By James Montgomery
Lana Del Rey treated us to a preview of her "National Anthem" video featuring A&AP Rocky yesterday, but the full clip has premiered and it wouldn't be surprising if LDR and A$AP Rocky stirred up a little bit of controversy over their roles as Jackie O and JFK in the video.
On Wednesday morning (June 27), Del Rey posted the "Anthem" clip on YouTube, and it's sure to cause a stir — for all the reasons you'd probably expect, and a few you wouldn't.
Sure, there are some who will object to the clip's re-telling of history: Del Rey actually plays both Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe — a loaded proposition when you consider the long-standing rumors of an affair between the actress and the commander in chief — and the clip opens with her doing Monroe's sultry "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" from 1962. She then switches to the more demure Jackie, the doting wife to Rocky's JFK, and their love story unfurls over seven hazy, dreamlike minutes. In a way, the dual roles seem to be director Anthony Mandler's way of exploring the complexities of one of our nation's most celebrated (and discussed) first couples: the notion that, from the outside, all appeared to be perfect, while, internally, their marriage was wrought with indiscretions and very stormy indeed.
There is also the fact that the clip is loaded with social commentary. The scenes of Del Rey and Rocky cavorting in the Kennedy's Hyannis Port compound very boldly show the so-called "American Camelot" (the term used to describe the unbridled hope associated with the Kennedy presidency) through a decidedly 2012 prism. Here is the first family reimagined as a beautiful white wife and a confident, powerful black husband, very much in love, caring for their biracial children, holding court with their associates. It was a scene that was practically unimaginable during the 1960s, and one that, sadly, is still sure to rankle some today.
To say the least, it is evocative, and yet, to his credit, Mandler manages to avoid hammering the viewer with any of it. Instead, he shows the love between the two in a series of fleeting glances, caresses and smiles. And in a deft way of heading off those who say he's disrespecting the Kennedy legacy, he largely avoids what most have come to associate with JFK's presidency: his assassination in 1963. Sure, the scene exists in the video, and it is shot Zapruder-style, but he spares us any of those grisly, "back-and-to-the-left" film frames. Instead, we hear a single gunshot, then watch as Del Rey's Jackie crawls over the trunk of the couple's convertible, a look of horror and shock on her face. In a way, that only impacts the terror of the moment and drives home the point that, regardless of racial makeup, this is a couple that truly was in love.
It also manages to capture the sheer sadness of the moment. After all, in a lot of ways, Kennedy's assassination represented the death of a dream: It was the moment when the idyllic 1960s began to disappear and only served as a preview for the tremendous social and political upheaval that would come to define the decade.
So while "National Anthem" may boldly redefine both an era and an iconic couple and make us reconsider our social stigmas, it is, at the end, a very truthful representation of the love two people shared, a doomed, unsustainable thing that, for a fleeting moment, we all dared to believe in. And I'd like to think that's the main message of the video: the willingness to trust in the impossibility of love, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Sure, you can focus on the racial aspects of the clip or its historical accuracy, but it seems like you'd be missing the point, really.