Refracted Input

Clare O’Farrell’s blog on books, TV, films, Michel Foucault, universities etc. etc.

I proposed the notion of song covers as palimpsest earlier on this blog. This version and video of ‘I will survive’ by Cake forms a wonderful palimpsest on the famous Gloria Gaynor song from 1978 which became a number one hit in 1979. It went on to became an anthem in Disco Culture of the late 1970s and early 80s which took on the song to represent the empowerment of women, the African American and the gay communities. In 2016, the Library of Congress selected the song for preservation as culturally and aesthetically significant in the US National Recording Registry.

Cake’s version strips the song of its accrued historical glamour and takes it literally onto the streets into the most mundane and despised of jobs. We see a parking inspector who engages in his job without favour or discrimination driving a decidedly prosaic and faintly ridiculous electric cart. No-one is safe from his impersonal ticket writing. The dream of something beyond nonetheless shines through in the small glass figurines which appear briefly at intervals throughout the song – modest trophies of the tickets written, of a job well done. This story is intercut with the musicians playing on the go in a street between urban highrises. The mundanity is reinforced by the driver’s barebones but felt, diegetic performance of the song on the job rather than having the music take place off screen as a backdrop to the action.

The ending is reminiscent of the ending of Holy Motors – which sees limousines return to a depot, but in Cake’s version this return to the depot at the end of the day is stripped down to the ordinary, the industrialism of logistics, in contrast to the dark surreal ambiguity of Leos Carrax’s film. This creates another interesting palimpsest, more intertextuality inviting dream and reflection.

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