How Many Fingers?

Alan Fox and Andrew J. Paterson

1981, 07:30 minutes, colour, English


How Many Fingers? attempts to apply narrative video structure to the music video genre. Most music tapes are simply advertisements. Of the video, Andrew J. Paterson says: “This is, ostensibly, a promotional clip or a "music video" for the eponymous recording by the Toronto band The Government, for which I wrote, played, and sang. However, it bears little resemblance to a music video, even some of the 'independent' ones made in those relatively early years of the genre. This tape focuses on the dramatic possibilities inherent in the music and the song lyrics. Members of the band are visible as actors but not as performing musicians. An entire cast of bit players-artists, friends of the band and technicians at the host-production centre Trinity Square Video-populate this narrative videotape.

The studio of Trinity Video at its early '80s location, as well as the hallways of what is now the CHUM-CITY-TV building, were not unlike the hallways of a hospital or some other kind of institution.
How Many Fingers? derives its title from George Orwell's dystopian 1984. (The song was originally written for a theatrical production of 1984, from which the band disengaged in 1979.) A young man fails to answer a trick question during a quiz show with the same title as the song, and is seriously medicated in the hope that he will eventually come around. But, of course, he doesn't, he has bad dreams indeed, and he is condemned to a recurring nightmare of mindless TV-hosts, fascistic priests, and dour doctors and nurses just doing their jobs. At the end of the tape the patient is still confused by the question, therefore he will be treated again and again.

Ironically enough, Much-Music refused to play this videotape, claiming that it wasn't entertaining enough. However, it has had another life as an artists' video, emblematic of its date of production with its 'cast' of recognizable artists and its belief that television had no reason not to welcome unorthodox art-tapes with good if quirky production values. Kudos to Robin Collyer for the video game animation using Telidon technology (a web precursor).”

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