Blow Wind Blow (1987) was shot at San Francisco's lamented neo-vaudeville venue, the Chi Chi Theater, operated by retired stripper Miss Keiko. We see Tom on the stage & he immediately says, "Welcome to Miss Keiko's Chi Chi Club. It's showtime!" And what a show!
The scattered lighting, film noir shadows broken by lurid colors, are perfect for the mood of decadence & decay. The videography is truly splendid. You can almost smell the cigarettes snuffed in vomit & urine.
Tom is playing the role of a ventriloquist. Val Diamond plays his ventriloquist dummy, moving its lips to Tom's lyrics while Tom in tux blows long streamers of smoke & keeps one hand "in" the dummy's back. He's not the world's best ventriloquist so you can see him straining not to move his lips too much.
Val does a wonderful job of miming being the dummy. She's got some real talent for sustaining the oddness, & too bad her acting career never really took off. We do see her briefly as a waitress in The Darwin Awards (2006).
As ventriloquist & dummy sit on stools on stage, humor comingles with the pure credibility of an act so terrible it's tremendously cool. You can just about believe such a vaudevillian existed without sufficient wit to realize his act was this macabre.
And the poetry of the lyrics is just so perfect: "Blow wind blow, wherever you may go/ Put on your overcoat, take me away/ You gotta take me on into the night/ Take me on into the night/ Blow me away. Blow me away..."
About a minute into the film, Tom takes his hand out of the dummy's back, & Val powerfully in character folds forward, chin on breasts. Tom bends over & unscrews the dummy's left leg, in which the ventriloquist keeps his whiskey. He then roles a magazine & sings through it like a megaphone. Suddenly remembering he's a ventriloquist, he holds the "megapone" to the dummy's mouth.
The fact that Val as the dummy performs with eyes closed, & eyes painting on her eyelids, adds mightily to her animated maniquen appearance, & it's hard not to imagine this seedy ventriloquist isn't "involved" with his dummy in more ways than this. 'Tis in all an incredible music video for its art, humor, & aesthetic horror.
The rotoscope animation in For No One (1979) was done over the dance moves of Tom Waits & Donna Gordon, in this reenactment of a seedy guy's interactions with a stripper who appeared to him like a phantom out of the smoke of his cigarette.
Tom with cigarette had become so one & the same it's surprising he did eventually quit (more or less) toward the end of the '70s, while recording the songs for Heart Attack in Vine, when family & good hygiene became more important to him than his image as a hard-drinking horndog vagrant with a cloud of smoke following him about like a stink bug's paradise.
Donna who he circles like a playful pup was a top exotic dancer of the day, seen in a handful of movies, including John Cassavetes's The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). She kept dancing until she was ninety!
Tom & Donna dance to a bluesy recording of "The One Who Got Away" which is sometimes given as an alternate title for the film. Tom performing new spoken-word lyrics, "All dressed up in full orchestration/ Stage door johnny's got to pay/ And they'll send him talkin' 'bout the one who got away/ Well. Believe it or not maybe I used to be on Easy Street..."
This short film received an Academy Award for its technological achievement, but then went into the vault & wasn't seen for a couple of decades. It's now again in circulation; I watched it at youtube, & what a recovered treasure it is, both for Tom Waits fans & animation fans.
For climax to the couple's seductive circling, the stripper is down to nothing, & rather than returning to smoke, she immediately leaps into a car with another man. It's just a tremendous little film. "You win some, you lose some," says Tom, strolling on down the sidewalk, giddy as ever.
The music video of one of Tom Wait's great ballads Hold On (1999) promoted the release of the Grammy-winning Mule Variations.
This little film has the look of vintage sepia photographs, showing Tom hunched over his guitar in several situations, in grimy town, pearched in a room, or standing under trees. It's elegant & simple & gloomy, to match the sweet sorrowful tune & its woeful lyrics.
As the song is about a woman who has moved on, we also see images of the girl "on her California trip."
"Oh he gave her a dime store watch/ And a ring made from a spoon/ Everyone's looking for someone to blame/ When you share my bed you share my name/ Well go ahead, call the cops/ You don't meet nice girls in coffee shops/
"She said baby I still love you/ Sometimes there's nothing left to do/ But you got to hold on, hold on/ Baby gotta hold on, takin' my hand standing next to you, gotta hold on..."
The strength of this video is not solely in the beauty & poetry of the song, but also in the rough harsh beauty of Tom's face & crippled posture, & in the sheer understanding of things broken or injured as possessing strength & value.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl