Music Video of the Day: Basket Case by Green Day (1994, dir. Mike Kohr)


This is another one of those music videos I am obligated to do because it so famous. Or at least the song is so famous that I don’t have much choice.

Along with Smells Like Teen Spirit, this is one of those songs that was so overplayed that I got sick of it as a kid. It actually took me awhile before I bothered watching the music video for it. There isn’t much story to it, but there is a little background on it.

At the insistence of the band, they filmed the music video in an actual mental institution that was known as Agnews Developmental Center in Santa Clara, California. It has a bit of a dark history being the site of the greatest loss of life in the Santa Clara Valley during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. According to the Daily Palo Alto at the time:

“The position of the people in Agnews is critical; a number of insane persons having escaped from the demolished asylum, are running at random about the country.”

According to Wikipedia, 117 patients and staff were killed there during the quake.

The music video of course has references to One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975).

It was originally filmed in black and white, then bassist Mike Dirnt colorized it, which gives the music video that surreal look. It reminds me of the way you see light when your eyes are dilated, which fits with the bit in the song about wondering if the anxiety that Billie Joe Armstrong was under at the time–later diagnosed as having a panic disorder–was just insanity, or the cause of drugs.

It’s interesting to me that this song and Silent All These Years by Tori Amos both start off by asking the audience whether they have the time to spare to hear what they have to say. This is particularly interesting considering the director would go on to make a Tori Amos video. He would also later direct Just A Girl by No Doubt.

If I had to guess about the patients who still appear black and white, and are wearing the same color mask, then I would say it’s a reference to how people tend to view mental illness as a black and white issue. You’re either sane or insane without much middle ground. The masks all looking the same would be the grouping of anyone insane into one pot such as the very mental institution they were filming within likely did, or at least the perception people have of such places. Agnews Developmental Center was once known as “The Great Asylum for the Insane”.

You can also think of them as ghosts of the people who died there so many years ago, or lived out their lives there. According to the band, when they entered the place they found old patient files, deep scratches in the walls, and dental molds scattered around the place. My best guess is those people in the music video are the ghosts of people who left those remains behind.

I like how it ends with the gate closing as if to say that visitation hours are over.

The music video was directed by Mike Kohr. He made 9 music videos for Green Day, but has done at least 60 music videos so far. He appears to still be working in music videos today having done This Is Where We Go for Snow Angel in 2013.

Adam Beckman shot the music video. He appears to have only worked on 7 music videos. He has done some work outside of music videos over the years including shooting 12 episodes of This American Life as well as films.

There is one in particular that jumped out at me, which might explain why he was chosen to shoot this music video. In 1987 he was an additional camera assistant on a movie called Doom Asylum that has this plot summary on IMDb:

“A demented coroner uses autopsy equipment to kill off the teenagers who trespass on the long-abandoned asylum he inhabits. Filmed on location in an actual abandoned asylum.”

Enjoy!