Reznor Nails Down Extreme Clip

By Deborah Russell for Billboard Magazine on December 5, 1992

Los Angeles--Trent Reznor's mother recently received a package in the mail. It was important to her son--the creative force behind the industrial sound machine Nine Inch Nails--that his mother watch "Happiness In Slavery," one of the most talked-about videos ever. It also is a video few mainstream viewers will ever see.

The controversial clip, directed by Original Video's Jonathan Reiss, is best described as the ultimate sadomasochistic fantasy. The graphically extreme, black-and-white minifilm features a naked male actor who is prodded, pinched, and eventually pulverized into ground meat by a brutal machine to which he willingly sacrifices himself.

"I like horror movies, that feeling of repulsion," says Reznor, who is confident his mother can handle the exposed genitalia and explicit gore depicted in the Nothing/TVT-Interscope clip.

Director Reiss adds, "Some people derive pleasure from pain and the charcter in this video is there willingly; he gets something out of this. For him, the ultimate ecstasy is worth the ultimate sacrifice."

In fact, the actor in the video is Bob Flanagan, a performance artist stricken with cystic fibrosis, whose art is characterized by a common thread of "ascension through adversity and pain." Reiss says the acto described to him a fantasy of his own that closely paralleled the video's content.

Reznor admits the clip verges on the realm of bad taste, and may go "too far" for some viewers. At one point, spikes are driven through the actor's hands; at another, a drill descends from the ceiling and churns his body into a bloody mass of guts.

But none of this was a conscious decision to make the most disgusting video ever made, Reznor claims. "These were the most appropriate visuals for the song."

The work, adds Reiss, should challenge the viewer: "Why make it easy on people?"

However appropriate the visuals, they preclude the clip from regular broadcast on such national outlets as MTV or even The Box. It is, however, a hot item on the club circuit, and some of the more daring regional programmers are taking their chances. Denver-based video programmer Mike Drumm risked the ire of his viewers when he programmed "Happiness" at midnight on his "Music Link" video show. "Music Link" reaches about one million homes in the Denver area on a UHF broadcast station.

" 'Happiness' is total heaven in its own sick, twisted way," says Drumm, who masked the male genitalia to adhere to FCC regulations. "I couldn't not play it."

At press time, Drumm had received two complaints from extremely irate viewers.

Dave Prewitt, the producer, director, and host of Austin, Texas-based, cable-access video show "Raw Time," aired an uncut, uncensored version of "Happiness" at 3 a.m. Phones immediately lit up at the call-in video show, and response has been purely positive because "Raw Time" viewers are Nine Inch Nails fans, Prewitt says. He plans to program the clip closer to 2 a.m. during his next weekly broadcast, to see if he can stimulate more viewer response.

At Anaheim, California's "Request Video," Gia DeSantis could broadcast only the first 30 seconds of the clip. But Reznor is scheduled to appear on her program in the near future.

The artist claims he is satisfied with the limited television exposure the video is receiving, and says his primary goal was to distance himself from the "assembly line" method of video production that he abhors.

"If done right, I figured this could be a bizarre and interesting visual experiment that did not look like a typical video," he says. "When I signed to Interscope, I made it clear I wanted artistic control over what I do. Granted, this is an extreme example.

"I see music video as an art form that could have turned out to be pretty cool," he adds. "But due to the powers at MTV, it turned into nothing but a business of three-minute commercials for the public to be told what to buy and what to like."

Reznor concedes he "flushed some money down the toilet" in producing such an extreme clip. "A lot of people won't see this video," he notes. "But we've gotten as far as we have with no support from radio or MTV and we're as big as I want us to be."

Reznor and director Reiss are currently editing a seven-minute version of "Happiness", cut to film rhythms with ambience, scoring, and sound effects.

And it is possible the clip will find its way to retail outlets next year as a low-priced video, says Reznor. Meanwhile, Nine Inch Nails' current EP, "Broken", has spawned the video "Pinion", which is receiving some airplay regionally and on The Box. Next up is "Wish", a more "traditionaly" performance-oriented video.

Transcribed by Keith Duemling

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