Let's get something out of the way. Afrika Shox was shot around the Financial District of
Manhattan. Did you see that opening shot? That's the Brooks Brothers Building, black and ominous. Behind it, immersed in fog, is one of the towers of the World Trade Center.
Because of September 11, 2001, it is impossible for this writer to fully separate
his feelings about this video from the casualties of that day, and the ongoing war that
Both the song and video feel horribly bent with this pre-millennium tension, echoing off the city buildings. I know it's already supposed to be there, but it feels much more immediate, like you're watching the day before the planes are coming, and you know they're coming. This coming from a person who only saw the buildlings collapse on television, and, while I've been to New York City, I never saw the towers up close.
It's hard not to sympathize with the accursed man stumbling through the streets, as if he's bearing some unnameable burden on behalf of the rest of humanity, the song's urgency pulsing through his veins. Afrika Bambaataa chanting "The world is on fire / It'll take you higher." It's hard not to create an allegory out of the entire thing. Were we right in fearing the turn of the millenium?
It seems almost offensive now that in 1999 the Independent Television Commission (now part of Ofcom, the FCC of the UK) sequestered Afrika Shox to late night viewing. (They cited it in four of their categories: Fear, Car Crash, Death, and Disturbing Images.) On the other hand, such actions can easily fit in today's oversensitive political climate.
Regardless, in February 1998 Chris was merely excited to bring to the screen the long-held image in his head of New York at dusk and a man with a voodoo curse staggering down the streets. And it's an entirely compelling, dramatic image to watch. His limbs shatter with such ease! New York City is so hard and careless! Afrika Bambaataa is so goddamn cool!
Apparently it was Chris' favorite music video shoot "because it was just running around the streets of New York." Afterwards though it was a different story, as Sony Music delayed the video's release for a year and a half. And before that happened, its idea got eclipsed by Jonathan Glazer, who smashed cars into a desperate, muscular man stumbling through a tunnel in UNKLE's Rabbit in Your Headlights.
Afrika Shox is available on Chris' Directors Label DVD, on its own enhanced CD single, and on the DVD of the feature film Vanilla Sky.
Excerpt from Treatment
We open on a travelling shot down an alleyway toward a figure stumbling upwards.
He moves into the light and we see him in full, black, dreadlocked, quite well-built but seriously in need of some help.
His face drenched in sweat, eyes pale; the man is panicked, delirious. We follow him out into the street as the beats kick in.
It is New York, present day, morning. The public rush by on a long lens, on their way to work. We feel the enormous mass of the rush hour engulf the man as he staggers on.
Suddenly out of nowhere a city-type carrying a briefcase bumps hard into him and his arm is knocked clean off at the elbow. We see it hit the floor and shatter in slow motion.
It gives us the impression that this strange crumbling disease is a voodoo curse of some kind.
1999 Ericcson Muzik Awards .. Best Video
2000 Music Week CAD Awards
Best Cinematography .. Darius Khondji
Best Dance Video