Music Video Relapse: "Bonfire" (2011) by Childish Gambino

Posted by Adam Fairholm on January 21, 2014 in Music Video Relapse

Staff Post


The last two months have seen a lot of video releases from Childish Gambino in promotion of his new album, because the internet - including a short film, an album trailer, a music video for "3005," and a music video for "The Worst". On top of that, Childish Gambino himself (Donald Glover) is leaving the NBC show Community in a few episodes.

You know what that means - we've got to pull a Gambino video out of the vault and take a look. Today we're watching "Bonfire" (2011), directed by Glover's former Derrick Comedy colleague Dan Eckman.

The video starts out with Glover waking up with a noose around his neck. He spits out some blood and he's got a "Camp Gambino" t-shirt on. It looks like the rope he was being hanged on split, and he gets up to look around. He definitely seems rattled and confused.

In the distance he sees a bonfire with some Camp Gambino campers around it and one guy (presumably a camp counselor) is telling ghost story. Then, Glover spots a guy with a noose and a knife walking towards the campers, and he runs to warn them. Once he gets there, though, nobody seems to be able to hear him, and it turns out the guy with the noose was just coming up behind them to scare the campers, not murder them. All the campers laugh and then leave, leaving Glover to stand there before waking up in the same position he was at the beginning of the video.

Although the meaning of this video seems to be up to interpretation, once you figure it out (or are told) it seems pretty clear. The story being told around the campfire is actually the story of Glover's character's death - a death that happened around the time the camp desegregated. He was hanged then, and his story has now lost all context or importance - it's become just a scary story to tell about a death long ago at Camp Gambino. Glover's character is doomed to find out over and over again.

That's the explanation that we got when we had director Dan Eckman on the IMVDb podcast in late 2011 - shortly after this video came out. (I even explained to him my completely wrong interpretation before he explained it to us.)

Watching the video with full knowledge of what the plot line is interesting, especially since the guy telling the story to the campers is black, making the loss of history around the racially motivated Donald Glover character's murder all the more disturbing. Somewhere in here is a lesson about how time can turn serious things into cartoon versions of themselves that we don't really see as real.

Eckman paces this video really well - it's a three minute video where not all that much happens, but he manages to take the simple actions that the video contains and build some real suspense and mystery around it. Glover also puts in a really solid performance in a video that demands both acting skill and some commitment to the part.

Gambino's style has obviously changed in the years since this video, but it still holds up as a great showcase for Glover's range of talents that makes him a compelling artist.

Adam Fairholm is the co-founder and lead developer of IMVDb. You can find him on twitter at @adamfairholm.

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