1988 Countdown #64: Belinda Carlisle, “I Get Weak”


Kevin Seal’s getting punchy. “On this date, exactly ten years ago,” he says, “it was December 31, 1978.” Continuing onward: “Okay, enough of the past. Let’s look at the future. Last year, I mean to say.” He introduces Belinda Carlisle’s “I Get Weak” video, mentions that it was directed by Diane Keaton, and adds that it was written by Diane Warren, “who’s a one-woman hit factory. She did ‘Where Will You Run To’ for Heart, she did ‘Ghost Town’ for Cheap Trick, she wrote the National Anthem.” He pauses. “Not the United States. That was Francis Scott Key. But she wrote the one for Ghana.”

I should say up front that I deeply love “I Get Weak.” My enduring affection for this song, in fact, is mentioned in a certain New York Times bestseller, so I couldn’t deny it–not that I’d want to. I have a soft spot for Diane Warren, who was in the early days of her career at the time of this song: she’s written a lot of formulaic cheese, but when she clicks, you end up with Taylor Dayne’s “I’ll Be Your Shelter” or Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time”–indestructible pop songs that stand up next to the best of the Brill Building. “I Get Weak” has a universal sentiment expressed in a novel way, a relentless chugging rhythm (thank you, drummer Kenny Aronoff), and a catchy melody that’s fun to sing along to in the car. I’ve never gotten tired of hearing it.

The video, however, is a hot mess. It was directed by Diane Keaton, who also did Carlisle’s “Heaven Is a Place on Earth,” which we’ll be seeing later in the countdown. This isn’t quite as spectacularly bad as that clip, if only because there’s no glowing beach-ball globes.


We open with quick cuts of a male model in a cable sweater and a giant red heart on fire. A colorized Carlisle, holding an armful of red roses, walks into a black-and-white room where footage of the male model is playing on a large video screen. Spotlights dance over Carlisle as she lays the flowers on the floor; her hair is looking a bit frizzed-out. She looks adoringly at the model–who, as it happens, is Tony Ward, soon to be Madonna’s boyfriend (and star of several of her videos, including “Cherish” and “Justify My Love”). He’s got dark features and an extremely angular face; he looks a bit like k.d. lang. He preens and holds a burning match.


Fade to a bedroom where a black-and-white Carlisle (with colorized lipstick) lies on satin sheets (which keep changing color, from peach to blue to green, demonstrating either that they are magic sheets from the land of Oz or that Keaton got overfond of the colorizing tool in the edit bay). She writhes and sings, and generally has the glamorous look of a 1940s movie star. Maybe it’s the white gloves.


Quick cuts: the burning valentine, a green satin bow hobbling a girl around her ankles, Carlisle with a peach sash covering her mouth. We’re getting kinky, apparently. Carlisle sits up, wearing a new black outfit and now sitting on a modern green chair. Tony Ward is on a video screen behind her, checking out his arms. A girl’s hand runs through his hair. Back to Carlisle in bed, while burning pictures of Tony fall through the air. Diane Keaton’s approach to video directing would have blended right into MTV’s playlist circa 1983: she loves random, sometimes evocative, images. It’s like she learned from Russell Mulcahy instead of Woody Allen. But in five short years, the channel’s aesthetics had changed: higher production values, more emphasis on both performance videos and quasi-narratives, less bargain-bin surrealism. This was not always a winning trade.


New scene: a half-dozen girls in the black-and-white room, watching Tony on the video screen. They are overcome by his chiseled good looks, to the point of fainting and looking slackjawed, and are fanning themselves with bright red fans. We pan over them sitting in a row of chairs, anointing themselves with red lipstick. At the end of the row sits Carlisle, beaming happily. She looks smitten, but unlike her fellow Tony fans, it seems like she is still able to operate heavy machinery.

More burning photos falling through the air, more Tony, more Belinda. Then some shots of the Tony fans spinning and falling through the air: they don’t seem to be very accomplished gymnasts, so I’m thinking Keaton just rented a trampoline for the day.


New setting: a retro hotel hallway. Carlisle sits on the floor, gazing at Tony, whose image fills up an entire wall. As she stands up, we get a black-and-white closeup of Tony’s eye, as if we were checking for glaucoma. Carlisle is now wearing a blue outfit and black gloves; she shimmies her shoulders and spins around. Her dancing skills are roughly on par with Billy Joel’s. Rose petals rain down on her from the ceiling; I suspect they’re meant to gently waft, but they’re coming down like hailstones. She puts her hands behind her head and moves from side to side, which looks less like the throes of passion and more like aerobics.

Back to the black-and-white room. A dozen girls wobble in, wearing purple satin blindfolds and with their ankles bound by another purple sash. Carlisle, free from the bondage accoutrements, makes her way through the flailing crowd. We see closeup shots of Tony Ward: a girl is nuzzling against his neck, but while he has spent most of the video looking to one side or the other, he is now looking straight at the camera, creating the impression that he and Carlisle have locked eyes with each other.

We pan over the faces of the other girls: black and white, except for the lipstick. Then the camera speed picks up so the faces become a blur, and all we can see is the flickering red blotch of lipsticks. Carlisle sings in an extreme closeup, with an irregular patch of light on her face. This seems like a good time to mention that she does a nice job with this song. She’s never had the most distinctive voice, and Cher or Anita Baker or Laura Branigan probably would have done just as well, but Carlisle gets the game-winning RBI.

New scene in the black-and-white room. The smitten girls come in carrying flowers, as a smoke machine belches fog at their ankles. One by one, they collapse, and crawl towards the video screen through the smoke, as if they’re swimming through a cloud. It’s extremely funny; giving Keaton credit, I think it’s supposed to be.


Carlisle walks through the room and right up to the screen. And then–surprise, surprise–she’s suddenly on the screen right next to Tony Ward. Both of them look content; the smitten girls keep crawling and claw the video screen, as if they’re zombies and Belinda and Tony have particularly tasty brains. Boy, are they in for a disappointment.

“I Get Weak” hit #2 on the pop charts, kept from the top by Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” You can watch it here.

posted 4 November 2009 in 1988 and tagged , , . 2 comments

2 Comments on 1988 Countdown #64: Belinda Carlisle, “I Get Weak”

  1. Chris M. Says:

    I still hate Diane Warren.

  2. azul120 Says:

    I guess that makes Belinda one of the very first Rickrollees. * rimshot *

    I have a feeling this at least went top 5 on MTV’s Top 20 Countdown, considering how big she was at the time there.

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