Essay uitgelicht

L’amour dans le Motu

Stories are everywhere, even without us knowing them: “The world is full of books that we haven’t read, but that we know pretty well.”[1] Umberto Eco’s words reflect the idea that we read much more than just books. We know the great stories without necessarily having read them. It can go from the Bible to One Thousand and One Nights or Romeo and Juliet.

With this idea in mind I will analyse the song L’amour dans le Motu from the French group La Femme. What story are they telling us through the lyrics and the video clip? I will look at the individual stories and combine them to see if they portray the same meaning. For this I will use theories in storytelling from Porter Abbott’s The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative. I will first introduce the story told by the lyrics and then compare it to the video clip. Then I will explain the narratives from the text and audio-visual media with theories from Abbott’s book.

I shall begin with the story from the lyrics: The soldier lies on the ground, covered by sand and dust. In this race for life or death, there are no rules. All he can do is bend and run, firing shots as bullets fly past him with a strong whistle. He hears a napalm bomb approaching but as he runs faster, he is sent to the ground by the exploding soil. He crawls away, swims amidst the corpses while searching for cover. Enemy or brothers, he cannot tell the difference, it doesn’t matter anymore as all he can see is the face of death.

When he finds shelter, all he wants to do is light a cigarette. He takes out his Zippo. “Our is not to do or die, our is to smoke and stay high.” The metal engraving on his lighter reflects his own intimate thoughts. The absurdity of this war hits him and he regrets his home, his pebbled street without all the dust from the battlefield.

As the night falls, he lies on his couch. Other soldiers are writing letters, drawing, smoking cigarettes. No woman on the horizon, he feels lonely and wonders how it came to this. He thinks about tomorrow and how he will have to fight again.

He lets his thoughts wander and imagines a beautiful place: An idyllic island, hula girls, swaying their hips at the sound of hypnotic music, he can almost smell the monoï vapours, feel the white sand gliding under his feet…

This is one possible interpretation of the lyrics and I am now going to look at how the video clip conveys a similar story. It begins with a shot in a jungle, where we see a suspension bridge and then a close up of wild plants. The sun rises and we see hula girls dancing next to a cage containing men. This refers to the beginning of the song: ‘Dans les plaines du commodock, acabour du règne animal’. It refers to a wild place, the animal kingdom. The hula girls are a reference to Tahiti: ‘le motu, une vahiné, vapeur de monoï’, which I will address later.

On the next shot we can see a helicopter flying towards an island. The island is linked to the motu, a word from Tahitian origin that designates an island.[2] The helicopter is another symbol for the war, and so is the “red bird” from the lyrics, which was a common name for helicopters during the Vietnam War.[3] After that we see a sculpture that looks like a Polynesian Tiki and soldiers wandering through the jungle. They light a cigarette with a lighter, engraved with the saying “Our is not to do or die, our is to smoke and stay high.” Here again, the lighter refers back to the Vietnam War, where the American soldiers carried them around often with a meaningful message.[4] This message is the exact one from the lyrics.

Images of dancing girls and soldiers walking through the jungle alternate until these men arrive to a tree house. A woman is waiting for them, dressed in a long pink hooded robe. When she invites them to come in, the music starts to slow down and creates a mysterious effect. When the soldiers oblige, this causes the setting, as well as the music to change completely. The interior resembles a Chinese bordello with Chinese lamps, red lights, pointed hats, dancing girls with face paint and elaborate costumes. There are war elements as well: a cage, a gun, a soldier and gas masks, which are used to mimic music instruments on which they play a melody in circular motion, creating a rather psychedelic sound.

Next, we see a soldier walking towards a girl lying in a bed. When he kisses her, there is a kind of flashback to a shooting submachine gun, hula girls dancing on the beach, smoking figures, men in cages. We see a hula girl again, dancing with the universe and stars in the background. Two globes, or planets, turning around each other, then the dancing girl doubles and they dance on an abstract background with stars. We see the ocean and dancing girls again, a cage with men and then a soldier with a red hat. The story told here is the soldier longing for the end of the war. He imagines women dancing, people feasting, the universe in peace and he does exactly what his Zippo says: smoke and stay high.

Hereafter there is a sort of white vail and the music becomes very soft and lingering, suggesting the end of the story. Next, we see people in fancy clothes, presumably rich people, on a balcony. There are dancing girls in the doorways that are reminiscent of the hula girls with their skirts. They also wear gas masks. This is a sort of musical epilogue. There are no real lyrics, only a few loose words from time to time (‘interstellar’, ‘witchcraft’, ‘change’) The elements we see recall the first part of the clip: people smoking, the masks, partying people, hats, et cetera. At 5:12, the hat of the man has the shape of a soldier’s helmet. There are flashes of dancing girls, smoking men, and the people from the party. It keeps going until a cloud masks the scene and reveals the partying people one last time.

How did I come to this interpretation? What rhetorical strategies are used by La Femme and how did it influence my understanding of the story?

When interpreting, we have the ‘choice’ between two readings. While the text has a great power to transmit stories, the reader has power as well when searching for meaning. But ‘the price we exact for this collaboration is that we do not simply absorb the information in the narrative discourse but, almost invariably, we overlook things that are there and put in things that are not there’.[5] This is what we call underreading or overreading. When reading a text, we overlook some words or sentences, as long as the whole makes sense for us. If we don’t understand a word, or even if we do but the meaning is not clear right away, we may read past it. According to Porter Abbott interpretation is a form of closure and therefore we choose consciously or unconsciously to look past elements which would not necessarily provide closure for us. In the case of amour dans le motu, the words ‘commodock’ and ‘acabour’ don’t make much sense to me, but I chose to overlook these and focus on the general setting that is suggested by ‘plaines […] du règne animal’.

In the same way, I might have overread the text and said that the references to the Tahitian girls and the images from the video are the reflection of the secret longing from the soldier which has not seen a woman during the war, but it could as well have been a hallucination without meaning. This means that in order to get closure, we make sense of the narrative by filling the gaps provided by it.

We fill these gaps with our own, and cultural knowledge, which is constructed by other stories that create underlying masterplots. According to Porter Abbott a masterplot is a ‘skeletal story’, which influences our cultural values and ideologies.[6] He gives the examples of Cinderella, but another example could be the story of the sleeping beauty[7], which we see in the clip at 2:50. The soldier walks towards a sleeping woman and kisses her. The prince who comes to save the princess could be a metaphor for the soldier fighting for his country. Because of the masterplot, which is expressed visually, we can make the connection and interpret the story. However, Porter Abbott also writes that we may not always be aware of the underlying masterplots but those can still play an important role in shaping our beliefs and understanding of life. Another masterplot we can discern in the story is ‘the paradise’. An idyllic place, represented by Tahiti in this case. Beautiful exotic women dancing on a white beach, hypnotising smells. The contrast between what the soldier wants and the reality of his life is expressed by the contrast between the two masterplots, alternating images of war and Tahitian elements.

These contrasting elements form a conflict, that we call the agon.[8] The protagonist and antagonist of a story are derived from this term used in the Greek tragedy, where conflict was the main feature. But in this case, the conflict is not about characters. There can be conflicts in ‘values, ideas, feelings, and ways of seeing the world’.[9] The conflict here is between the soldier and the war he doesn’t want to fight. The conflict is resolved by ‘smoking and staying high’ and the soldier imagining a paradise.

Until now I have analysed the lyrics and the video clip separately. However, it is important to remember that the two cannot be interpreted completely by themselves. Once we have seen the video clip and heard the lyrics, it is impossible to separate them as we connect them unconsciously. In this case, we have to make sense of three media, text, music and image. Therefore, to understand it we make a transfer of attributes.[10] If the music is peaceful and heroic and at the same time, the image is peaceful, we automatically make the connection and associate heroism with the picture as well. In the case of L’amour dans le Motu, when I see ‘smoke and stay high’ on the Zippo and see hear the psychedelic turning sound of the synthesisers, I automatically make the association with the flashing images, smoke and dancing hula girls as a spiritual image of the soldier.

To conclude, the story is brought to us with different discourses and narrative strategies. One meaning is conveyed through the lyrics and one through the visuals, yet another through the music but ultimately if we read them together the story is the same. The gaps that we may have in the video clip are filled by the lyrics and vice-versa. We saw that interpretation is very personal but is also highly influenced by our culture, which is again constructed by underlying masterplots.

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

 

Primary sources:

 

  • Cook, Nicholas. Analysing Musical Multimedia. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998.
  • La Femme. “L’amour dans le motu.”Video, 8 :11, March 14, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Jkhf5VKOrw
  • Porter Abbott, H. The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  • Youtube. “La Femme- Amour Dans Le Motu/Witchcraft.”Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watchv=1Jkhf5VKOrw (accessed Januari 1, 2018).

 

Secondary sources:

 

 

 

 

  • Wikipedia,The Free Encyclopedia, “Motu,” Wikipedia, https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motu.

 

Translation of the lyrics:

Dans les plaines du commodock, acabour du règne animal

Tu regardes les cadavres, tu regrettes le macadam

Des pluies diluviennes qui te rappellent cette devise scandée au Vietnam

Our is not to do or die, our is to smoke and stay high

 

Dans le motu, dans le motu, dans le motu

 

La nuit pâle, la nuit tombe, Pas une femme à l’horizon

Tu te demandes comment tu feras, à la merci des oiseaux rouges

Puis soudain, ça te revient, un secret si bien gardé

Our is not to do or die, our is to smoke and stay high

 

Dans le motu, amour dans le motu, dans le motu

Ce soir dans le motu, viens ce soir dans le motu

 

Matmos

 

Linda Napalm nous a quitté, au fond du couloir une vahiné

Vapeur de monoï, œil dilaté, et soudain se met à chanter

Dans le motu il fait si chaud, tu sens to aura qui commence à s’élever

Our is not to do or die, our is to smoke and stay high

In the lowlands of the commodock, acabour of the animal kingdom

You look at the corpses, you regret the macadam

Heavy rains that remind you that saying they shout in Vietnam

Our is not to do or die, our is to smoke and stay high

In the motu, in the motu, in the motu (referring to small island)

 

The pale night, not a woman in sight

You wonder how you’ll do, at the mercy of the red birds

And then you remember, a well kept secret

Our is not to do or die, our is to smoke and stay high

 

In the motu, love in the motu, in the motu

Tonight in the motu, come tonight

 

 

Matmos

 

Linda Napalm has left us, down the hall, a hula girl

Monoi vapors, dilated eye and suddenly begins to sing

In the motu it’s so hot, you feel your aura that begins to rise

Our is not to do or die, our is to smoke and stay high

 

[1]“Umberto Eco: “‘I’m a writer not a reader,’” the Guardian (May 22, 2011) https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/may/22/umberto-eco-writer-not-reader(accessed December 22, 2017)

[2]Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, “Motu,” Wikipedia, https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motu.

[3]Dragos Vlad Topala, “Eléments D’argot militaire: le langage des militaires américains pendant la guerre de Viêt-Nam,” http://cis01.central.ucv.ro/litere/onomastica_lexicologie/revista_scol_2008/dragos-vlad_topala.pdf(accessed December 21, 2017)

[4]Seth Mydans., “Vietnam’s Eternal Flames: The Zippo as Much More Than a Keepsake,”New York Times (December 7, 2006) http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/07/arts/design/07zipp.html(accessed December 21, 2017)

[5]H, Porter Abbott, “Interpreting narrative,” in the Cambridge Introduction to Narrative, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 86-90.

[6]H, Porter Abbott, “The rhetoric of narrative,” in the Cambridge Introduction to Narrative (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 46-48.

[7]I refer to Disney’s version as it most widely known version in our present western society.

[8]H, Porter Abbott, “Closure,” in the Cambridge Introduction to Narrative (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 55.

[9]Ibid, 55.

[10]Nicholas Cook, « multimedia as mataphor, » in Analysing Musical Multimedia(Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998), 57-97.

 

Klik hier om meer over La Femme te lezen in de musicus van de maand december.