Last week, we began to break down the long and complicated history of the promo videos for one of U2’s most famous songs, “One.” This week we continue that story by talking about Mark Pellington’s version(s) of the video. This was actually the first video sent to MTV for the promotion of the song, which is noteworthy because it was, in fact, the second video prepared by the band. The first video was the Anton Corbijn video that we discussed last week, which was initially discarded because of concerns about tying the AIDS crisis back to the gay community. There are two versions of Mark Pellington’s video, the first, with footage of buffalo running, was the same footage as that which had been prepared for use on the screens backing the band on the ZooTV Tour. After this video was sent to MTV, it was decided that it was a little boring to serve as the focus of a music video all on its own. I tend to agree with that decision — the footage was initially meant to serve as background to the band’s onstage performance, not to be the focus of attention all on its own, so it is no surprise that it did not sustain the viewers’ attention for the duration of the song. The members of U2 decided that another video was called for, and so they contacted Phil Joanou, he who directed Rattle and Hum, and another video was created, one that finally seemed to serve to fit the band’s needs and desires. Interestingly, there is a very rare alternate version of this Mark Pellington video which contains some footage of the band members in addition to the simple footage of buffalo, flowers, and words of the more widely seen version. It seems that the members of the band simply were not happy with this second version of Pellington’s video so it was aired only a very few times, but my personal opinion is that it is superior to the more widely aired Pellington video, with no footage of the band.
Mark Pellington’s main video for “One” was inspired by David Wojnarowicz’s photograph of buffalo falling to their deaths as they followed one after the other off of a cliff. This photograph was being used as the cover image on the single for “One,” so it made sense to tie back into the video footage with the same imagery. To me, this footage symbolizes the fragility of life and how we need to care for each other. Wojnarowicz was also famously quoted as saying “Smell the flowers while you can,” which encourages us to enjoy the beauty in life before it passes us by. This explains the presence of flowers in Pellington’s video. The only other element in the video is the word for “one” presented in many different languages, representing once again the oneness of humanity despite our many differences.
“One” is an important song and one that deserves a fantastic music video. It took the band several tries before they landed on a video that they were fully happy with. Next week, we will discuss the final video for “One” and whether I think it lives up to the song it promoted.
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