of just go thru the motions. I didn’t apologize because the ORIGINAL rough cut I had done was GOOD. Anyway we never spoke again.”
Ric didn’t understand that at the time Def American was distributed by Geffen records and Geffen along with Danzig and Rick Rubin wanted a video that they could push and get on MTV without the same struggles the band experienced in the past especially with Mother. Thus they wanted a more commercial video with a bit faster pace and some more sexy shots that could have been achieved by Ric quickly and efficiently. In Ric’s defense, and in retrospect, his original video stands on it’s own. It’s a good video. But when working for a record company at the end of the day, they are going to get what they want and what they need and it’s your choice if you want to do it or not. In the end though the video was a mess because there was no money for re-shoots and the new footage was shot with 50 ASA 16mm trying to match low key, moody 35mm studio footage, so it was no win situation. A frustrating moment for all involved.
The video itself was shot in a single 12-hour day at the old Mothers Studio in Manhattan. An Arriflex 35mm camera, Zeiss Primes and Kodak Double X Black and White negative film were used on the shoot. The core crew of Tony Martinez, PM/AD and locations manager, AC Michael Garofalo, Gaffer John Cardoni and Grip Robert Vuolo, formed the durable backbone of most of the early videos. They all had a unique bond with Ric and their work contributed greatly to the success of each video.
She Rides was shot like the first video at the old Mothers studio. A Panavision Panaflex camera was used along with 100 ASA 35mm Kodak color negative film. We used both Spherical and Anamorphic Panavision Prime lenses because there is an actual Anamorphic sequence included in the video with the Girl revealing Glenn’s tattoo. A coral filter was also used on all the shots. Most of the same crew carried over from Mother including Tony Martinez, Michael Garofalo, John Cardoni and Robert Vuolo.
On the same day, we shot the 35mm black and white sequences for the Am I Demon music video on Double X 35mm black and white negative.
Danzig – “Mother”
By Jim Farber, New York Daily News
Director Ric Menello swings satanic here, and oh, what Geraldo Rivera could do with this one. Since this is a “role model” rock band, and not a movie, MTV nixed Menello’s original version. The brass demanded Menello put huge X’s over the more hard-core moments.
Regardless, Menello has created an appropriately crude piece here, well-suited to the appallingly thin sound of this Rick Rubin-produced band, which is sort of like Jim Morrison-fronts-Black Sabbath. I like the way Menello lit behemoth singer Glenn Danzig from below, making him look like a demonic wart hog, plus his total avoidance of the bassist(who is nowhere to be found in the audio mix either). Also, the sluggish editing and minimal action are a neat contrast to the usual hyped-up style of metal video.
True, altogether the piece may indeed look credibly satanic, but for sheer horror and repugnance, it’s got nothing on Geraldo.
Danzig – “Mother”
By Steven Dupler, The Eye
We’re not quite sure what to say about director Ric Menello’s video for new Def American act Danzig’s single, “Mother”. Shot in black and white with interesting camera angles, shadowed lighting, and extreme close-ups, most of the stark visuals avoid the usual hard rock/heavy metal clichés. But then comes the spoiler: a blood-splattered sacrificial ending-either humorous or disturbing depending upon your point of view.
The last outing from Menello, however, which we neglected here at the time, was his superb clip for LL Cool J’s “Going Back to Cali”. Also shot in black and white, this remarkable rap video looks like a European art film and transcends the usual rap fare by miles.
The Video They Didn’t Want You to See!
By Del James
RIP magazine 7/89
The First Amendment, out guaranteed right to freedom of speech, is often tested by standards and censors. Those who decide what is viewed, read and listened to are a minority affecting the majority. Our land’s forefathers spilled blood to get us this privilege. We have to exercise our right to use it. It’s frightening when the Ayatollah Khomeini decides that he doesn’t like a fictional book and places a bounty on Salman Rushdie’s, the author’s, head. What’s even more disturbing is that we as Americans did nothing about it.
On a much lighter note, Danzig’s “Mother” video raises several questions about the issue of censorship. Was enough tact used by the artist, or did MTV – who refused to run the video until the sequences they found risqué were removed – violate Danzig’s right to express themselves? MTV mainly objected to a mock satanic ritual where a chicken appears to be ripped in half by Danzig front man Glenn Danzig. spilling blood onto an eager female. Perhaps MTV’s position of social protection is a valid one. Perhaps not. “As far as I’m concerned, this is a pretty tame video,” says Glenn Danzig. “It was done in black and white. Maybe that freaked ’em out. It was done like the Classic German horrors of the ’20s and ’30s, like Nosferatu. Our video for ‘Mother’ portrays something in a manner that MTV found upsetting. The song is actually about teen rebellion, and thinking and finding things out for yourself. When Ozzy or Motley Crue do a video, you can tell they’re not really serious. When Danzig does a video, it makes you wonder. MTV told us that they didn’t want to deal with the hassle. That’s their position, you know, after the Geraldo thing and whatever. So it was either edit what they didn’t like or not have it aired.”
The Satanic sequences were rather amusing, if a bit cheesy. In my humble opinion, the video was neither too disturbing nor too grotesque, but then again, I rubberneck at car accidents and thought Clive Barker’s Hellraiser a fine piece of cinematic macabre. So what does that say about my, or anybody else’s, for that matter, opinion? Absolutely nothing. If you want to experience something really upsetting that shows the world at its lowest and most inhumane, you can freely tune in at 6:00 and 11:00 to the nightly news. What is more disturbing than any “risky” rock video is that some unseen force has the right to dictate whether or not we ever get a chance to make decisions for ourselves.
Twist of Cinema:
The Videos Of Danzig
Danzig’s 1988 self-titled album produced four music videos: “Am I Demon”, “She Rides”, “Twist of Cain”, and “Mother”. These music videos are like none other; they exude the raw sexuality of rock ‘n’ roll in an expressionist setting to create an all encompassing experience. These videos do not seem like they were made in the 1980s but rather in a warped reality of classical Hollywood cinema. They have a certain cinematic affinity that transcends the music video format. The images and moods presented already exist in the human subconscious; they just needed to be willed into existence with cameras, lights, and film stock. Calling Danzig’s music videos “pure cinema” in the strictest sense would be a bit contradictory, but they provide intense, direct communication to the id.
Notes and further info:
- Consult the 2011 hardcover of:
I Want My MTV by Craig Marks and Rob Tannenbaum
for Ric’s comments on Danzig and his other videos.
(The 2011 Hardcover edition includes the comments on the Danzig video that are omitted from the 2102 softcover edition of the book so please be aware of that.)
- For the full article:
Mariana Zogbi, Danzig on Thin Ice
- The music videos from the first Danzig album were compiled into a Danzig long form home video that included the uncensored “Mother” and “Am I Demon”.
Story and Photos ©2013 Vincent Giordano. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited.