Love and Death in the Early 1990s

What do Meat Loaf, Robin Hood and Dracula have to do with the Persian Gulf War?  Filmmaker Bradlee Crawford Hicks draws out the connections in this piece, discussing his mashup, “The Highway of Love and Death.”

Click here to view the video

Some degree of credit–or should I say responsibility–for this video should be given to my friends Aaron Hodges and John McCann. I used to live with these gentlemen and we would often make up songs while we were cooking. John had once attended a jingle writing conference, which left him with unfathomable song powers, while Aaron had a rather deft method of jumbling up Pearl Jam lyrics; I will confess to having brought nothing to the table, other than a constant desire to be entertained. We all enjoyed using these techniques to create A Capella “mash-ups” of songs that either did or did not belong together (those were our qualifiers). We stumbled upon Bryan Adams (“Everything I Do”) and Meat Loaf (“I Would Do Anything for Love”) pretty early on, and hopefully it goes without saying that this concoction belonged to the category of things that did belong together.  I take it for granted that anyone who is around 30 understands how ridiculous each of these songs were when they came out, and of course, how similar their themes were, but for anyone that didn’t have the pleasure… I can’t exactly recommend them.

Working as a video editor, I quickly jumped to the necessity of taking this beyond the kitchen and really trying to blend these two songs together. After some time passed I kept thinking of how much I wanted to realize this project, but I was having a hard time justifying the time it would inevitably involve. In a bout of either devotion or boredom, I finally went on YouTube and downloaded the videos of “Everything I Do (I Do It for You)” and “I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).” Immediately I was reminded of how each of these videos had its own relationship to a film (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Bram Stoker’s Dracula) that drew upon the crusades. Further more, I found that each of these films used the crusades as their introductions, despite how little that crusades content had to do with the depiction of each myth, respectively.  It is worth mentioning that the myth of Robin Hood as an early English ballad was not given any place in the crusades, nor did it paint him as a Christian, for that matter.

Robin vs. Vlad

The myth of Dracula, on the other hand places “Vlad the Impaler” as a certain destroyer of the encroaching Ottoman threat to Romania. The crusades became an interesting thematic linkage for the experiment. I then realized that these songs/videos came out, basically right after the first Gulf War. I was sensitive to the crusades, having just seen a few films (not in theaters, thank you), which seemed to also be dredging up this material. Season of the Witch, which I watched as a fan of the bizarre career of Nicholas Cage, features—if memory serves me right—a seven-minute Crusades-driven murder spree as its introduction.

Season of the Witch

The slaughter, performed by Cage and his on-screen marauders, begins with the death of Muslims of darker skin tone and gradually transitions to those of lighter skin, at which point a woman—defending her land—is killed, and the warriors are too remorseful to continue killing. The emphasis is never placed on any idea that the general killing spree was wrong, but that it was wrong when a woman (of lighter skin) was killed. Only later on, in a fit of hysteria, does Cage momentarily express an almost unintelligible remorse for the other killings, but it is given only a few frames of real estate when compared to the minutes of glorified killing at the beginning of the film. Likewise, I caught half of the 2010 film Robin Hood with Russell Crowe and couldn’t help but note that the film featured a rotoscoped montage of the crusades with the end credits strewn throughout; the last 15 seconds devoted to King Richard beheading a presumably Muslim soldier. The head leaving the body with a fade to blood red is literally the last image sequence before the long credit roll.

Robin Hood 2010 End Credits (Clockwise from top: Crusaders, King Richard, Ottoman soldiers in prayer, Ottoman soldier awed by prowess of crusaders, Ottoman decapitation medium, Ottoman decapitation wide)

I could go on about how the first and last things that audience sees are rather important in terms of the subconscious imprint that that is left on them regarding the film as a whole, but for the time being, I hope that we can take it as a given and have a moment of silence for how repulsive the aforementioned elements are, regardless of any malicious intent to subvert the viewer.

So that brings us back to love. I had done some general groundwork, experimenting with how the two songs would get along with each other in their new home and came up with what I thought were some very funny moments, but I wanted to bring criticism to the “Crusades in Hollywood as reinforcement for Middle East occupation” angle. I did some research on videos of the Persian Gulf War and stumbled upon something that I didn’t remember hearing about when I was 9; the so-called “Highway of Death,” which occurred as the Iraqi forces were withdrawing from Kuwait, was a U.S. marine air strike. Many arguments have appeared that this act went against Geneva conventions as an estimated 80,000 retreating soldiers were killed in a ten-hour bombardment, but rules are made to be broken, right? All of the Gulf War footage that I used focuses around this event, this “Highway of Death,” which I also reference in the title of the piece. If there is any takeaway from this video, I hope it is an awareness of this massacre, concluding our first national foray into the Middle East.

“The Highway of Death” (between Kuwait and Iraq)

I should mention that while Bryan Adams is the legitimate soundtrack contributor for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Meat Loaf’s video (directed by Michael Bay) simply apes themes, and at times scenes, from various media of the period, primarily Bram Stoker’s Dracula. While the video’s narrative is based on some amalgamation of Phantom of the Opera and Beauty and the Beast, I would argue that the majority of the aesthetic is lifted from the otherwise unreferenced tale of Dracula. Some of the clips that I use from the Francis Ford Coppola film have nothing to do with what the Meat Loaf video recreates, but I took liberty’s that I feel must have been close to those at play for Micheal Bay at the time. Jonathan Harker’s erotic interaction with the female vampires, for instance, seemed to be something that Meat Loaf/Bay were fond of, as there is quite a bit of material devoted to copying it quite explicitly in the music video for “I would do anything for love.” Regarding Anna Nicole Smith’s bubble bath, I was certain that the bathtub scenes in Meat Loaf’s video were referencing something, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was. I won’t give away my tactics, but suffice it to say that Ms. Smith began working with Playboy in 1992 (work which included video shoots), which, along with Bram Stoker’s Dracula, is the year before the Meat Loaf video was made, and I can’t help but believe that one of these two artists were inspired. If I had to, I would blame Micheal Bay .

Blame Micheal Bay for this, too (from the set of a Transformers movie)

Finding that most of the war footage from this time period was of a rather poor quality, and paired with a desire to highlight the reason for our intervention in Iraq, I remembered that some of the most beautiful footage pertaining to the Gulf War could be found in Werner Herzog’s Lessons of Darkness. I also use a few car commercials from the time period to bring the oil message back in to focus. There are a few other commercials that I sample form the period that have nothing to do with the overall content of the piece, but I wanted to give a sense of general American commercial television from a time not so long ago to help set the scene on the other side of the Atlantic. To conclude, “The Highway of Love and Death” is a smoothie made from the fruit of the early 90s, and if the taste doesn’t appeal to you, think of what the decade-old digestion may have rendered.

Click here to watch:

The Highway of Love and Death

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For more work by Bradlee Crawford Hicks visit:  Yellow Arrow Film

Footage sampled:

Gulf War footage from Youtube: 1990-91

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, 1991 Directed  by Kevin Reynolds

Bryan Adams, “Everything I Do (I Do It for You),” 1991 Directed by Julian Temple

Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1992 Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Anna Nicole Smith Exposed, 1998 Directed by Raymond Martino and Anna Nicole Smith

Television commercials from YouTube: 1991

Lessons of Darkness, 1992 Directed by Werner Herzog

Meat Loaf, “I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” 1993 directed by Micheal Bay

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