Comparing Tarsem's 'Fall' and 'Cell' to Romanek's 'Bedtime Story'

Madonna's "Bedtime Story" (left), The Fall (right)
Photo: Warner Bros. Records / Roadside Attractions

I have taken a few opportunities to praise director Mark Romanek, not for his films, but for his music videos. Romanek has a visual style that is striking and I pointed it out when looking at his music video collection here and again when he signed on as director of The Wolfman remake (of which he is now not directing... a tear).

Romanek's music video style only sticks with me due to one music video specifically, Madonna's 1994 "Bedtime Story". It's a video that cost $5 million to make and is now in the permanent collection of New York's Museum of Modern Art along with another Romanek helmed vid, Nine Inch Nails' "Closer". I have watched the "Bedtime Story" video so many times I can't even count, either online or as part of the Palm Director's Label Series Boxed Set.

So, when watching Tarsem's recent release The Fall I was immediately reminded of Romanek's video when a specific scene popped up. I haven't written a review of The Fall yet because I wanted to go back and watch Tarsem's 2000 effort The Cell before doing so just to give me a reminder of what his style was like back then. Strangely enough, I was once again reminded of Romanek's "Bedtime Story" video and it makes me wonder, is Tarsem as interested in this video as I am? Let's take a look at a couple of comparisons (the teaser above is not one of them, that was just fun to make).

I have read that this is based on Islamic symbolism. I have no idea if that is true or not, but on the left is Romanek's "Bedtime Story" and on the right is Tarsem's The Fall.
Photo: Warner Bros. Records / Roadside Attractions

The above comparison is what caught my attention while watching The Fall. I mean, come on, they are almost exactly the same, just reversed in color scheme. It is one of the coolest parts of the Madonna vid outside of when she is glaring into the screen such as the teaser at the lead of this piece.

Romanek's "Bedtime Story" on the left and Tarsem's The Cell on the right.
Photo: Warner Bros. Records / New Line Home Entertainment

I wouldn't have written this article if I had not seen this comparison while watching The Cell last night. I believe this is supposed to be some sort of Christian symbolism based on Metatron's Cube, both are featured prominently in the video and the film. Coincidence? Probably. Interesting? Definitely.

Romanek's "Bedtime Story" on the left and Tarsem's The Cell on the right.
Photo: Warner Bros. Records / New Line Home Entertainment

Okay, this last one isn't a major similarity, but I wanted to add one more. The thing here is that if Tarsem gained inspiration from one piece of Romanek's video then why not some of the more less obvious pieces?

One of the largest reasons it wouldn't surprise me if Tarsem gained some (or a lot of) inspiration from Romanek's video is due to the commonality between Madonna's song, the video and The Cell. In The Cell Jennifer Lopez plays a psychologist who taps into another person's brain waves and sorts through their unconscious mind in an effort to get to the root of their problem, be it a coma or in the main storyline of the movie, to try and figure out where the serial killer does his killings after he has gone into shock.

Madonna's "Bedtime Story" and the video represent a journey through the unconscious mind of the protagonist of the song and the strange visuals are a result of that journey. The Cell has very, very similar imagery. Outside of the one example at the beginning of this article, I don't remember any other similarities in The Fall, but the one above was striking enough for me to think of it.

I don't know, it's probably nothing, but should I ever get a chance to interview Tarsem Singh it will be the first question I ask him.

Now, check out the music video for "Bedtime Story" and the trailer for The Fall. Enjoy them both as I did, and yes, that is a suggestion to see The Fall should it come to your city.

  • mottanz

    This comparison is obvious. I actually did not know Romanek directed Bedtime Story. I was researching Tarsem's other work and knew he did music videos as well as films. I was looking for Bedtime Story on his list of credits. So, yes, I too see the similarity.

    I just wanted to point out in the list of visual comparison's above that the image from The Cell with the three women in black caps is a direct reference to a painting by Odd Nerdrum, contemporary Dutch painter, entitled "Dawn".

    I think all great artists use reference in their work, and I think that whether a painter references a film maker or a film maker references another film maker, it the basis of what art is...a synthesis of human life...a reinvention of stimulation, sensation, emotion, memory etc...all the good stuff.

    I am going to research Romanek now. Glad I made the connection through Tarsem.

  • Jim

    Having just watched Mark Romanek's Director's Label DVD and now flicking through the little booklet with it, I see that Romanek and Tarsem are close friends. He talks about how "it's ok to steal if you steal with a certain amount of panache and cleverness" which at least part-learnt through Tarsem.

    Some interesting stuff about this, with Brothers Quay work being shown to have heavily influenced both Romanek and Tarsem again, on Belief Design's Pollinate

    So you're definitely onto something, but they're both great artists in their own right also.

  • cz

    I'd say both cribbed a little from Baraka, it would seem. I must see this Tarsem flick! looks great.

  • Ben

    Wow, nice comparison! Some of those connections are eerily similar.

  • SG

    hmmm the guys in long dresses are nothing new. I mean ok they look the same but it's not original idea of Madonna neither Romanek. they really exist - they are Turkish dervishes, often called whirling dervishes. their dance put them in some kind of trance. google it. but I agree that The Cell and Bedtime Story have a lot of common, especially this atmosphere of orinic and surrealistic world.

  • Brad Brevet

    @SG: The point isn't whether the Turkish dervishes exist or not, it's a comparison of style.

  • SG

    @Brad Brevet: I meant whoever uses them they will always look in the same style. Mainly because there is a strong original in real world - strong enough you don't want to change them anyway. In fact in The Fall they look almost like those in real world (colors). But we still can compare camera angles and the way they are shown to the audience.

  • tony roma

    no denying these directors are super talented people.
    i worked with tarsem years ago like a lot of directors he is a sponge a trawler of other peoples work. the films of russian andrei tarkovsky and especially the movie
    The Colour of Pomegranates by Sergei Parajanov.
    these 2 dead great original film artists have been raped add into the mix dead french fashion photographer guy bourdin,who's estate madonna had to pay a million dollars to for ripping off.
    what you have today is director as Regurgitator like painting a pink frame on a vermeer and calling it your own work.
    the other sick thing about these modern directors is the cod new world order masonic symbolism they shovel in some of it pretty horrible some of the themes are rotten.
    in the 80s the exploding light bulb was the cliche today it is the eye.