If you don’t know what to look for, YouTube is unforgiving, laying down concentric circles of brash clickbait designed to leave anyone drained. Although I have wasted many hours watching content with absolutely no sentimental or aesthetic value, my late-night searches of film clips and historical videos have also left me with some real treasures. I have combed through the fruits of my hard work and chosen several that fill me with genuine awe. Have fun!
First is an interview with German punk icon Nina Hagen, from the 1999 documentary Nina Hagen = Punk + Glory (dir. Peter Sempel). This might be my favourite online video, exuding a vibe for which I have not yet found any equal audiovisual matches. Hagen appears here as an odd mix of mythological forest witch Circe and Archie the Inventor, an eccentric character from children’s television show Balamory who does crafts in his pink castle.
Here is another video, where she sings Silent Night (Stille Nacht) in a real church. This is also a good vibe.
Here is a dance sequence from Dames (1934), a Depression-era musical I have never actually seen. I would be far more enthusiastic about modern musicals if the singing was eerie, like this (why don’t films have choir soundtracks anymore?) and if dancers were still allowed to multiply on giant hamster wheels like cygnet amoebas. I have fallen in love with this strange three minutes – why do the women occasionally walk over the camera? Who made those hundreds of white dresses? Who built this Seussian panopticon?
And this dance sequence from the same musical (I am afraid that if I actually watch it in its entirety the new context will ruin a beautiful mystery). This is like a precursor to the ultra-synchronised performances of LOONA’s Butterfly. I think this kind of thing could only come out of South Korea nowadays.
Here is a sequence from the 1951 Powell and Pressburger feature-length Tales of Hoffmann adaptation, the kind of thing you might dream exists only to find that it actually does.
Here is a music video by Czech singer Marta Kubišová. I am still searching for a true audio equivalent to Czech New Wave film, but this is beautiful in its surreal Christian visions.
Here is a full-length Kunqu opera performance (probably from the 60s?) of Tang Xianzu’s 1598 play, Peony Pavilion. This is so consistently otherwordly and pastel that it feels like an actual trip back to a paper cut-out Ming dynasty.
Early colour films make me cry. Here is a beautiful one of flowers blooming in darkness.
And another, of sweet pea varieties.
Here, someone from the BFI discusses very early Technicolor films. I think this muted era of colour technology was beautiful and probably should never have been phased out – see also the first full-length Technicolor film, Becky Sharp, where some scenes look like Renaissance paintings. It’s a very strange experience seeing the real spectra of these early film studios (I usually visualise them in black-and-white, like a child who has been lied to about the recent invention of colour).