Cornflake Girl (U.K. Version)

Saturday 27 August 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

From the album : Under the Pink (1994)
Directed by: Big TV!
Atlantic Records

This surrealistic black and white video was the first made for “Cornflake Girl” when it came out as a single in the UK. It was shot in two days in Los Angeles in the same time that the “God” video - “Cornflake Girl” was the first single for Under the Pink in the U.K. and “God” the first single in the US. The idea to do a nightmarish Wizard of Oz/Alice in Wonderland with Tori came to the two directors, Andy and Monty, after they heard the song. The singer acknowledged that it was indeed their personal idea and interpretation of her song. “Cornflake Girl” deals with the subject of women betraying other women in a playful and sarcastic mood, with very colorful and surrealistic lyrics. There’s definitely a fairytale feel to it, and the line “Rabbit, where’d you put the keys, girl?” always reminded me of Alice in Wonderland, so it’s not such a surprising thing that the directors came up with such an idea: Tori had this idea about the sisterhood but, as she journeys through this strange inverted world, she comes to realize things are not what they look like and some of her women friends are bitchy.

Visually, this is translated by Tori falling asleep in her room: everything is in colour at this point but, as she falls in the arms of Morpheus, the camera dives into the black and white keys of her piano, we see a twister taking a house away - Wizard of Oz reference - and she finds herself in this strange black and white universe, seemingly floating into cosmos with bright lights shining at the edge of some sort of lines at some point. The idea, Tori resumed, was “Dorothy goes to hell instead of Oz [1],” hence the inversion in the image treatment: in The Wizard of Oz (1939), Dorothy’s day to day world is in black and white and she’s bored and she finds herself in this wonderful land in Technicolor when she falls asleep. The directors tried to give a silent movie vibe to the video, and they shot it with what looks like 16mm. Something that was maybe partly inspired by the fact the location where the video was shot was “where Charlie Chaplin used to hang out,” according to Tori. In the Under the Pink’s tourbook, she wrote, “when you’re hanging in a spider web things come to you. Like, do the spirits of those people ever drop by to do a little walk down memory lane event. Like Mary Pickford or Bela Lugosi wandering in for some company and maybe a drink...”

But the Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland are not the only cinematic allusions we can find in the video. There are in fact references to four other famous movies: Eraserhead by David Lynch (1975), Un chien andalou by Luis Buñuel (1929), The Piano by Jane Campion (1993) and My Own Private Idaho by Gus Van Sant (1992). David Lynch’s fans will recognize the look of the black and white cosmos, which has been translated very faithfully by the two directors: in this movie, several scenes picture the hero’s head floating in a cosmos that is very much like the one of the video.

The famous surrealistic silent movie Un chien andalou by Luis Buñuel opens on the eye of a woman showed in close-up that a man opens with a razor blade. Though we don’t see such a thing in “Cornflake Girl” music video, the closed eye falling into the cosmos is very reminiscent, especially showed in close-up on a rectangular shape and in black and white. This short movie is maybe the most reknown surrealistic movie, and the video being very obviously surrealistic, it seems like a meant allusion.

The Piano reference is quite obvious and most people who saw the video in 1994 must have recognized it since the movie had been released in theatres just a few months earlier: Tori’s foot is tied to a giant rope carrying an old upright piano and because of the weight, she falls in a giant spider web. At the end of The Piano, the heroin leaves her beloved piano to follow the man she loves and the instrument is pushed overboard and comes crashing into the sea. But the rope tied to it folds itself around Ada’s foot and she falls in the sea too before eventually managing to cut the cord and swim to the surface.

The fighting scene between the two dark angels is in reference to a sex scene in My Own Private Idaho. The reference hides in the way these images were shot and edited: indeed, in My Own Private Idaho, the shots of this particular scene are frozen frames - with characters taking a pose, almost as if they were in a painting - who are edited to appear faster and faster, just like in the video. I hadn’t seen Gus Van Sant’s movie when I discovered Tori’s video, but when I finally saw the movie, the similarity with it really struck me.

These particular shots are the most obvious reference to women betraying women in the video. “...there were relationships with women that were strenghtening, and then there were relationships that were not so strenghtening and kind of, you know, downright scary. Traps, like a rat in a trap." [2] Hence the fact Tori finds herself trapped in a giant spiderweb.

The video took two days to shoot and Tori spent most of this time in a harness to give the impression she’s floating around. Her stylist Karen Binns was on the set with her and she was the one who chose those big furry boots that Tori wears in the video. “Those boots were so bloody heavy that, to be in a harness with boots that weighted more than, you know, a llama, I think that Karen was torturing me,” she told in the Fade to Red audio commentary. “But, she would sit there with Lesley and sing Christmas carols while I was just suspended endlessly in this harness, traveling through the worlds - this world of light.”

Later, Tori co-directed a second video for the American audience when “Cornflake Girl” was released as a single in the US. She felt the very surrealistic and artsy European video would not hit a cord with them and decided to make a video that really illustrated her vision of the song. Though most of the fans love Big TV’s version, Tori kind of always suggested she didn’t feel it really translated what she talked about. Tori’s version is decidedly very American (and in that sense, matches closely the cornflake metaphor) and humorous, but both videos are definitely brilliant and fan’s favorites. The US version was much more widely aired though, and the UK version became a bit rarer after the single’s promotion.

This video can be found on Fade to Red, the collection of most of Tori’s music videos in DVD. It was also earlier released on the Complete Videos (1992-1998) video tape.

[1Under the Pink tourbook.

[2Tori’s audio commentary of the video on the Fade to Red DVD.