Air’s new album, Pocket Symphony, came out last week. Ten years and five studio albums later, they are still being reviewed in the shadow of their 1998 apotheosis, Moon Safari.
The video for Moon Safari’s Kelly Watch the Stars pays tribute to the pioneering videogame Pong, playing off the concept of the gamers controlling real world events. In this case, Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoît Dunckel’s Pong game—played inside Kelly’s eyeball, which is maybe her brain, but maybe a parallel-dimension control room/rec room—determines Kelly’s real-world table tennis match. Then, when Kelly is threatened by a near-fatal athletic injury, Air pops out in the guise of paramedics, and fix her up to finish the tournament. They control her life; they control her death.
David Fincher’s new movie, Zodiac, came out last week too. Among its many powerful scenes, perhaps its most moving [Emotional Spoiler Alert] is Robert Graysmith’s visit to Paul Avery’s houseboat. (Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr.) In the darkness of this claustrophobic cabin, a TV screen emits a continuously restarting, playerless Pong game. “My children would kill me for that game,” Robert says, before catching himself. With startling economy of detail, the sound of the game ponging away as it sits there, on but unmanned, puts Avery’s self-destruction into poignant relief. Living on a houseboat, letting the video game go on without a player: Up shit’s creek without an Atari paddle.
Two Pong references, nine years apart, are more than enough to draw a theory: the use of the game in contemporary hip nostalgia seems tied up in metaphors of determinism over free will. Kelly and Avery are mannequins, acting out moves in someone else’s game.
MP3: Air, Once Upon a Time (from Pocket Symphony, thanks AOL)