Despite the steady pace of restoration work in film, the music video as a form has been slow to reap the same rewards. But a shift seems to be happening, with high-definition and 4K transfers being made for well-known videos. Many of these facelifts can be tied to anniversaries. The rabbit hole of financial motivations aside, these new transfers invite fresh inquiry from fans and theorists alike. Sometimes original film materials are available that include alternate takes and behind-the-scenes anecdotes, granting expanded viewpoints and broader contextualization.

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The video for Blur’s 1997 single “Song 2” stands out even amongst the band’s storied collection, and the unseen take recently released for the song’s 25th anniversary 4K makeover offers more for fans to appreciate. This never-before-seen wide shot, presented as an open-gate 35mm scan, sees the band playing in the familiar floral-wallpapered room, but its framing differs from the isometric compositions of the video proper. At the time of production, this shot would have been set aside, and now it sits somewhere between the visual language of the video and the curious gaze of the band’s fanbase.

The original videos still have plenty to mull over. A retrospective look at videos from Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory album cycle demonstrates the confidence their label had in their success in the early 2000s, with movie-comparable green screen and CGI on display in the likes of “Crawling” and “In the End.” “One Step Closer” features consistent pyrotechnics, high-concept lighting, and even wire-fu martial arts. These restorations have also come out with the passing of vocalist Chester Bennington in recent memory, imbuing them with an extra sense of poignancy.

There’s something to be said for this form’s sway during the 1990s and early 2000s. Cable television packages were built around access to music television channels, and the music video became a proving ground for both new and established directors. The beloved Directors Label DVD box sets built momentum around filmmakers like Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, and Chris Cunningham. Techniques now intrinsic to visual effects were honed within this field.

Spike Jonze’s Christopher-Walken-starring video for Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice” has also been recently restored. Its sharp new look brings out the deep blues and warm highlights of the film stock. For the first-time, keen-eyed viewers can make out when a body double is used for Walken’s tap-dancing antics (putting to rest some long-running debates). Returning to the original camera material meant the wire-concealing effects had to be reapplied from scratch. Such efforts are why restoration processes can lengthy and costly; there’s often a bevy of rushes to be filtered out and matched to the original edit. For now, at least, anniversary releases and YouTube view counts largely define what labels choose to restore.

Original film materials are typically stored in record labels’ vaults, but others may not have returned from production houses, or they’ve simply gone missing. Despite these issues, hidden gems often appear. The alternate take for “Song No. 2” is one of them, and an original take for Coldplay’s “Yellow” hints at an altogether different video. How much the individual artists and managers care to share of these materials is ultimately up to them, but these anecdotal moments help create a broader picture of a video’s history.

In 2019, Ken Andrews of the band Failure released a video explaining how he had found the rushes for their music video for “Stuck on You.” The 16mm rushes, sans the visual effects from the finished video, appear in Andrews’s discussion with director Phil Harder. The conversation is a must-watch for anyone interested in the period when analog filmmaking and digital effects were actively overlapping.

These examples paint a varied and interesting picture of how the music video as a medium might catch up with modern restoration standards. Doing so for every video shot on film may not be possible, but the appetite for revisiting them seems to be at an all-time high online. Each restoration release attracts requests for more videos to get the treatment in its comment section. In turn, the supplementary material discovered as part of these projects can help shape the broader understanding of this important and influential field of media.

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Andrew Northrop

Andrew Northrop is a writer based in London, UK. He works in restoration and on film festivals and often writes about essay films, uses of archival footage, and coming of age/“slacker” narratives.

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