Music Video Commentary: The Odyssey – Florence + The Machine

(Warnings for stylistic violence and assault, nudity, sex)

Includes:

  1. “What Kind of Man?”
  2. “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful”
  3. “St. Jude”
  4. “Ship to Wreck”
  5. “Queen of Peace”
  6. “Long & Lost”
  7. “Mother”
  8. “Delilah”
  9. “Third Eye”

“But what if they are creating the disaster within themselves?”

Oh, abusive relationships.

I admit it, at first, I wasn’t sold on “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful.”  It’s artistically stimulating, to be sure, Florence’s vocals are A+ as always, but my preference tends towards the big, epic songs of “Ceremonials.”  Nevertheless, I was struck by the title of the music video film collection (“The Odyssey”), and did some research into the album and Florence’s motivation.  The interest was fairly academic: I used a part of it in one of my courses and gave a presentation on using it in my classroom as a means to discuss Odyssean themes and intertextuality (essentially).  For those keeping track at home, I used “Chapter 6 – Long & Lost” to discuss the anxiety about return.  If you’re REALLY keeping track at home, I put some of my work below.  And being able to engage with this collection not just as an emotional odyssey, but thinking about the greater context of odyssey narratives has been greatly rewarding as an audience member.

And even aside from that context, the frame of the music videos is fascinating.  It is about Florence’s abusive relationship, and it frames it in the terms of disaster.  There is some truth in the belief that /intense/ situations bring people together, whereas content people may rest with superficial relationships.  But, I think the music video suggests, there’s a difference between overcoming the obstacles of life together and intentionally sabotaging yourself and your relationships for drama.  Some people will just hurt you.  It’s impossible to tell sometimes, especially right when you meet someone, but you have to be willing to see a bad situation and get out.

It must have been really difficult to make this album and this video collection.  But it is a compelling story and certainly raises questions about our personal relationships.  We’re people, and we deserve to be treated well.

Keep up the excellent work, Florence + the Machine.

[and yes, I’m excited about her work for FFXV.  Probably the only part about FFXV I’m excited for–]

Excerpt from my work on the Odyssey and “Long & Lost”–

Comparative interdisciplinary approaches are also useful for understanding the nature of the Odyssey, and will likely be more appropriate to the investigation of core texts.  Comparative literature has a historical basis, because of Greek’s Indo-European heritage as well as cultural contact with other cultures around the Mediterranean.  But there are theories that expand beyond historical limitations.  When teaching the Odyssey in comparison with other texts, it can be rewarding to teach the patterns the works share: for example, Joseph Campbell’s monomyth.  The monomyth, as Campbell argues, is a path that all heroes follow according to a pattern of withdrawal, separation, and return, inspired by the teachings of Jungian psychoanalysis.  There will be cultural differences between the stories—names, locations, the ways the boon or valuable object is expressed—but they all, in this interpretation, encode the similarities within human psychological development.  Core texts will be ones that examine the same questions that get to the very core of the nature of humanity: who are we, what do we value, what do we consider a hero?  This interpretation of the Odyssey is as one of many products of human culture that attempts to answer our philosophical questions, beyond what the Greeks were concerned with, and the intertextuality with “Long and Lost” echoes these questions.  “Long and Lost” was released June 2015 with a music video in July 2015 as part of a series of videos called “The Odyssey”—not detailing Odysseus’ adventures, but Florence Welch’s emotional odyssey and family drama.  In an interview with Forbes, she explains the background for the album: “I had been on this emotional odyssey. You could honestly paint a map of it if you wanted to. It’s like a treasure hunt. You can find bits of information about where things were and what was happening. We talked about recreating that journey, so we wanted a narrative. We wanted the videos to have the feeling of an actual journey.”  While this song lacks the sustained allusion of “The Cave,” [by Mumford & Sons] the intertexuality between the works bring out the universal, personal concerns of the Odyssey in a much more sorrowful way.

In “Long and Lost,” the connection between the song and the Odyssey is more thematic than explicit.  Notable lyrics include, “without your love, I’ll be so long and lost,” “is it too late to come on home,” “are you missing me?” and “I figured out where I belong,” all paralleling Odysseus’ concern that Penelope will have forgotten him and, like Agamemnon, he would meet a grim fate.  But, despite all the temptations that have distracted him, from the Lotus Eaters to Calypso, he has finally decided to return where he belongs, at least temporarily.  Taken together, these lyrics speak to a concern that once a person has changed—because of war, travel, or other events—it is impossible to truly come home, much like the third part to the monomyth, the Return, which can be just as dangerous as the Withdrawal.  Even if someone successfully returns, home will not be how they remembered it: “are all those bridges now old stone?” the song asks.  There is a tension between identity and reality, and when your personal expectations are not met in one way or another, it can cause anxiety.  Anxiety can cause a desire to hide: “I need the clouds to cover me, pulling them down, surround me.”  Odysseus, too, was surrounded by mists with the help of Athena in his returns.  By looking at the Odyssey through the lens of “Long and Lost,” the heroic journey becomes more personal and more relatable to the individual.

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