Rule of Three
directed by Céline Sciamma
Rihanna’s track ‘Diamonds’ blares in a hotel room as four young women dance, gleefully singing along and swaying with the rhythm while bathed in a blue, shadowy light. They seem carefree and are dressed glamorously, as though they are about to go out on the town. But this is a getaway, a rare moment of escape from their mostly dreary and restrictive lives. The celebration is possible only because they have stolen money and clothes. For much of the song, the camera lingers on the film’s protagonist, Marieme. We watch her mood crescendo with the final, rapturous chorus, but her happiness is overcast by the knowledge of what awaits her upon her return home.
Words by Sophia Martin-Pavlou
by Daniel Clowes
Enid and Becky are bored best friends and recent high school graduates. Cynical and sarcastic, they bond over caustic pop culture critiques. Nothing escapes their mockery: diner menus, television stars, former classmates, local personalities. Their low-key exploits disguise an overarching sense of aimlessness. Whether a hunt for an old vinyl or a cruel prank played on a local man, each escapade seems designed primarily to kill time. The words ‘ghost world’ are seen repeatedly, scrawled onto buildings and billboards in the background, yet the town is not empty or decaying. Rather, it is becoming more uniform, its familiar quirks gradually replaced by big brands and chain stores. As Enid and Becky float about the neighbourhood, childhood comforts fade away and adult life slowly creeps up on them.
Words by John Wadsworth
by X-Ray Spex
In the sanitised dystopia of ‘Germfree Adolescents’, cleanliness and conformity rule all. The song’s backing music seems to be carefully ordered, its swathe of synthesisers shunning the frenzy and distortion expected of a punk single, but Poly Styrene’s lead vocals crack through this pristine surface. Her delivery is chaotic, extreme, always on the edge of breaking and uncomfortably high in the mix. Each imperfect strain and wail compounds the irony of her yelped, toothpaste-touting slogan: ‘Scrub away / the S.R. way.’ The lyrics move almost imperceptibly from a first-person expression of affection to a metaphorical third-person call for hygiene. Clean up your act and repress your identity, the narrator satirically suggests, or society will soon brush you off.
Words by Lewis Coenen-Rowe
More to discover
Ghost World: You can read an excerpt here. Steven Heller has interviewed Daniel Clowes (the author) for The Atlantic, as have Dan Glaister for The Guardian, Sam Thielman for The Guardian, and Laura Sydell for NPR.
Germfree Adolescents: You can listen to the song here.
The subjects of all three artworks are youths.