Since Radiohead’s ‘Burn The Witch’ video hit YouTube yesterday (May 3) much of the discussion around it has focussed on the inspirations behind its story and animation style – here are five comparison points to watch out for.
1. The Trumptonshire trilogy (1966-1969)
In the late sixties, three connected animated series – Camberwick Green, Trumpton, and Chigley – aired on the BBC, showing the way of life in idyllic little communities, and teaching children about community values. Those conventional lessons are something the video pillories by making its own values hideously screwed up. Some have even suggested the nod to Trumpton is, via its name, a reference to Donald Trump and his attitude towards anything outside America. Whether or not you think the reference can be taken that far, you’ll easily see the similarity between Camberwick Green and the ‘model village’ of the video.
2. The Wicker Man (1973)
The 1973 version of The Wicker Man – the better one, with Christopher Lee, not the 2006 one with Nicholas Cage – told the story of a devout Christian detective going to an island to investigate a disappearance. There, he finds a mad community of pagans indoctrinated by Lee’s laird, whose fruit farm’s success depends on pagan rituals, or so they believe. Among rituals like those you can see below, they also have a sacrificial effigy that houses a sacrifice – here and in the film, that’s the inspector.
This video is less explicit than the film, with the inspector climbing into the cage of his own accord, not being dragged into it, and at the end of the sequence he escapes, visible at the bottom left corner of the wide shot. In the film, he’s burnt to a crisp in front of the setting sun.
3. Medieval Practices
The menacing tone gets more bleakly anti-intellectual via medieval details such as the red crosses painted on doors – plague crosses that date back to 1665’s Great Plague of London – and what looks like a Beef Wellington made from an entire cow.
Throughout the video are crates of tomatoes, a reference to the empty crates of Summerisle Fruit in The Wicker Man. Here, those crates are full to bursting and are plastered with “Jobe’s”. One of these is also used to light the effigy at the end of the clip. One Redditor has pointed out a possible connection to a company that makes organic fertiliser for tomatoes. That might explain why the fruit has grown in this version of the Wicker Man tale… but it’s a bit of a stretch.
Another reaction has been the comparison to Job, the pious man punished by god as a test in various Abrahamic religions – but as may be obvious, that isn’t spelt Jobe.
5. ‘Dawn Chorus’
A key part of the video is the bird singing cheerily at its open and close, ignorant of the lyrics’ nightmarish vision of mob-like communities. Radiohead have recently formed a company called ‘Dawn Chorus LLP’, and another called ‘Dawnnchoruss Ltd’, a tactic they have employed before prior to an album release to minimise the effect its success or failure has on any of their other albums. Their social media shutdown took place on the first Sunday in May – International Dawn Chorus Day – and they have a song called ‘Dawn Chorus’, which in March 2009 Thom Yorke said he was “trying to finish” and was “really great.” If the video’s bird is a hint, hopefully we’ll be hearing ‘Dawn Chorus’ soon.
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