Marty Callner: MTV's Unsung Hero
MTV has seen a decline in its pursuit of its original goal. Founded in 1981 MTV set out to play music videos and only music videos. MTV had aimed to become a television version of radio. Often calling upon VJ’s or video jockeys for their programming. In fact, they were so committed to the idea of 24/7 music videos that the literal first video ever played on MTV was “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles.
This new format of music television was so unique that no one was sure how to respond to this and a lot of MTV’s first videos were older recording or new wave bands. Music videos weren’t as prominent so MTV had toward using the same artists or reusing videos to maintain an audience. It was a bumpy road. They had played 16 Rod Stewart videos on their first day, and only 11 of them were unique. They had played several repeats of The Who’s “You Better You Bet” five times!
MTV had some growing pains to get through. But potential was there for a channel entirely made of music videos. The channel would soon get submissions from new wave bands that resembled art house films. However, they weren’t what MTV needed. MTV needed something that would push them into the same world of cinema. They didn’t need an Andy Warhol, what music videos needed was their first Steven Spielberg.
This prophesized hero would arise in the year 1973 on the music video “Dream On” by Aerosmith. But after this video our hero would disappear until the year 1982. This was Marty Callner, in his own words he has directed over 200 music videos. Throughout the mid-1980s and 1990’s he would go on to create some of the most popular music videos of the era.
Marty’s first major video was Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” a cartoonish video that thrived off Looney Tunes-like logic. A follow up to the “I Wanna Rock” video, also directed by Callner, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” is a wild ride of a video that spat in the face of authority. Because of this many parents had requested MTV to take the video off their programing. However, considering the absolute hit the song in the video was and how large the audience was for this video, the station remained firm with keeping it on air.
This would then lead Callner to working with more big name bands like Bon Jovi, Stevie Nicks, Scorpions, Whitesnake and Poison. Marty would go on to work with Aerosmith and produce every one of their most iconic music videos. Songs like, “Amazing,” “Crazy,” “Dude Looks Like a Lady,” and “Livin’ on the edge,” were given Callner’s treatment and went up as MTV classics.
Callner would produce one of the most iconic videos of the decade with Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again.” Even producing the most iconic video from the most 1980’s glamiest hair metalyist band ever Poison. Callner would eventual graduate to working with rock n’ roll legend/ demigod Jimmy Page on “Wasting My Time.”
A full list of Cullner’s portfolio can be found at:
Cullner stepped down from music videos in the early 90’s around the time grunge came into popularity. To call this a genius move is an understatement. Cullner’s direction is far from appropriate for the Seattle grunge movement. Where Cullner told these grand feelings through his angles and shots and fast editing techniques, grunge videos were going for ugly images, challenging themes and dark tones. Cullner stepping down was a sign of the times changing and it’s refreshing to see someone from the prime of the 80’s not get screwed in this transition.
Marty Cullner can be seen working on television comedy specials, and live concerts. His work with Robin Williams is considered the stuff of legends and Callner has even done some work with HBO creating its series Hard Knocks.
Marty Cullner is a testament to a forgotten age of music videos, where image was everything and MTV helped ignite careers. Creating some of the most iconic videos of his era, Cullner was not only a head of his time but was also able to adapt with them, and in a world where so many people come and go and lose their popularity it’s amazing to see some who choose to move on rather live in a forgotten era. Artist like Marty Cullner, the kind that adapt and flow with the world are the kind that should be remembered by the world long past their fame