Analysis - Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart"

Scrolling through my iTunes playlist can be a little odd. It’s an even balance of rock, electronic, jazz, movie soundtracks and some lighter, folky stuff, with a dash of pop or alt country thrown in to taste. I don’t consider myself a connoisseur, at least not on the level of my dad (“Check out this Norwegian saxophonist.”), but I like to think that by this point in my life I’ve acquired a decent musical education.

This post is not about my iTunes library, however; it is, at least, initially, how the alphabetical arrangement of my iTunes library led to the calming strains of Bon Iver’s “Calgary” fading out and being replaced by the opening notes of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart. But primarily it’s about how the music video for “Total Eclipse” is simultaneously the most inexplicable and awesome short film ever shown on MTV.

Here it is, for initial judgement.

And here, I feel, are some of the most salient points in support of my thesis, arranged in chronological order:

· T-minus 15 seconds: waiting for—in my case, at least—the unskippable video ad to end, my eyes flit down the page and I realize that Bonnie Tyler, Welsh crooner and as close to a one-hit wonder without actually being one, has a frakking YouTube channel.

· 15 seconds: music videos at the height of the MTV era tended toward either the cool (anything by Van Halen) or the awesomely abstract (Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, etc.), presumably to appeal to youth or wannabe film school students, respectively; director Russel Mulcahy, in this case, wished to capture the niche “Victorian Era-philiac” demographic.

· 16–32 seconds: combination of moonlight, blowing wind, a random dove and a bathrobe-clad lady convince me at least a portion of this video’s footage was taken from an aborted perfume commercial.

· 40 seconds: cue a sullen and creepy looking child, head bowed; debating whether this is Damien or Akira.

· 44 seconds: I’m actually getting more of a “tyrant psychic child from that Twilight Zone” episode vibe.

· 50 seconds: either this house has quite the draft or one of its tenants is a poltergeist.

· 54 seconds: a room full of young men, presumably studying for a test; one gust/poltergeist caress later and BAM, nubile chests.

· 1 minute, 3 seconds: quite literally an angelic child; does this house represent Heaven? and if so why does the ultimate fulfilment of Bonnie Tyler’s hopes and dreams include perilously-clad teenage boys?

· 1 minute, 7 seconds: “FUCK YOU! DOVES!!!”

· 1 minutes, 10 seconds: more nubile young men, this time wearing goggles and Speedos and being doused with water; seriously, it’s like this video was conceptualized by Victor Salva.

· 1 minute, 15 seconds: as Ms. Tyler enters the great hall, we shall try to deconstruct the so far erotic imagery that pervades—holy shit, is that what I think it is?

· 1 minute, 18 seconds: fucking ninjas out of nowhere; who the Hell came up with this video, a pederast or an actual 10-year-old boy?

· 1 minute, 25 seconds: “Gentlemen, to evil!”

· 1 minute, 30–50 seconds: first iteration of the chorus features fencers, acrobats and, at 1:41, what appears to be the Foot Clan.

· 1 minute, 55 seconds: it seems Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas commissioned a clone army from Corey Hart’s genetic code.

· 2 minutes, 14 seconds: I know Bonnie Tyler’s unsettling schoolmistress character has to indulge in the objects of her lust from time to time but seriously, those half-naked football players lack adequate padding.

· 2 minutes, 18 seconds: “Once upon a time I was falling in love, / But now I’m only falling apart;” come to think of it, this video representing Bonnie Tyler’s mental collapse would explain all the hitherto inexplicable shit that has appeared in this video.

· 2 minutes, 35 seconds: normally I would like to avoid snarkiness, but given everything I’ve typed thus far it would appear I crossed that line some time ago; so I’ll just say it: she looks like she’s going to collapse under the weight of her own hair.

· 2 minutes, 58 seconds – 3 minutes, 25 seconds: bridge portion of the song dedicated entirely to more half-naked teenage boys, food fighting and hurricane force winds; it’s like the collapsing dream portions from Inception decades before Inception was even a thing.

· 3 minutes, 28 seconds: oh Jesus Hell there’s an army of the little creepy bastards.

"One of us! One of us!"

· 3 minutes, 30 seconds: Ms. Tyler doesn’t so much belt out the lyrics as emit a high-volume croak; I think she recorded her vocals all in one take without clearing her throat.

· 3 minutes, 32 seconds: ahhhhAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!

· 3 minutes, 50 seconds: it’s like a really gay version of the dance sequence from The Matrix Reloaded.

· 4 minutes, 16 seconds: I’m now convinced these glowey-eyed wunderkinds are the spirits of Bonnie Tyler’s victims, given the way they seem to haunt and crowd her.

· 4 minutes, 31 seconds: yes, Azrael, enfold her in your wings and end this madness; reap, I tell you, reap!

· 4 minutes, 50 seconds: daylight, now; Ms. Tyler seems to be congratulating her students/boarders upon their graduation; both a joyous and solemn moment, for while they enter the adult world they never knew how much they figured into her nightly fantasies.

· 5 minutes, 5 seconds: handshake lingers for a little too long; was there something “special” between her and this particular student orJESUS CHRIST!

· 5 minutes: 20 seconds: look at her bemused expression as they file past her; they know, Bonnie, they know.

And that’s it. The music video for “Total Eclipse of the Heart” is the demon offspring of a Harlequin romance novel, a horror flick and some man (or woman’s) paedophilic fantasies. In other words, it is the greatest music video ever made.

EDIT: I was pondering this post and the dissected video on my evening walk and realized that while I had accused the video's conceptual artist of borderline paedophilia for the sake of humour, it is actually only through these accusations that the video make a lick of sense.

Think about it: Bonnie Tyler plays some Mary Kay Letourneau-esque headmistress for an all boys boarding school who constantly fantasizes about her student body, with the bulk of the video taking place in a dream (seems my Inception comparison wasn't too far off). The children with the illuminated eyes are, perhaps, those she has physically taken advantage of, and the reason they seem to torment her is actually a manifestation of her subconscious guilt. In the end, during the waking hours, she sees them off into the world, only to notice one of her students has the glowing eyes seen in her dreams, with the others singing the song's lyrics in a detached, haunting fashion. Has her subconscious guilt seeped into the real world, resulting in insanity?

I'm honestly not intending to poke fun at the notion of taking advantage of children. This is just seriously the only way of making any sense of the music video. Intentionally or unintentionally, and in spite of its cheesy aspects, "Total Eclipse of the Heart" is actually one of the darkest and sophisticated videos of the MTV era.


William Daryl Link said...

Great article. I remember that video and, you know, it was par for the course for the 80s.

Shawn Skvarna said...

When I was younger I wasn't able to watch MTV or VH1 and see this video. I knew of the song, which was the sort of song that my one friend and I analyzed here and there because we couldn't understand the lyrics the way that Bonnie Tyler belted them out (we thought she kept screaming about living in a "polywog" and giving up starts...). One day I remember she called me after seeing the video for the first time on MTV and was describing it to me, talking about this weird glowing eyed choir of boys singing along with her. For some reason my mind immediately created the scene in my head perfectly like the video and I honestly was more than a little freaked out at that idea.

Years go by and I finally remember I never sat through the video yet but remembered my friend's descriptions of what she saw. I sat down and checked it out on youtube one day. I have no idea what it is about that era, but there's always this sort of Victorian creepy factor about a majority of the early 80s for me. While I grew up in that time and I love the music of the time, the visuals always felt creepy and dark. For me, Total Eclipse of the Heart is the culmination of a lot of my weird psychosis about this time. To this day it just gives me the utter creeps and because the music is so haunting it doesn't manage to go away very easily. But that damn choir bit unnerves me to no end.

Whether it's about her doing horrible things to her students, wanting to do things she shouldn't do with children or something else, for me the video and song are just creepy as fuck.

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