Perfume: Original Video Explored "Sacrifice"

Watching the director’s cut of “Perfume” by Joseph Kahn is all but a glimmering hope at this point. That was phrased nicely: it’s not happening.

While Kahn appreciates people like the “official” cut of the vid, he tells VideoStatic in a new interview it’s nothing compared to the original because it matures Britney’s video character and introduces the concept of sacrifice versus her usual revenge tactic.

He mentions working with artists like Janet Jackson and Moby who allow Kahn’s vision to remain uncensored.

VideoStatic: I have the “official” edit of Britney Spears “Perfume” on my Best Of December list, which I think is incredibly valid even if so much of the recent conversation about the video has been about the Director’s Cut which seems destined to remain unreleased. Having seen both — sorry, no spoilers — I think it’s amazing the official version holds its own even though its been deboned of elements that would have cast the whole video in another light. Is it flattering that the video has been largely well received even if it’s not close to your original vision for it? Or is it just frustrating?

Joseph Kahn: It *****, especially since my director’s cut is an entirely different video. The released edit is missing half of the story and all of the editorial structure. It took a lot of serious salvaging of footage to get it to an acceptable place after the concept was gutted. It’s like watching people pet a shaved, bald, declawed cat. I don’t gain any satisfaction from people liking work I did that’s heavily compromised. I need to stand behind the work honestly otherwise I feel like a fraud. I guess people still like the video because of the gritty look which feels different, and the twist of the second girl in the second act. A narrative in two identical parts is still a solid idea even in compromised form. But it’s such a faint reflection of the real narrative with broken execution and far less ambition. If they liked the weak version, I’d bet they’d love the strong one. No one knows what they’re missing, and they’re missing a lot.

VS: That’s fair. And it’s also fair if her fans see the video and realize that this isn’t Britney “character” you’ve especially established in the universe of your videos. It’s hard to imagine the Britney of “Womanizer” or “Toxic” just accepting that she’s been ditched for a newer model, which is what happens in the released version of the video. Structurally and visually, it’s a strong video. But, emotionally it doesn’t feel true to the themes that Britney’s been mining at every step of her career.

It also brings up a question of how often a music video director gets final cut. Even in a case like this where you have very established people in-front of and behind the camera with a history, it’s clear which side wields the power. Do you ever get into projects where you get final cut, or some sort of agreement on what happens if they decide to not release the “A” version of the video?

JK: You’re right, our previous three videos have been about empowerment and Perfume was going to be an evolution of that, but this time instead of revenge it was exploring sacrifice. Everyone understands revenge. Sacrifice is a much more mature concept of empowerment but that obviously got thrown out. It’s a shame – it was a deeper maturation of the Britney “character” in these videos.

I’ve done hundreds of videos and never had final cut, but honestly you hope you don’t need it. Ultimately music videos are advertisements for the record company/artist so it’s a work for hire. You hope at the end of the day there is no director’s cut and we’ve managed to create a singular vision that makes everyone happy – especially the fans. Regardless, I’ve never seen a contractual guarantee of editorial control. I’ve been actually offered profit sharing on the videos, but never final cut. Releasing director’s cuts are completely at the whim of the label/artist, so the trick is to work for specific artists who are real collaborators. Kylie Minogue protected the “All the Lovers” edit from some crazy label notes. Janet Jackson has a very charming way of going through her editorial process – she always goes “if you think it works,” and she means it. That’s awesome, she’s freaking Janet Jackson. Moby just lets you go nuts – I don’t think he wants to mess with another artist. There are many others and I’ve gotten really lucky working with them. You don’t ever get final cut contractually, but if you work with the right artist, you basically get it anyway.

The entire situation is ridiculous to me. I’ll agree I don’t know the true reasons behind the original version getting the ax and allowing basicness to ensue, but I have a feeling some old school execs worried it may land Brit Brit in some hot water, and God forbid that. She’s a mother now! The storyboard was approved… hell even shot on set by Britney herself. Why the cold feet?

If you don’t wanna play with fire, don’t hire a match!