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Fiona Apple
Page 1Page 2Page 3Page 4    by Mark Zeltner -- page 2 of 4

"I've been careless with a delicate man"
"Criminal" is a viciously effective combination of typical pre-eighties sexual imagery with a low-tech porno loop/home video visual style. Director Mark Romanek knows his source material and he has created a soft porn four minute masterpiece masquerading as a contemporary rock music video.

The first image seen in the video is a medium shot of Apple holding a small camera and taking a snapshot of ... US. From the first seconds, the video pushes the audience into the position of sexual voyeur. With that one simple act, Apple lets us know that she knows she is being watched and that she has the evidence. The opening image of the video is eerily striking in that it is a direct rebuke of some critics' notions of women taking control of the direct address of the gaze in music videos of the early eighties (Lewis, 1990; Stockbridge, 1990). In other words, Madonna was looking directly at the audience and declaring control over her sexuality--which meant that she was nullifying the power of the male gaze. Apple welcomes the gaze from the first seconds of "Criminal," but she also lets us know that there might be a price to pay for our pleasure.

The second shot of the video is of a rather tattered looking stuffed animal. Another foreshadowing of the criminal acts to follow and a reference to Apple's age (or her apparent age in the video, which is a good four or five years less than her 19 years). The next fifteen seconds of shots set the stage for the rest of the video. We see the front fender of a sports car, a few discarded beer bottles on the floor, and a number of images of what appears to be someone's barely remodeled basement rec room. The decor is seventies tacky with cheap wood paneling and a hideous pea-green carpet covered with unidentified stains. These images are interspersed with another camera shot by Apple and a second shot of her looking directly at the camera with a knowing expression.

Twenty seconds into the video we see the first shot that indicates who is in the basement with Apple. It is an overhead shot of Apple sprawled out on the floor with her head resting on the legs of another woman. A man's feet are visible under a glass coffee table in the upper left portion of the frame and a second man's head is visible in the bottom of the frame. Several slices of half-eaten pizza and an ashtray rest on the coffee table. The faces of none of the other people in this shot are visible. This facelessness is maintained throughout the video.

Apple begins the lyrics of the song twenty-three seconds into the video. "I've been a bad, bad girl, I've been careless with a delicate man," sings Apple as she stares into the camera and gives the audience a little half-smile. In this shot, as in several others in the video, the pupils of Apple's eyes are bright red in an obvious imitation of bad flash photography. This little camera trick is quite effective in increasing the low-rent, creepy feeling of the video. Immediately after singing this line we see a medium shot of Apple zipping up her pants. The implication of what she did that was "bad" is fairly obvious at this point.

For the next fourteen seconds, we see a collage of images of Apple and her companions on the floor of the basement. She appears to be the only person conscious at this point. "When a girl will break a boy just because she can," Apple sings through this sequence. What boy is she singing about? The initial implication is that she is singing about one of the men surrounding her on the floor, but at this time, the image and the lyrics do not make this relationship clear.

Forty-four seconds into the video the scene shifts to a bathroom. A shower-head spurts a brief blast of water, and then we see Apple sitting on the toilet and singing while a man takes a bath in the background. Once again, we see only the feet of this person. "I've done wrong and I want to suffer for my sins," sings Apple at the beginning of this sequence, still implying that she wronged one of the video's male participants. But the succeeding lyrics drastically change the focus of the song and the video.

In the closing moments of the bathroom sequence, Apple sings, "I've come to you 'cause I need guidance to be true and I just don't know where I can begin." Only at this point do the lyrics and the visual images synchronize their meaning. Apple is not only visually addressing the audience but she is verbally addressing us. The focus of the song now moves away from her relationship with the men in the video (who are only faceless creatures anyway) and shifts toward her relationship with us.

The bathroom scenario is used for approximately another twenty seconds before it is interspersed with a new situation. At one minute and five seconds into the video, a man (again faceless) opens a closet door to reveal Apple, her hair in pigtails, sitting amongst the shoes on the floor of the closet. The sequence cuts back and forth between the bathroom and the closet interspersed with several shots of two crumpled pillows on the floor. This entire montage of shots portrays Apple as something less than a possession. She is someone who is reduced to hiding in the closet or the bathroom. The early thrill of voyeurism that was encouraged in the opening seconds of the video now begins to sour.

The song hits its chorus and Apple sings, "What I need is a good defense 'cause I'm feelin' like a criminal. And I need to be redeemed to the one I've sinned against because he's all I ever knew of love." At this point it becomes apparent that the man she has wronged is someone other than the men that perpetually surround her in the video, and she is asking us, the audience, for a type of redemption. Of course her actions betray her words because it is apparent that she is inviting us, as voyeurs, to join her in her sins.

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Get the complete lyrics for "Criminal"
and download a sound clip,
courtesy of the Fiona Apple Home Page at Epic.


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