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13 septembre 2008

Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer

Anna Pickard,,Thursday September 11 2008

It's influential, memorable, and quite rude if you think about it. Anna Pickard stands to attention and salutes the twisted genius of Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer...

This week, a true classic - one that appears in all the "best videos ever" lists and somewhere near the very top of any self-respecting "best animated video" chart. It's influential, it's memorable, and it's arguably downright filthy. It's Peter Gabriel. It's Sledgehammer.

And it all starts so innocently, too, with a close up of tadpoles swimming happily in a big dark pond of ...

Wait, that's no ordinary tadpole ... That's grade-A wiggling man-drizzle! Sorry, sperm. And it's funny, because when you think of this video, people quite often say "I never realised it was about sex at the time ... ", and yet it starts off with a shot of bloke-custard magnified several thousand times.

We move on to a close up of a highly dilated pupil.

And the wiggling of an ear (which is more impressive in motion than it is in freeze-frame, I admit):

See, on the left, it's about a millimetre further down and more elongated in shape than on the right? Well, you should see it in action. It's almost imperceptibly remarkable. These are, however, signs of undeniably intense pleasure. The pupils, the ear-wiggling; if those aren't cast-iron signs of sexual pleasure then ... what? Just me?

Well, whatever. Gabriel's happy:

In fact, the cheesy grin is often returned to in the video, as the flicking of the stop-frame animation moves through the mouthing of the lyrics to his face at rest ('rest' position seeming to be a big grin and perfect view of his slightly bizarre incisors) in between each line.

Meanwhile, famously, the animation around his head (provided by The Brothers Quay, famous for dark eastern European-style stop-motion films, and Aardman Animation, famous for Wallace and Gromit, among other things) acts out the words he sings through his slightly manic higgledy-piggledy mouth.

"You could have a steam train" he sings, as a train chuffs around his head in a pleasing fashion. "If you'd just lay down your tracks", referring, most agree, to sexual congress. The train represents his penis, you understand. The fact that his penis is circling his head is therefore slightly more oblique, but we chose to brush over it (not his penis) and agree that it is representative of his thoughts being played out externally.

In one of the most memorable sequences of the video, a blackboard behind Gabriel displays a rollercoaster track, the ride "going up and down, and round the bend" (NB: sexual metaphor) being shown purely through facial expressions and hairgel. This, as anyone who has tried to replicate the sequence can verify, is harder than it looks ...

... And also potentially damaging to your hair. But Gabriel doesn't care about that. He is an artiste. With an "E". He acts out his fake rollercoastering with aplomb. In fact, he looks impressively enthusiastic throughout the whole of this video, even though the process of stop-motion animation involves lying around holding one pose at a time while the camera takes one picture for each tiny frame of the four-and-a-half minute promo.

Even as plasticine dodgems rut his cheeks, Gabriel remains upbeat.

"You could have a bumper car ... ", he continues - eyebrows leaping suggestively all over his face. (Or at least the top part of his face. Anything else would be truly alarming.) " ... bumping. The amusement never ends".

And so it doesn't. While Gabriel lies patiently under a glass sheet, all manner of crazy animated goings on happen around his wandering eyebrows.

Gabriel sings about his enthusiasm for examining someone's "fruitcage" if they will let him be their "honey bee". Ahem.

During the synthesised flute solo (no sentence more eighties can have been uttered around here for a good while) two headless roasting chickens - created by Aardman animation's Nick Park, apparently - hatch from an egg and dance on a music hall stage.

And the urge to say "obviously" at the end of that sentence is almost overwhelming. Because what else could possibly happen at this point? Granted, Gabriel could turn into a complete plasticine Peter, develop sledgehammers for fists and then hit himself repeatedly in the face ...

... Until a tiny Peter sprouts forth. Again, 'obviously'.

Just when things can't get anymore crack-addled - sorry, creative - an intervention forms: a gang of people, including the animation teams, Gabriel's own daughters and anyone else hanging around the set who didn't mind moving a centimetre at a time while their photo gets taken several hundred times in a row try to shake him out of whatever bonk-addled daydream he has sunk into ...

But it doesn't work; the caring masses get chased away by backing singers on a sofa, and replaced by less threatening furniture, who dance around Gabriel, shaking their wood to the rhythm of the song until finally, eventually, Peter is pooped and collapses into an armchair ...

... All spent, and gently steaming.

So there we have it: 1986, the year that Peter Gabriel invented sex. Or at least animated musical innuendo. Without him we might never have had lapdancing zebras simulating masturbation on giant bottles of fizzy orange drink. I hope you're proud of yourself, Pete.

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