When people ask me which music video is my all-time favorite, Nine Inch Nails' "March of the Pigs" immediately comes to mind. The lead single from NIN's 1994 opus The Downward Spiral was as abrasive, noisy, and emotionally battering as it was popular.
There was a more-elaborate version in the works involving, among other things, a cave and a little person. Frontman Trent Reznor abandoned this idea for simply shooting the video in front of a white backdrop and playing the song live -- a truly '90s thing to do. It was perfect in it's non-idea of "film us playing and breaking shit, yeah, let the stagehands get in the shot if they have to" and has the overall feel of a snuff film without a death at the end of it. Let's take a trip back together.Here we go.
0:00-0:13: The tape runs red for a second and someone (probably director Peter Christopherson) says, "Start the tape. Somebody?" and a horrible, feedback-esque noise erupts from somewhere before drummer Chris Vrenna starts in with that fabulous, instantly recognizable drum fill.
0:15-0:26: Reznor is angrily stalking around the set, which looks like a painter's workshop that's recently suffered a fire. He's wearing a fishnet shirt and faux-leather pants. He'll win an Oscar for this shit 18 years from this moment.
0:39-0:50: This was released a few weeks prior to the album and is truly live. For further proof, listen to Reznor's vocals -- especially the first line, "Step right up," which isn't as crisp and is a bit buried in the mix. This video is just over three minutes long and I would bet my career as a writer that this was the one and only take. Also note: the video is one continuous shot.
0:53-0:58: The camera pans around to the band playing and you get the sense this was possibly test footage for another idea that was also ultimately abandoned. Guitarist Robin Finck has a haircut that I coveted at the time, but in retrospect, it's easily the worst fucking haircut I've ever seen -- including those dudes from A Flock of Seagulls.
1:12-1:28: The camera stays on guitarist Danny Lohner for a bit and he reminds me of Kevin Smith. Reznor plays to the camera, sarcastically waving a bit, but he's starting to knock things over on the set.
1:38-1:44: "Doesn't it make you feel better?" followed by a long pause and Reznor throwing his mic away from him. Stagehands come into frame to help set it back up. This is incredibly strange for a music video, but adds exponentially to the claustrophobic chaos of the song itself.
1:55-2:04: Reznor ramps it up for the second verse, jumping on Lohner's back at one point and pushing himself into Finck. I've heard many stories about what he was like around this time period. Drug-addled and willfully difficult, he destroyed countless thousands of dollars'-worth of equipment over the course of this tour, as well. This album is absolute genius, but just in the few brief minutes here, you can what a relentless asshole he was at the time.
2:19-2:30: Reznor hammers his mic onto the floor and kicks it (you can hear the damage he inflicted during the remainder of the song) and almost tips over James Woolley's synth stand. Feedback emanates from everywhere. The stagehands appear again.
2:50-3:16: The song's relatively quiet denouement finds Vrenna breathing heavy in the background at his kit, his work done, while Reznor wraps it up ("Everything is alright.") and smashes the mic to the floor once more to a small chorus of clapping and cheers. The entire three minutes seemed to have flown by in about half that time and though the set was already gross, it seems to have gotten exponentially worse in that short time span.
In all of its majesty, here's "March of the Pigs":
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