The most important work of art of the last fifty years examined
Michael Sembello was a one-hit wonder. Worse for the sake of his longevity as an eighties artist, he was a soundtrack one-hit wonder. He made “Maniac”, an MTV hit that didn’t feature him in the video. This put him in the same camp as Murray Head, Harold Faltermeyer, and John Parr, which is generally not great company regarding a lasting impact on the pop charts.
What Sembello may have lacked in the longtime chart success sense, he made up for with one of the most important music video sin the history of anything ever recorded to videotape and aired over a cable network: Automatic Man.
The video for this track, taken off of Sembello’s 1983 album Bossa Nova Hotel, cannot be understood so much as it must be felt. It must overtake the viewer moreso than the viewer can really fathom it themselves. But I will attempt to work through it here:
So there are four main characters to the Automatic Man story:
We have Sembello himself, as Cyber Pirate Eric Wareheim
We have Cyber-Steampunk Mad Scientist, creator of the Automatic Man
Of course, we have the Automatic Man, created by Cyber-Steampunk Mad Scientist, who resembles a techno-Tin Man if there ever was one.
Then we have Xanadu Girl, who the Cyber-Steampunk Mad Scientist wants to bone, I think. She’s not into it. Cyber-Pirate Sembello has… some vested interest in Xanadu Girl’s well-being, though he doesn’t seem to have a direct romantic attachment to her during the video.
After suffering rejection at the hands of Xanadu Girl, Cyber-Steampunk Mad Scientist builds the Automatic Man in a Frankenstein process involving injecting something into a foot and stabbing him with a crystal.
Via a series of robot dances, the Automatic Man seduces Xanadu Girl. In an impressive feat of eighties digital video editing, it is shown to the viewer that the scientist can see through the eyes of the Automatic Man.
CyberPirate Sembello attempts to save Xanadu Girl from falling to the Scientist’s clutches via the Automatic Man, but she is non-receptive to his attempts at pursuit. He just wants her to listen to him
The Automatic Man does eventually kiss the girl, after a period of contrasting choreography, his robotic, hers free-flowing, draws them together.
We then get the best shot of the whole video
Lovely zoom after that turn to the camera. Sembello follows this up with a cyber-guitar solo.
With phase one of the plan complete, the Scientist comes down to the Cyberplane of Existence upon which much of the video’s conflict has taken place. The scientist and Sembello engage in a laser fight for about five seconds, in what is effectively the climax of the video. Neither character had shown signs of any control over hand-fired lasers before this scene so it presents a bit of a continuity error.
The scientist then kills the Automatic Man and, naturally, uses a crystal to turn both he and the Girl into statues so that they can spend the rest of eternity together in stasis.
Sembello then comes in with his own crystal, or maybe its the same crystal, or maybe its a different crystal that he found altogether during the course of the video, and frees the Girl from her statue prison after she’s spent roughly nine seconds trapped:
Then, finally, as the video reaches its end, he sings the chorus of the song one more time at her. I think this is the best part of the video – Naturally, I expected Sembello to end up with the girl, potentially kissing her, maybe her kissing him. However I recognize that she did not deserve this. S was not good enough for him. This was a man who, from the start of the video, recognized that the Automatic Man was meant to break the Girl’s heart, the Automatic Man was made to play the part, and the Automatic Man was the Automatic Man, as the chorus of the song goes. She did not listen to him and that is on her. Since he is a good man at heart, CyberPirate Sembello saves her from being a statue forever. However he does not owe her any romantic affection for being her CyberSavior, and I am glad that he chooses to end the video simply singing at her. Because he was correct – That was the Automatic Man.
This video did not start a series or anything. This was all that we got from the Automatic Man Cinematic Universe. I choose to believe that these two went their separate ways and the Scientist stayed a statue for the rest of eternity. Regardless, thank you, Michael Sembello. This video pushed the world forward in a way unappreciated for years, and I am glad to have dug it up and put it out in front for the future generations to learn from.