It can be argued that the 1990s were a golden age for music videos — the first era where the format was taken truly seriously by everyone in the industry. With a hearty flow of excellent thought-provoking and visually stunning clips being dropped each month, some great ones have been unfortunately left behind in our collective memory.
By 1998, Tori Amos was already well known for her weirdness. An eccentric personality onstage and off, her music pushed the limits of what female piano players could do with their music. While an obvious descendent of Kate Bush, Amos brought a new brand of left-of-center pop to Gen Xers, that grew more experimental, and at times alienating, with each LP she released.
“From the Choirgirl Hotel” might be remembered as being her “electronica” record for its handful of tracks that flirted with beat boxes. That observation was only skin deep however — its twelve tracks revealed a dark insight into the artist’s personal anguish and depression stemming from a suffered miscarriage.
For that album’s leading single, Amos employed award-winning director James Brown to shoot the video for “Spark.” In it, Amos stars as a kidnapping victim coming to her senses in a forest. Brown’s camera work starts out tight, focused on the ground and Amos’ lips, slowly revealing more and more visually as the bound and blindfolded protagonist becomes increasingly aware of her surroundings and situations.
Ambiguity is key in this video. Several details are purposely left out to create confusion and suspense. Amos’ kidnapper is at first nowhere to be seen which creates a feeling of tense dread. We can also see that Amos is near a vacant car with its trunk wide open, from which she presumably rolled out of. “You don’t really know what’s going to happen to her, but that’s not the point,” says Amos in her “Complete Videos” DVD. “She’s trusting her instincts in a way she never has before, she’s finding something in herself she never knew even existed.”
The story builds with the song, which is a brooding waltz that gradually layers itself with each change. The first chorus guides Amos to a standing position as swirls of backing vocals enter in the second verse for her steady walk away from the car, which we then learn is dripping with gasoline and appears to have been in an accident.
In the second verse, we also get our first glance of the perpetrator who is milling around the forest while Amos tries to find her way without sight. Again, we as the audience are not fully sure of what the intentions were here — ransom, murder, rape — but we do know the stakes are high as she tries to blindly find her way out of the forest.
The song’s climactic bridge section brings the story to a nearby creek to which Amos falls into, using the upstream water to free herself from her blindfold. The car explodes with a cymbal crash, which makes the faceless, black-suited kidnapper check his watch — this detail lends itself to making the story possibly being about an intended mob hit. This notion is purposely never confirmed.
Upon the video’s coda, Amos finally makes it to a street where a passing car slows to a stop. The two pale, blonde, young people inside look at Amos with a deadpan, catatonic gaze before driving off. In the end, Amos is left off where she started — alone, constrained, and left for dead in the middle of nowhere.
Note: The version of ‘Spark’ featured here is pitch shifted to avoid copyright filters. It was used because it has the best picture quality of the handful of uploads of the video found online.