I live among the creatures of the night: Laura Branigan’s creepy psycho-sexual “Self Control”

By on April 12, 2018

Night Flight’s “Take Off to Film Directors in Music Video” looks at a few of the major feature film directors — including Bob Rafelson, Brian De Palma, Tobe Hooper, Allan Arkush and Andy Warhol — who by the mid-’80s had added directing a music video to their résumés, still a relatively new idea at the time.

Watch this fascinating episode — which originally aired on November 2, 1984 — now on Night Flight Plus.

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One of the best examples of established Hollywood directors making the move from the big screen to the smaller screen — unless, of course, you had a really huge TV back then — was Academy Award-winning filmmaker William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist and The French Connection, who lensed Laura Branigan’s creepy psycho-sexual “Self Control” music video in 1984.

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“Self Control” — about a woman who loses self control while giving everything up for the nightlife — was actually Branigan’s English-language cover of Italian singer Raffaele “Raf” Riefoli’s low-tempo ballad, released in 1983 and featuring an early use of synths in Hi-NRG techno-disco pop.

Her biggest hit, 1982’s “Gloria” — ultimately one of four songs which earned her Grammy nominations for Best Pop Vocal Performance of the Year — was originally a European hit for Italian singer Umberto Tozzi.

Her version peaked at #2 on Billboard‘s Hot 100, setting a new record for the longest chart appearance (36 weeks) by a female artist in the Top Forty.

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In the video, Friedkin’s cameras follow Branigan’s character around as she sleepwalks out of her bedroom and into a nocturnal nightmare scenario.

A mysterious cloak-wearing, red-gloved, porcelain-masked stranger appears and leads her downstairs, where she cavorts with masked, make-up wearing facial-haired asexual-looking dancers (members of the Joffrey Ballet) before the soon-to-be shirtless white-masked man leads her back to her own boudoir.

I live among the creatures of the night,
I haven’t got the will to try and fight,
Against a new tomorrow, so I guess I’ll just believe it
That tomorrow never comes

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This creepy psycho-sexual dreamscape made more than one film critic wonder whether Stanley Kubrick had taken a very close look at the video before he began directing what would be his last film, 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut.

The nearly-naked freaks and ghouls, and the obvious pent-up sexual frustrations of Branigan’s character — looking here like a lingerie-clad Penthouse Pet — made for a surreal orgy-like setting that likely also owed a small debt to the pseudo-Freudian imagery of filmmaker Maya Deren’s 1940s experimental films.

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Read more about Laura Branigan’s “Self Control” below.

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As you might have guessed, given the way we’ve described the video above, Branigan’s William Friedkin-directed “Self Control” video stirred up quite a bit of controversy too.

When it was played on the “Top of the Pops,” British viewers telephoned the BBC to complain that it was much too suggestive for their tastes.

At the time, Branigan told the Associated Press:

“The song was about losing your self-control to the night or to someone. We had a man representing the night, wearing a mask. There were all these great dancers wearing masks by Willa Shalit. There’s a shot where the man comes into my bedroom, taking me into the night. He appears and disappears. MTV didn’t play it. They said it was risqué. It was played in Europe and everywhere else. I didn’t think it was bad at all.”

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Branigan is right, her video was considered sexually suggestive enough that MTV refused to air it unless minor edits were made.

After pressure from her record label, Atlantic Records, Branigan approved minor changes to her video, and MTV soon began airing the video in regular rotation in April of ’84.

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“Self Control” — filmed on soundstages in New Jersey and NYC — included eight sets designed by James Singelis, who in addition to working on Broadway theater productions would also earn screen credits as an assistant art director on films like Sergio Leone‘s Once Upon a Time in America (1984), and Michael Cimino‘s Year of the Dragon (1985).

Branigan’s version of “Self Control” was a huge European hit, shooting to #1 in Germany on June 15, 1984, and beating out Raf’s version to the Italian pop charts (#1 on June 23rd).

It was one of the summer of ’84’s most popular songs across Europe, where Branigan was probably even loved more than she was in the U.S., where the single peaked at #4 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart (it also went to #2 on the publication’s dance chart).

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A native of Brewster, NY, Laura Branigan attended the Dramatic Arts in Manhattan, graduating in 1972.

Her first paying job was touring Europe in 1977 with iconic folk singer Leonard Cohen (she auditioned with 600 other girls to become one of his backing singers), which ultimately led to her pursuing a singing career.

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In 1982, she signed as a solo artist with Atlantic Records, releasing seven albums over the next eleven years.

Branigan later told “American Bandstand” host Dick Clark she believed her acting experience added a lot to her singing (“Singing to me is acting”), so it should come to no surprise that she would pursue acting jobs right along with her vocal performances.

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In addition to appearances on episodic TV (“CHiPs,” “Automan,” and “Monsters”), she acted in at least three films — Mugsy’s Girls, Backstage, and a German TV movie, An American in Berlin — although just a few of those show up in her IMDB credits.

Branigan died in 2004 after suffering a brain aneurysm.

Watch Night Flight’s “Take Off to Film Directors in Music Video” — and other “Take Off” episodes — 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.
  • trueblu8

    Laura Branigan, such a great talent. You will be missed.