When the video for Kanye West's All Of The Lights hit the internet last week it was almost guaranteed to cause controversy. The man never fails to achieve at least some outcry in everything he does. Within moments of it's release, bloggers were at their keyboards claiming foul play on the part of the video's director Hype Williams. The charge laid at his feet was one of plagiarism. The term seems to be in vogue as it was only recently that Rihanna's 'S&M' found itself (and rightly so) at the centre of similar furor.
'All Of The Lights' features words in various styles flashing along with the lyrics of the song and clearly recall the opening credits of Gasper Noé's 2010 film Enter The Void. On the surface it seems a cut-and-dry case of creative laziness leading to the work of another being stolen but this is far from the case here.
Plagiarism is defined as expressing an idea as if it were an original thought. However, at no point in the video is it ever suggested that this is the case. It is obvious from the close attention to detail in the selection of graphic styles that it was not merely an afterthought to hark back to Noé's original sequence but a careful decision made with each frame. There is no attempt to move away from the original style whatsoever nor cover their tracks. The video is blatant in it's desire to replicate Noé and does not hide away from it. In comparison, Rihanna's 'S&M' video clearly borrows stylistic features from the work of David LaChapelle but never explicitly refers to him. This would suggest there was something to hide aside from the fact that LaChapelle has raised his own concerns over the video.
You could probably write a very long list of things you can fault with Kanye West. But despite his numerous moments of sheer stupidity, he is clearly an intelligent man. A man with great visual and cultural awareness. Even in his stupidity this is evident as no one could argue that 'You Belong With Me' was a better video than 'Single Ladies'. The same awareness can be attributed to the video's director, Hype Williams. So it seems completely illogical that they think they could dupe millions into thinking the work was an original piece and especially with the power of the internet to uncover a fraud. There is a clear difference between trying to pass something off as the work of oneself and paying an ocular homage to a director's particular trademarks. The video itself is a loving nod to the work of Noé in general and not just the opening credits of Enter The Void. West straddling the roof a police car in a red brick alleyway is a knowing wink to Noe's previous work. The opening scene of 2002's Irreversible is set in an equally claustrophobic alley and similarly illuminated by the red and blue flashes of police lights.
Those that are quick to jump on the 'plagiarism-outrage' bandwagon should at least try and equip themselves with the facts. The use of words appearing in different fonts and flashing along to the rhythm of music is hardly an original idea in itself. It would be wrong to credit the idea of that to Noé. It is derivative of fellow French music video director and graphic animator Bertrand Lagros de Langeron aka So Me. In partnership with Machine Molle, Lagros oversaw the creation of the Justice music video for 'DVNO' in 2008 which saw the lyrics of the song appear in various animated guises. Furthermore So Me have done numerous other pieces in a similar style for other artists. Not least for Kanye West's 'Good Life' in 2007 which dates it to three years before the release of Noé's Enter The Void. The single cover of which can be seen below:
It appears therefore that if West and Williams have a case to answer for plagiarism then by the same logic Noé should be appearing in front of the same court. Though it is obvious that none of them should have to face these ridiculous accusations from the knee-jerk reactions of the visually unaware. One of the aims of art is both to push the boundaries forward whilst also paying tribute to those who had originally set them. Words flashing about on a screen might not exactly been groundbreaking but the progression is clear to see. 'All Of The Lights' is an exercise in homage and interpretation for the artistically able and most definitely not an issue for men in suits nor sensationalist journos.