Old Favourites / Watch This Now: Nirvana – “Heart Shaped Box” / “Heart Shaped Box (Director’s Cut)”

“I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black…”

When you think of Nirvana in terms of music videos, there’s some pretty obvious imagery that comes to mind. The janitor, the anarchic cheerleaders, the laugh-face-into-serious-face, the Ed Sullivan ripoff. But how many of you think of a crucifixion? A little girl in a white cape? A huge woman with all of her organs showing? Not many of you, I suspect. And yet, these are all clear images in my head – especially on a day like today, in which we take a look at my favourite Nirvana video; as well as potentially my favourite Nirvana song. A winning combination indeed.

Working with Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn, the extensively detailed and occasionally disturbing video treatment – as created by Kurt Cobain himself – came to life in a way that few outside of that immediate circle could have expected. Yes, there were throwaway performance moments tied in, but it was the 90s. It was the thing. Authenticity and all that. Actually playing the song and what have you. That’s not the important part – the important parts come with the dark and confounding imagery that surrounds the clip. It’s almost like an entryway into someone’s nightmare, particularly when staring down that freaky Jesus. Another interesting aspect is the girl in the Klansman outfit, who spends part of the second verse leaping to grab a plastic baby that’s growing on a tree. You remember what was on the cover of Nevermind, right? A stinging (albeit subtle) jab at the corporatisation of the grunge movement, if I ever saw one.

While the Heart-Shaped Box director’s cut was made available on Corbijn’s DVD awhile back, it’s only dropped online very recently in anticipation for the blockbuster In Utero reissue. If you haven’t checked that bad boy out yet, I strongly recommend doing so. Anyways, this is an interesting take on what could have been. You won’t see any new footage in the first verse and chorus, so feel free to skip ahead. With this cut of the clip, a tense relationship begins to develop between the girl and the organs woman. I wish it had more time to play out, personally. Maybe stretched out into another verse. Also, in doing this, it manages to cut one of my favourite moments from the whole clip, in which bassit Kirst Novoselic puts his arm around Dave Grohl and the two embrace for the entirety of the third verse as Kurt sings in the foreground. I don’t know why, but I always found that part so sweet – it was a moment of peace and warmth in such a disturbing environment.

It’s worth emphasising that neither version is “better” than the other. It’s two sides of the same coin. It’s a methodical type of madness from the mind of a guy who thrived off such things.


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