“Close to Me”: Robert Smith’s claustrophobic nightmare about being trapped in a wardrobe

By on September 4, 2018

Night Flight’s “Video Profile: The Cure” — included in this special episode of “Radio 1990,” which originally aired on February 6, 1988 — features some of the Cure‘s best-loved videos, including their “Close to Me” video.

Check out the profile now on Night Flight Plus.

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Robert Smith told us that director Tim Pope “… always asks what we’re trying to get across in with that bit of a particular song, if we’re going to make a film. He says ‘What do you want people to feel like when they’re watching you doing the song?,’ and with that, the first thing that came to my mind was that I wanted it to be really claustrophobic, because if you’re in a wardrobe, and the wardrobe’s on the edge of a cliff, you can’t even try to fight your way out, because if you move the wardrobe’s going to go off the cliff, and then you’re going to fall into the water, and you’re going to drown anyway.”

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“Close to Me” was one of the first Cure videos directed by Tim Pope, who helped shape the Cure’s “ever-evolving visual image.”

Pope would ultimately direct thirty-seven of the Cure’s videos — including “Let’s Go To Bed” (1982), “Just Like Heaven” (1987) and “Friday I’m In Love” (1992) — as well as their live concert film, The Cure in Orange, which captured their performance at the eponymous theatre in the south of France.

Late last year (2017), Pope announced he would be spending much of 2o18 working on a documentary about the Cure to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the release of their first album, Three Imaginary Boys.

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Pope’s concept for the “Close to Me” video came from a conversation he’d had with Robert Smith, who told him he’d written the song based on a weird nightmare he’d had where his bandmates — at the time they were Lol Tolhurst (keyboards), Porl Thompson (guitar, keyboards), Simon Gallup (bass), Boris Williams (drums, percussion) — been locked inside a linen closet that fell off a cliff and into the ocean, leaving them submerged in the water below.

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Pope thought the idea of showing them all squashed together in a wooden wardrobe — like a capsized ship filling with water, playing musical notes on hair combs and tiny little keyboards, as well as finger puppets and voodoo dolls of the band — mirrored the song’s claustrophobic lyrics.

As you might expect, being uncomfortably stuck together with his bandmates for six hours in freezing cold water was a memorably hellish experience for Smith, who later said it was “…a bizarre endurance test to see who was going to crack first. I absolutely hated this day.”

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Photographer/designer Andy Vella — whose book Obscure: Observing The Cure, compiled from thirty-plus years of taking photos of the Cure, was published in 2014 — once recalled what happened during the underwater scenes, shot in a London studio:

“It was quite a scary scene, actually, with lights everywhere. As you know, water and electricity don’t mix. Very chaotic – but the chaos came through in the finished video.”

Vela recalled how — when he was standing-in for Smith during a focus check – he pretended to be the singer, saying “Oh, I’ve got spiders in my hair’ and so on,” only to find out Smith was watching (“everyone was laughing”).

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The scene where the wardrobe fell off the cliff at Beachy Head — the chalky white cliffs in Eastbourne, England, above the English Channel, with the famed lighthouse seen below — also proved difficult to shoot.

Smith has recalled how “they only had one shot to do it because I don’t think they had permission, so they turned up with this wardrobe, threw it over the cliff, then drove off.”

Read more about the Cure’s “Close To Me” below.

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The Head on the Door — released on August 13, 1985 — became the Cure’s most successful album in the UK, climbing to #7 on the charts (#59 U.S., and #6 in Australia).

The “Close to Me” single, issued on September 9, 1985, scored its highest Top Ten chart position in Ireland (#4), reaching #7 in Australia.

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The original 7-inch and extended 12″ single mix contained an extended brass arrangement, adapted from a traditional New Orleans funeral march, along with the sound effect of a creaking door from the video.

The album version was actually a remix, removing the brass section (it also appears on Staring at the Sea: the Singles even though it’s not the “single” version).

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In 2004, Q Magazine published a list of the “1001 Best Songs Ever,” where the Cure’s “Close To Me” charted at #714.

At the time, Smith said: “It’s weird because of all the songs we’ve written, ‘Close To Me’ doesn’t spring to mind as one of our best songs. It was a slightly surreal moment on the record and it wasn’t even a definite album track during the recording. It was only when I did the vocal and got really extreme on the production, making it really claustrophobic sounding, that it came to life. Up till that point it was average.”

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“Close To Me” was re-mixed in 199o, and re-issued with a new video which picks up where the first one ended, with the wardrobe crashing sinking to the bottom of the sea.

The rest of video takes place underwater, with band members escaping to battle octopus and starfish, and ends with them reaching the ocean surface (they’re able to see a boat going by overhead at one point).

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Check out Night Flight’s “Video Profile: The Cure” in this special episode of “Radio 1990″ on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.