03 May 2011

The History and Symbolism of Fight for Your Right Revisited, Part I

A few weeks ago we all saw the Greatest Moment of 2011 - The Beastie Boys' Epic Ode to A Song They Hate, Fight for Your Right Revisited. In all its 29-minute glory, the video is a surreal meta-look at the band itself, its history, our perceptions of them as well as more celebrity cameos than the next three weeks of The Office. As a big Beastie Fan there is a lot to go through here and so in natural NMW fashion we're diving in to assuredly misplace much of the symbolism and meaning of this Revisited Party vid. Firstly, a History Lesson:


25 years ago three knuckleheads from Brooklyn morphed their growing punk band into a hip-hop group, signed with Def Jam and blew up over the Summer of 1986 on tour with Run-DMC, LL Cool J, among others. Their initial album, License to Ill (1986) debuted later that year as did the huge track "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)." That track would later become their most popular hit (it remains their only track to chart in the Top 10 of the Hot 100, peaking at #7 on 03 March 1987) and become a party anthem for angry Frat Boys everywhere.

It's understandable then that the group would disown the song even though it was by far their most popular. Their later records really bear no resemblance to the song, nor do half of the other tracks on License to Ill. According to unauthenticated Wikipedia sources, Mike D has explained that the song was meant to parody and be goofy but people tended to take it straight. It's really the kind of song whose gimmick seems like One-Hit Wonder material but the Beasties were clearly much more than that. Distance was necessary to continue pushing the Rock/Hip-Hop envelope with tracks like "Sabotage" off Ill Communication (1994), experimental tracks like "Intergalactic" off Hello Nasty (1998) and hell, let's just call the entire album The Mix-Up (2007), composed of no vocal tracks, an impossibility from a group that placed its focus on a song like "Fight for Your Right."

It's a youthful song for sure (all three were in their early 20s when it blew up) that really provides the boundary between their punk band roots and their assault on Hip-Hop. The course vocals (especially for 20-yr olds) over the defiant guitar riffs do lean towards a more punk-oriented crowd. I'm not sure if I really buy Mike D's interpretation of the song as purely parody - this song formulated their image and they're having a hell of a good time here, almost as much as they did during the Raising Hell Tour of '86 as well as their early concerts. I would suggest though that the "No Sleep till Brooklyn" video does a much better job parodying terrible 80s Rock Bands. Either way, the band would eventually evolve fully away from their punk routes but never into anything that sounds like mainstream Hip-Hop. They're really a genre of their own.

The video is all about this anarchist, apathetic youthful attitude. It's wanton destruction but hella fun. It's the kind of song made by kids without problems for other kids without problems. A violent disregard for authority, personal property and remorse. It's this directionless anger that actually makes more sense if it's parody. It's only natural that we get to witness the sequel 25 Years Later...


I have broken down the entire video into eight total sections for analysis. Yep. The first six and a half minutes deal directly with the Boys' actions immediately following the "Fight for Your Right" music video released in 1986. Playing the parts of the Youthful '86 boys are Seth Rogen as Mike D, Elijah Wood as Ad-Rock and Danny McBride as MCA.

The film opens with the Oscilloscope Laboratories logo. Oscilloscope Laboratories is a recording studio founded by Adam Yauch (MCA) that more recently has served as an independent film distribution company. They produced The Messenger (2009), which garnered Woody Harrelson his second Academy Award nomination as well as provided the USA DVD distribution of Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010), which is cool.

After that the camera pans up a dingy stairwell while "Fight for Your Right" blares through the only lit apartment. As the smoke rolls through the boys emerge in almost a dreamlike stance, exhilarated from the thrill of the party encapsulated in the original video. They are in a great mood and recount the events of the party as they rush down the stairs, obviously attempting to escape the responsibility of their actions while relishing in them. The mood of the mise-en-scène notably contrasts with the dialogue, implying some doom that the characters do not foresee.

At the bottom of the stairs the group encounters the parents from the beginning of the original video, this time played by Susan Sarandon and Stanley Tucci. They are very stiff, but understandably so - pie is tough to get out of carpets. And expensive. The tone is very different from the Original Fight here. They aren't just asshole kids throwing a party. They're causing some damage and lie very badly to cover it up. There are some great lines here ("I think we can agree that we're all on the same team here and that's the No Pie, No Sledgehammer Team.") and this is for nostalgia's effect more than anything else. What's cool is that this actually takes place before the end of the Original Video, at the end of the '86 Fight Mommy gets a face full of pie. So we can rest knowing that Susan Sarandon will receive that shortly.

There is an ominous tone as they walk out the door. Ad-Rock tries to ask out Rashida Jones (she rejects them) and Mike D suggests a wind-down breakfast while they wait for the bodega to open so they can buy some more beer (remember this is likely 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning). MCA has the anarchist's solution though - break into the bodega in the most blatant way possible - completely destroying the front window with no regard to consequence. Notice how it surprises the other two but they do not find fault in it. They grab some beer, destroy the case, foreshadowing less angry destruction but more of the joyous destruction that is to come. Five minutes into the video the song "Make Some Noise" starts up.

I will comment more on this later but they make opening and spilling beer into an art form. The flying foam, the recklessness, the anarchy not out of hate or boredom but out of a willing and joyful disregard for society, it's one of the video's most iconic moments. Will Arnett across the street is a prime victim. He gives us his best GOB "C'MON!!" Cabbie Adam Scott gets the same beer thrown treatment but reacts a bit more hostile, actually confronting the Boys but they ignore him. Their actions are without consequence, once you are offended your existence in their eyes is complete.

Here we have an alter-ego of MCA, Sir Stewart Wallace who emerges out of the cab, played by Mike Mills. You may remember Sir Stewart Wallace from the "Sabotage" video where he guest-starred as himself (played by MCA). You probably don't remember Mike Mills as graphic artist/director who designed the cover to The Beastie Boys' live album Root Down (1995). He doesn't have a line and Adam Scott immediately screams at him to get back in the cab.

Anyway the Boys walk a little further then the rewind.


The events rewind back to the destruction of the Beer Case, this time from a more fixed obscure Wide-Angle Lens which implies a less personal viewpoint as well as hints that things are not quite right. We are becoming more distant from the relatively innocent pie fights of the Original Video and that's the signal. The Do-Over is also a sign that the Boys are playing with reality. Nothing on this city block is quite real and its possible for alternate realities to exist, as we'll see later.

Seven minutes into the video Ad-Rock (mouthed by Elijah Wood) gives the first rap in "Make Some Noise." They each take their turns rapping then MCA runs atop a cop car and opens his beer near his groin as if to piss on Rainn Wilson and Arabella Field, officially credited as "Church Goers." This is part of the Boys violently disrupting the social order and embracing the profane, again led by MCA as the perpetrator of the first serious destruction and first very lude moment (perhaps a callback to this Sledging in the Original Video. After all, Mike D only brought the pies. And Spanish Fly). This also naturally foreshadows the piss battle and subsequent arrest to come later.

The beat slows down as the cast gets drunker (both on the beer and on their own rebellion and power). The camera switches to a disorienting wide-angle lens and the music rapidly becomes more distraught. The boys stumble into a fancy restaurant and immediately begin fighting over a bottle of wine, ignoring Maitre D' Ted Danson and Waiter Steve Buscemi's attempts to find them a table then control their behaviour. The cafe is full of cameos that I couldn't even see upon first viewing. The most prominent are Mary Steenburgen, Amy Poehler and Laura Dern but in the background are Shannyn Sossamon, Alicia Silverstone, Milo Ventimiglia and Jody Hill. Also we see Alfredo Ortiz, who has toured with the Beastie Boys as a drummer and appeared in their concert film Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That! (2006) and Roman Coppola, who co-founded the production company The Director's Bureau in 1996 with Mike Mills. We see some other minor actors and cameramen that don't appear to be linked to the Group (I will take your suggestions here on any connections). You'll notice how the camera is only wide-angle lensed when concentrating on the Boys, the looks of patron disgust are very flat and centered. The Boys are here to rock your stiff world, spicen up the doldrum of existence.

Ad-Rock and Mike D eventually catapult MCA out the window, getting themselves out of a situation the same way MCA got them into the situation - intoxication from drinking the stolen beer. MCA lands on Jason Schwartzman playing Vincent Van Gogh (I'll give a shoutout to the IMDB Full Cast List here for helping me out a ton by the way). The only Van Gogh connection to the Beastie Boys I could find was a mention in the track "Hey Ladies," off their second album Paul's Boutique lyrics here. They are literally crashing through their own history and rewriting it (both the rewind and future versions suggest this, which also mirrors their troubled relationship with "Fight for Your Right" itself - they need to honour the song that put them on the map, even though they may want to rewrite history and never have done it). All of this is part of what makes this short film fucking awesome.

After crashing through their own history Mike D sobers up enough and brings back the beat. MCA quickly steals a skateboard from Losel Yauch, the real MCA's daughter, then gets hit by a stretched Cadillac Limousine. His quick survival again indicates the invincibility of the band in this universe. Naturally, all three hop in the Limo.


The girls in the Limo are played by Chloë Sevigny, Maya Rudolph and Kristen Dunst and symbolise both the quintessential 80s chicks, the groupies the band used to hook up with and unabated drug use. In general, they represent the glamour, fame and riches the band received after the anarchist message of joyous destruction from "Fight for Your Right" made them a hit. Not accepted by High Society (The Restaurant) nor really seeking its acceptance, the Band plotted its own path with the people in the video most like them - the chicks.

At this point in the video you can also hear the hook "We got a party on the left / a party on the right / We gonna party for the motherfucking right to fight." This obviously a careful rewording of the phrase "fight for your right to party." It's interesting, the original phrase is this anarchist anthem, the end result is to simply party and be at bliss. Reworked the end result is the right to fight - the right to stand-up and continue the struggle. This was actually originally a song by fellow Def Jam artist Public Enemy, the final track off their second album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988) which samples "Fight for Your Right" among others. Public Enemy was standing with their fellow rappers against some of the really awful 80s Rock Music that was everywhere. It's only natural then that the Beastie Boys honour them at the point in the short film that is most critical of the 80s Music Scene.

Ad-Rock unsuccessfully tries to hit on Chloë Sevigny who gives him some Champagne then hits him on the head with it after he steals a smooch. The video freezes for a second and Elijah almost whips out a little Frodo voice as he describes out the girls were coming from a Van Halen concert and how Chloë's boyfriend Derek put acid in her breath drops as a goof. We learn a few things from this - Chloë is referred to by her real name, the only character in Revisited this happens to, she has a boyfriend which hints at the Boys apathy towards that sort of morality and the Boys' angst towards big metal bands like Van Halen is affirmed. The girls representing the fame and selling-out required in the 80s music scene leads to great pain towards the Boys (Ad-Rock is stabbed, all the Boys trip on acid and plummet down the wrong path). My guess is Yauch included Chloë and named her because of her strong Independent Film credentials, which is the major focus of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Indeed, almost similar to the premise of the "No Sleep till Brooklyn" video in order to gain acceptance in their society the Boys have to pretend to be a "Band" in the more formal sense, here they claim to be a back-up band for Bon Jovi. Of course, the girls as representative of 80s Society LOVE Bon Jovi and accept the Boys immediately. MCA does a whippit and they all really start tripping out. The driver of the Limo turns out to be Will Ferrell who plays Cowbell along to "Make Some Noise," the only non-Seth/Danny/Elijah in the video to do so. It is obviously a callback to his own "More Cowbell" SNL sketch. As for the shots of the Mexican Will atop the car...I'm stumped. An oblique reference to Will's upcoming Spanish film? Who knows, I'll take some help here.

Chloë apologizes for stabbing Ad-Rock and they stumble out of the Limo into a new world affected by their drug usage.

Wow, this has become incredibly long. We're barely halfway through the video. I'll pick this up sometime  later this week!

06 May 2011 Addendum: Thanks to Reader Tim for pointing out a couple references to the "Hey Ladies" music video, which features a Cowbell-Playing Mexican, clearly providing the Will Ferrell connection here as well as a live action appearance by Vincent Van Gogh. He has also noted the name of The Restaurant, which we can see through the window around the 8:54 mark, "Château de Ted et Michel Dée." This is French for Ted and Mike D's Castle, which actually opens up a lot of knowledge.

Later on in The Acid Trip Mike D will rap about opening a Restaurant with Ted Danson, we now know that this isn't only a reference to Ted Danson's appearance earlier, it's something this Mike D actually pulled off with this universe's Ted. Thus we have further explored the crisis of Identity, expectation and responsibility as well as a good reason for Mike D to enter - it's his restaurant. He bursts in boorishly and causes a ruckus, upsetting the stiff customers here (a reworked Beethoven sonata plays over the scene, which is about as stuffy as you can get versus a bunch of Rappers) but the Boys are just as rich and probably more famous - what's to stop them? They don't know where they should go in society with their new found fame - should they class it up with the rest of the celebrities in here and act like they do? Hell no, they're still Beastie, time to bust some windows. You can also see why Ted was actually going to quickly offer them a table and why he looks shocked and hurt when Mike D basically ignores him and the gang starts brawling. They have problems recognizing each other as we'll see develop a ton more in my next installment, actually published like 14 hours ago.

1 comment:

  1. thank you very much. btw the mexican with cowbell appears in the hey ladies video, van gogh too. and look at the name of the restaurant.


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