20 Years Ago: Home Video Brings ‘Closure’ to Nine Inch Nails’ First Decade
For most bands, a VHS release of music videos or live footage was considered a souvenir for fans and a stopgap for the record label. It was a product that could make money while the group prepared to create new, original music for the next record.
But for as visually obsessed an act as Nine Inch Nails, a home video was something akin to a major release. Under Trent Reznor’s leadership, this was a group that obsessed over things like album artwork, concert clothes, stage lighting and music videos. By the mid-’90s, the image that Nine Inch Nails projected in visceral concerts and unsettling MTV clips was nearly as important to the band’s success as Reznor’s dramatic industrial rock.
After releasing two studio albums, one EP and a couple of remix discs, Nine Inch Nails put a capper on The Downward Spiral era of the group with Closure. The set consisted of two tapes – one featuring an hour-plus film documenting the band’s Self Destruct and Further Down the Spiral ’90s tours and the other collecting 14 music videos.
Although the documentary features some live footage including performances of “Terrible Lie,” “March of the Pigs” and “Hurt” (as a duet between Reznor and David Bowie), the hand-held footage mostly has a fly-on-the-wall aesthetic. The film shows rabid fans discussing Nine Inch Nails, backstage encounters between Reznor and tourmates Bowie, Marilyn Manson and the Jim Rose Circus, and plenty of on-stage and dressing-room destruction. The NIN main man lays waste to a series of keyboards, but also accidentally wallops drummer Chris Vrenna’s head with a microphone stand. There are cameos from well-wisher Lou Reed and a boisterous Calvert DeForest (a.k.a. Larry “Bud” Melman from David Letterman’s shows).
Amidst the grainy, herky-jerky footage, there is an obvious emphasis on how much thought and effort that Reznor and his touring band put into what the fans see. There are scenes with Reznor going over lightning cues and helping to direct a future music video, as well as a sequence that shows the band getting ready for the stage with freaky makeup, weird hairstyles and all-black clothes splotched with corn starch.
Containing previously released music videos – stitched together with segments of old educational/scientific films and some new stuff by “Closer” director Peter Christopherson – the second tape was also a boon for fans. Remember that many of Nine Inch Nails’ videos were banned from MTV or aired in a censored form and YouTube had yet to exist. A live album planned to coincide with the two-tape release was halted.
About a year after their multi-year tour ended, Nine Inch Nails released Closure via Interscope Records on Nov. 25, 1997. The VHS set was a hit with the fanbase, who drove it to No. 5 on Billboard’s Music Videos chart. Once DVD supplanted tapes as the dominant home video format, Nine Inch Nails fans began to clamor for a Closure re-release. In 2004, Reznor announced a new edition with more than 90 minutes of extra footage, although Interscope postponed the release.
Two years later, “prototype” editions of the DVD version, with a host of bonus material, began to appear on BitTorrent sites. Fans thought that Reznor might have leaked the footage, in retaliation for Interscope’s delay. The theory appeared to be confirmed when the artist posted on his official blog, “Happy Holidays! This one is a guilt-free download. (shhhh - I didn’t say that out loud). If you know what I’m talking about, cool.” Later, all of part one and the bonus footage would be uploaded to Nine Inch Nails’ official account on Vimeo.