(Searcher) A Portrait of a Lady with a Combustible Head

If you enjoyed (or endured) A Portrait of a Lady on Fire, I would very much recommend They Might Be Giant’s You’re On Fire.

I couldn’t get this song out of my head.


I forgot your name


My point is

Hi, your head’s on fire

Oh damn, you must have got one of them

Combustible heads I read an article all about them

What relevance does this have to A Portrait of a Lady on Fire, or at least to cinematography?

Well what does this scream to you except someone who’s so on fire they must have a combustible head?

Okay but actually, I’ll spend some time analysing the cinematography of its very surreal music video. I encourage you to watch its first thirty seconds:

The first thing we see is obviously, fire. Obvious symbolism is obvious.

It starts with a long take of a woman preparing a meal. The camera at first seems to be following the woman’s perspective, as it looks over the meat and back to the grill. But then we pan back to the meat, disconnecting from the woman’s POV.

By the time of the first cut of the music video, 27 seconds in, we see that the meat is the only thing in the room that actually has the same view of the situation that we do, rapidly shifting the implied main character of the piece from the woman to the meat itself.

And what do we see when we pan back to the meat?

Some salivation-inducing CGI, as the meat reveals its face and starts to sing.

I find it amazing that at first you really can’t tell that there’s a face inside the meat, but upon rewatch you can see the outlines of eyes and mouth.

We are then met, as in music video fashion, with many sweeping shots of the meat from different angles.

The music video of You’re on Fire uses differing camera angles to very quickly orient us in space, giving us less of a “twist villain” and more of a “twist protagonist” 25 seconds into the video.

Had the camera began from the meat’s perspective, it would have given away that succulent bit of surprise very early on.

The opening long take welcomes us to a very mundane activity in a room doused in warm oranges, the only opposing hues being the initial blue of the flame (danger) and the two purple bowls to the side, a component of mise-en-scene perhaps trying to hint that the woman and her boyfriend, who later enters the room, are discordant with the ambience that already exists between the two packets of meat and their home, the kitchen.

The human’s discordance with their environment is proven justified when the invited boyfriend is the one to final notice the talking meat, prompting the woman to kill it.

Without its accompanying music video, You’re on Fire is a ballad to someone the narrator loves, perhaps overwhelmed by the awkwardness of the sincere compliment that one is “on fire” that the narrator must instantly dowse this exposed internal flame with a joke, saying that they must have a “combustible head”.

With its music video, You’re on Fire is one packet of minced beef saying goodbye to its brethren as they are burnt alive, not even attempting to beg for its own life while it too waits for its oncoming demise.

Now that’s meaty.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *