Main cast: Annie Lennox (Marquise de Merteuil), Hugh Laurie (Hapless Hubby), and John Malkovich (Valmont)
Director: Sophie Muller
I love this music video. It dates back to 1992, but it’s a classic in that it still makes me laugh at just what a farcical comedy it is. In this elegant costumed period melodrama of a video, Annie Lennox plays the wife of a bumbling nobleman who is seething over her lover jilting her for a younger, prettier woman. This video tells of what happens when this lover – let’s call him Valmont – and his new love Madame de Tourvel arrive at the very party held by Annie Lennox’s Marquise de Merteuil and her husband. Valmont is played by Hugh Laurie, by the way, or that House fellow to Americans who mostly know him from that role.
As the catchy tinkly piano bits start to play, we see Marquise and her husband seated on their thrones overseeing the party going on around them. They aren’t paying attention though, being in the middle of a spat. He leans over and whispers to her, but she only looks away in disinterest and nods half-heartedly at what he is saying. Marquise Lennox is one of the few women in the party dressed in red and she also is the only one that wears her hair down without a wig. As Annie Lennox’s “Walkin’ on/walkin’ on/broken glass-ass-ass!” comes on, we see scenes of their guests posing for the camera.
A couple, seated on a couch, all wigged up and jeweled, and the camera focuses on the woman’s white face (a little red on the cheeks though thanks to make-up). A man, seated on a chaise, and two women posing artfully at each of his side. Another man leaning towards a red-clad woman, both looking at the camera, the man’s face ten times whiter than the woman’s and with a prominent mole next to his left eye, both looking as if they have just been interrupted in their rendezvous by Ashton Kutcher yelling “Punk’d!”. Another red-clad woman, this time a matronly sort, seated on a chair beside a gentleman of somewhat advanced years. While she flutters her fan and the gentleman lights a pipe, another woman, looking like death warmed over in white, stands between them. All look at the camera, channeling haughty French aristocracy through the bridge of their nose down on us mere MTV viewers. Then we have a woman wearing a beehive – or at least, I think it is a beehive – hiding her face behind her fan as her gentleman glares at the camera and leans towards her protectively, shielding the poor fashion disaster from our prying eyes. A scary gentleman. Two dandies, probably gay, sitting close on a bench. Side profile of an androgynous-looking gentleman. This is one scary party. There are enough pearly chokes, stiff and starched collars, powdered faces, and horrid wigs to fill up the prop department needs of at least seven Merchant and Ivory movies.
Then it’s back to Marquise and her husband. She is noticeably more agitated now, fluttering her fan aggressively as she becomes more and more exasperated by her husband’s attention. He leans over and whispers what he hopes to be a funny, but she only looks away with a sharp turn of her head and fans herself. Hubby doesn’t seem to notice. He is smiling absently as he looks around the party and comments absently about what he has seen to his not-so-adoring wife. Finally, he gets the message when their eyes meet and then she turns away angrily. He looks down, eyes opened wide in a befuddled “What now? What did I do?” expression.
Then there is a commotion and all the guests turn to watch the door. The door opens and woo, with much fanfare – think confetti raining down the red carpet – in walk Valmont and Madame with their hangers-on trailing in after them. Madame is holding a bouquet of flowers. As the party guests throw confetti in celebration of Valmont and Madame’s newfound love, Marquise turns to glare with an icy “Die, die, diediedie” stare at them. With her white-powdered face and wide scary eyes, Marquise has me convinced that she not only can see right through one’s clothes, her eyes can zap death rays that will singe one’s gonads to ashes just like that – snap! Scary!
Adding to Marquise’s jealousy, Madame leans over lovingly onto Valmont and Valmont smiles down at her. As the lovebirds make their way to Marquise and her husband, Hubby waves at them, the clueless dolt, while Marquise looks torn as to whether to flee the party or to start ripping entrails out of warm bodies with her bare clawed hands. Then the lovebirds pause in the middle of the grand entrance, and Madame closes her eyes as Valmont whispers no doubt sensual love words into her left ear. He kisses her left eyelid. Marquise looks fit to kill. I must commend the make-up artist. With those penciled-in eyebrows and subtle blush that emphasized those sharp cheekbones, Marquise looks just like an enraged Hera after discovering that her Zeus has been sleeping with the cows and swans again.
“You were the sweetest thing,” she sings, mouthing each word through gritted teeth as she flinches from her husband’s caressing her left cheek, “that – I – ever – knew!” Meanwhile, the lovebirds are laughing and acting like a jolly couple, making Marquise even more and more insane with fury and bitter jealousy. Valmont notices Marquise, of course, and he just as quickly looks away, pretending to be interested in a tray of champagne. Marquise, still doing her jaw-clenching act, probably imagining that she is munching hard on a particularly sensitive portion of Valmont’s anatomy, spats, “But I don’t care for sugar, honey, if I can’t have you!” Her hubby, still not getting it, gives her a curious look as she foams at the mouth. She absently swings her fan hard, as if she can erase the sight of Valmont sweet-talking his Madame. Hubby’s jaw tightens as he finally gets some idea of what is going on, and his gaze, when he turns it on Valmont and Madame, is one of eyes narrowed and jaw tight with suspicion. Uh-oh.
Valmont looks at her directly in the eye briefly. He’s a handsome one, a dead ringer for John Malkovich – that’s not Malkovich, is it? Oh my, yes it is! Marquise, hopeful, bends forward, lips parted in hope of a reconciliation. Then Valmont just as quickly breaks eye contact to talk to a guest. Marquise snaps, stands up in a flurry of red robes rustling angrily, and storms away. Hubby looks at Valmont and then at his departing wife, starting to look as angry as his wife. Uh-oh.
“Since you’ve abandoned me,” Marquise sings as she leans over the railings of the balcony, “my whole life has changed.” Valmont is back to sweet-talking his lady. The guests are paying close attention to Valmont and Madame, cheering them, laughing with them, every laughter lacerating poor Marquise across her envious heart until she stares at Valmont – who’s trying his best to not look at her now (he has this very trapped expression on his face as he sees the raging insanity in Marquise’s face) – and shakes her head pleadingly. “Won’t you pick the pieces up?” she wails silently to him, “‘Cause it feels just like I’m walking on broken glass!” Valmont, reading her lips, rolls up his eyes in a very typically male “Women!” expression, and quickly ushers Madame to the dancefloor.
The guests are now dancing a synchronized form of… er, waltz? One partner (men and women both do this) offers their right hand, bows down with the hand making a sweeping-down motion. Meanwhile, those not dancing are taking in the brewing storm between Marquise and Valmont like sharks scenting blood. Amidst fluttering fans, women begin whispering to each other. Men gasp dramatically as they spread the news of the Marquise’s jealousy. All heads turn to stare in anticipation at Marquise. As the guests dance, Marquise’s hubby, left alone at the throne, looks around for his wife, a lost expression on his face. Aw, poor man, he manages to convey the perfect “female-genital-whipped” expression with just a weak smile on his face.
Two cute little girls offering Madame some chocolate candies – Hubby’s lower lip curve downwards, maybe he wants those candies too – is the last straw for poor Marquise. Upstaged by a younger woman, dumped by her lover for this woman – ugh! She sits back down angrily beside her husband. “The sun’s still shining in the big blue sky, but they don’t mean nothing to me,” she sings. Hubby gives her a “Where have you been?” look, which she ignores. He leans over to kiss her cheek. She makes a face as if she’s being kissed by a rotting cadaver – I really laugh out loud at Annie Lennox’s expression – and pushes him away with both her hands. Meanwhile, Valmont and Madame are exchanging kisses on the cheeks. Marquise fans herself, probably wishing the floor will open up and swallow all the guests in the room.
Valmont kisses the slender curve of Madame’s neck. Marquise closes her eyes, imagining that day when she and Valmont are together in dishabille and he kisses her neck the same way he is kissing Madame’s now. Oh, the pain! How dare Madame looks as if she’s orgasming from that kiss alone! Marquise flees to the wine bar where she spats, “I’m living in an empty room with all the windows smashed!” while holding a big glass of champagne. Now her hubby is getting along with Valmont and Madame like wildfire. She drowns the glass in some vain attempt to assuage her impotent fury. Hubby turns to look at Marquise, only to lift a brow and turns away as Marquise downs two more big glasses of champagne.
Obviously drunk now – you can tell by how Marquise’s mouth now opens twice as wide when she sings and how she stands and moves unsteadily on her feet – and plagued by memories of Valmont and she in happier times, she grabs one more glass from a passing waiter – good grief – and gulps it down at one go before marching towards the lovebirds and her hubby. Pausing to give Madame a drunken leer of a grin, she grabs Valmont’s hand and drags the hapless man to some darkened alcove. Hubby and Madame look after them helplessly, and the twigs accessorizing Madame’s hair almost poke Hubby’s eyes out. Hee!
At the alcove, Marquise is now begging Valmont, pushing the man against the wall while grabbing his shirt front in her fists. “And if you’re trying to hurt me now, I know that you’ll succeed,” she begs, apparently delusional enough to believe that Valmont is with Madame just to spite Marquise in some way. I personally think she’ll do better if she doesn’t have this Evil Insane Banshee look on her face. Valmont tries to get away from her, turning their positions around so that she is against the wall and he can take her hands off him easier. She fights back, gritting her teeth and shaking her head in denial as she gives him a hard push. He loses his balance, flailing his arms as she pushes him back against the wall. As he looks desperately towards the door, she is punching his chest and banging her forehead against it like some pathetic insane woman, wailing “If you want to hurt me, you’re doing it really well my dear…” With a silent cry, he finally pushes her off and flees back to the party as if the hounds of hell is at his tail. Which, in a way, is preferable compared to the drunken, insanely jealous Marquise.
Poor Marquise, abandoned in the dark alcove, presses the back of her hand against her forehead as she laments about her cruel lover. Then she’s insane again, as she gives a silent cry of fury. She punches her fist down hard – once, twice, thrice, bang!
“Now everyone is made to suffer!” Smash! She pushes a waiter out of her way, causing the man to fall back amidst shattered glasses as she marches back into the ballroom.
“Every one of us is made to weep!” She smiles – bares her teeth, actually, at the guests who are quickly parting to make way for her. A gentleman visibly recoils when she looks at him. She’s that scary – just think a female version of Jack Nicholson’s Joker, only with a bigger mouth.
“We’ve been hurting one another!” Two women are too slow to get out of her way. Down they go with a mighty shove from the mighty Marquise.
“And now the pain has cut too deep!” She is now circling Valmont, who is staring at her like a man meeting the Ex-Missus Bobbitt alone in a locked room filled with cabinets of knives. Madame, the daring one, puts her arms around Valmont – he’s mine, hussy! Is Marquise daunted by such show of possessiveness? Hell, no! She grabs Valmont’s left arm, pulling and beseeching him wild-eyed to “Take me from the wreckage, save me from the blast!” Hubby, standing beside Valmont, is making apologetic murmurs to the guests even as two very daring women are now trying to pull Marquise away from Valmont. “Lift me up and take me back!” Marquise screeches as her husband, Madame, and the two women are now working to drag her away from poor petrified Valmont. “Don’t let me keep on walking!” she screams, “I can’t keep on walking on broken glass-asssssss!”
Finally, her husband really loses his patience and with an uncharacteristic ruthless tightening-of-jaw expression, shoves her hard off Valmont. He gives a nasty laugh as Marquise falls onto the floor on all fours. The woman tries to crawl towards Valmont while the two women try to hold her back. Valmont rolls up his eyes in disgust. But it is her husband’s mocking laughter that finally penetrates Marquise’s hysteria. She stands up with an angry huff, looking close to bursting to tears as she looks at her husband and then at the horrified-delighted guests milling around her. Will she…? No, she stamps her foot and runs out the door. The guests gather close to watch her leave.
Marquise runs down a spiral staircase, down and down, fleeing the party with her dignity in shreds. And then… what? There’s Valmont! How did he get here? Valmont is waiting at the foot of the stairs! He carries her into his arms, swings her around as she ad-libs “Ooh-ooh!” to the closing refrains of the song, before carrying her off to what I suppose will be a dubious happily-ever-after.
Really, how did Valmont… how did that stupid happy ending come about?
Maybe she tripped, broke her neck and died, and the happy ending is some dying-dream scenario?
Apart from the bewildering ending, this video is simply a must-see. Fabulous costumes, scary faces, and beautiful schadenfraude – a classic!