Pretty Good Year

Saturday 27 August 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

From the album: Under the Pink (1994)
Director: Cindy Palmano
Atlantic Records

“Pretty Good Year” was the last video directed byCindy Palmano in Tori’s career. It shows a minimal layout (an almost empty room with big bright windows) similar to the black or white backgrounds of “Silent All These Years,” “Crucify” and “Winter,” also directed by Palmano for Little Earthquakes. As it is the photographer’s last video for Tori, we have a feel of closure, the singer being back in a wooden box as well as a closet. The theme of breaking free and finding one’s own voice is pretty much central in the video, which begins by Tori breaking in by flying through the window, trapping herself inside the room. The way the image of breaking free from a situation is reversed illustrates powerfully the song, that Tori reportedly wrote about a fan, a young man who was only 23 but had the feeling that his life was over.

Thus, in the video, she’s not the one trying to find her voice, instead she seems to be Greg’s concerned girlfriend who tries to shake him out of his numbness. “...the duality of the video for me is starkness in fantasy,” Tori wrote in the Tori Stories booklet in 1998. “Things are going well, clinically well or maybe transparently well, that she senses what is about to come, her breaking of the glass to follow him into his private dream world is her way of confirming her instincts.” Some shots show Tori laying on a bed against Greg, who seems to be asleep. In most of the other shots, she’s sat in an armchair that feels protective. The room is clear, the walls and the armchair are creme coloured, everything feels sweet and comforting. It’s a safe place, but the thing is that Greg hid himself in there because he can’t find the will to face the real world. He’s too afraid and that inner space feels so safe and comforting.

Tori appears like a compassionate narrator - not giving the boy pity, though - through most of the video, except near the end when there’s that big outburst. Tori suddenly breaks into a very expressive dance where she screams, rages and express all her feelings, joined by male dancers. In the Tori Stories booklet, Tori said that moment was a reference to the actress, singer and dancer Ann-Margret, who starred in many roles from the 1960’s to our day. Ann-Margret was pretty shy and reserved offstage, but became this very wild and sensual being as soon as she stepped on a stage or a set and heard some music, so that’s probably what Tori meant by reference - the quote from the booklet was: “Karen and I chuckled over the Ann Margaret reference, as always when things are on the precipice of blowing up — break into a dance routine I say." [Tori probably mispelled the name since she wrote Margaret and not Margret].

Another pivotal moment of the video is when Tori climbs a staircase and let herself fall backwards. The male dancers catch her fall at the last moment and carry her off to the armchair. The way they carry her is similar to pictural representations of the Christ being carried off the cross after the crucifixion by some of the apostles. In the audio commentary of the video on Fade to Red, Tori revealed that it was one of her favorite moments. “Karen Binns [Tori’s stylist] was very much about the dancers and what they needed to be expressing as they carried Tori to the chair, which these muscle-bound guys in briefs lovingly delivering this woman. that’s one of my favourite moments, I guess. I guess I kind of loved it.” Getting up on a chair or bench and letting oneself fall backwards is actually a casual exercice in acting lessons, to learn both self-confidence and confidence in one’s acting partners: you simply have to trust that the people behind you will eventually catch your fall and that you’re in safe hands. Here, we could argue that Tori simply has to trust that Greg will wake up and get out of his numbness.

Trust was also a major component in Tori’s relationship to Cindy Palmano, as she confessed in the Fade to Red audio commentary. “Videos like this can only work when there’s... we’re back to that word again: there’s a trust element. Cindy was there in the director’s chair and because this song is bittersweet, to open up and look into the camera, knowing that on the other side that person knew what you were talking about, which, in all honesty, very few people should know what I’m talking about, because for the most part, I play that pretty close to the chest, and I think it’s the best way to do it. Simplicity is usually Cindy’s way, because if there’s content there, then she is going to do everything possible to capture it. Does she push you? Yes, without question. She pushes you emotionally. And there are some directors that you just will not let your lock be found so that they can fiddle with the keys they think can get them through.”

The casting for Greg was pretty important since the song was inspired by a letter Tori received from an English boy named Greg who wrote her about his disillusions with his life. “The boy that was cast in the video had the real name of Greg and we felt he carried a similar longing,” she wrote in the Tori Stories booklet.

As for the shot where Tori breaks through a window, she really did do it... except the glass was in sugar. She talked about the stunt in a W96 radio show in March 1994. "Just shot the video, just went through an 18-foot sugar glass window. I still have cuts and scrapes from it but it was...I had four minutes to jump through it or I was gonna go in overtime with the crew. Overtime for a 40 man/woman crew is kinda massive and um...they just said, you know, ’You have to do this,’ and I was working with the stuntman who had done one of the 007 movies and he had shown me exactly how to jump through this window for an hour...and I did it! And it felt like the most unbelievable thing to crash through a window. I really recommend it!"

This video is featured on Fade to Red, Tori’s video collection on DVD. It was also earlier released on the Complete Videos (1992-1998) video tape.