Massive Attack – “Unfinished Sympathy”
- Distributed through Circa Records on 11 February 1991.
- The choice of using the name “Massive” (instead of “Massive Attack”) was done to avoid a radio ban as its release coincided with the Gulf War.
- The name is a pun on Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony”
- The video was filmed in a single continuous shot from 1311 South New Hampshire Avenue to 2632 West Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.
- The gang at the beginning with the dog – they were real, they lived there.
- The video for Unfinished Sympathy is generally regarded to be the very first promo music video to be shot in one take.
“The meaning. I’d agree it’s about beginning to get involved with someone who then pulls away– “How can I have a day without a night, you’re the book that I have opened, and now I’ve got to know much more.” These both suggest she’s had some kind of contact with the person but only a limited amount and it’s left her wanting more. “Like a soul without a mind…” beautifully conveys the feeling of emptiness as a result of this desire, she is missing something she needs. Also perhaps a resignation to the fact she won’t get what she wants. The line “You really hurt me baby…” expresses her angst and despair about the fact the other person pulled away or does not requite her love, I don’t think it’s a reference to a previous relationship or questioning whether she will get hurt if she enters a relationship.”
“Then there’s the hand, with its fingertips lopped off the top of the record. One finger is a different texture to the others, perhaps wrapped in a plaster with frayed edges – blood seeping through cloth. It’s a fitting image for a song about pain and recovery, calling to mind thin skin growing thicker.”
“The limit of sympathy is a theme”
- Black people
“Unfinished Sympathy” released by Massive Attack (going simply by “Massive” for this particular record) in 1991 in the midst of the Gulf War. It was this event which lead to the group ultimately dropping the word “Attack” from its name, as it was feared that it would lead to a radio ban. The video, filmed on a stedicam and directed by Billie Walsh, is noted to be the first music video to be filmed in a single continuous shot, from 131 South New Hampshire Avenue to 2632 West Pico Boulevard in LA.
Whilst it does follow vocalist Shara Nelson, the music video does not feature any star or main character. It takes a more realistic approach, portraying Nelson as an ordinary person walking down a street. This is a binary opposite to other music videos produced before or at the time, and almost every music video made since; instead of Nelson being the main focal point of the video, the movement in the background and Nelson’s unforced facial expressions and walk shift the focus off Nelson, pushing the background characters and the vocals to the foreground focal point of the video. This can maybe be interpreted as establishing a sense of “oneness”; a society that is more about bring people together then making individuals stand out. This is highlighted perhaps by the fact that a diverse range of people – ranging from an amputee to a biker gang to a group of homeless men, etc. – are brought together in the video, despite how different they may appear.
The diversity of people offers a range of representations. Beginning at the start of the music video, we see a group of gang members. Interestingly, the group of men shown weren’t actors – they were real people. The video plays to the idea that gang members are violent; they done tattoos, some of them cover their faces, etc. Furthermore, they walk towards the camera slowly and in a pack which leaves the viewer intimidated, heightening this sense that gangs are violent.
Similar things can be said about black people. The shot to the right depicts a young boy holding a gun. The representation of this is that similar to that of gang members, only this time it is heightened by the young boy playing with a gun. This could also be a nod at the representation of genders – boys play with guns whilst girls play with dolls which naturally incline men to more predatory and violent then women.
These two points could be disputed. Nelson, the lead singer, is walking carefree down the pavement near these people. Typically, a women represents someone who is a damsel in distress. If that were true, we would expect to see Nelson fearful whilst walking down the street, but we don’t. This is therefore done to challenge the representation of women.
This also perhaps challenges representations: the amputee in the background is fully capable and looking after himself. Furthermore, the media has long been criticised for showing disabled people’s inability to interact in normal daily life is a direct result of their physical and/ or mental impairment, and how they are “distanced” from the audience as their disability defines characters. However, in this music video in the disabled man in shown in the same way as everyone else in the street, which may be the band’s way of reinforcing this idea that everyone is equal.