Three to jilt MTV

Michel Gondry

Michel Gondry is perhaps the most technically adept music video director ever. More than the other two DVDs in this collection, Gondry’s is about himself. He has a French way of wearing his philosophy on his sleeve, which mostly means he’s talking about himself. This self-absorption is not offensive because the French hold to a more everyman perspective, wherein speaking of oneself is inclusive, not exclusive. Instead, he uses himself as an honest example of humanity.

The DVD includes a 75-minute film titled I’ve Been 12 Forever (Age 12-12), showcasing the way art fuses with his personal life and vice versa. Gondry is a busy guy; he likes it that way, giving interviews while paddling in a canoe.

The film is an artsy biography of the man who has a simple way of looking at oblique scenarios. Among other things, Gondry shows viewers how to translate video techniques from magic tricks, such as Kylie Minogue’s “Come Into My World,” taken from a thread and needle trick. He also explains why we have nightmares (He thinks we need them so that we’ll have a reason to wake up and cuddle with somebody, thus perpetuating breeding and a healthy population). Some may think his views are quirky and that quirkiness translates onto the videos.

The use of Lego blocks in The White Stripes’ “Fell In Love With A Girl” stands out as one of the best pieces of pop art. Gondry posits the importance of Lego blocks when he reasons: “Human hands evolved to adapt to Lego blocks.” He uses the Lego blocks from his youth, with four basic colors and fewer pieces. This is appropriate because the sound of The White Stripes is quite basic, with only guitar, drums and vocals.

The DVD’s B-side introduces viewers to Gondry announcing his preference for quantity over quality, “because quantity lasts.” This attitude is a concept born out of French existentialist Albert Camus. In contrast to Chris Cunningham, whose every project is cinematic, Gondry maintains a childlike attitude, albeit a detail-oriented one, in his many projects. Cunningham started making videos in the mid-’90s, much later than Gondry. Consequently, the Gondry disc has 19 more videos than Chris Cunningham’s disc.

Not all of Gondry’s videos are masterpieces, but at the very least, they are all entertaining. Daft Punk’s “Around the World” has Gondry’s brand of mastery. Like most of his videos, “Around the World” is highly conceptual.

It features athletes with small heads and big legs representing bass, while skeletons represent the guitars and disco girls the synthesizers. Robots are the vocoder and mummies represent the drum machine, in turn representing Michael Jackson and what he’s done to himself through plastic surgery.

Dreams have a conscious impact on Gondry’s ideas. For the Foo Fighters’ “Everlong,” the director streamlined his vision into something that closely resembled one of his childhood dreams, along with the movie Evil Dead. As a child, Gondry had nightmares where his hand grew extremely large, and he could feel his regular hand within the palm of his new, larger hand. Along with Gondry’s philosophically romantic perspective, the huge hand made its way into the storyline of “Everlong.”

This Gondry video collection testifies to the variety of artists he’s worked with, including the French band Oui Oui, Beck and The Rolling Stones. Then, there are often a great variety of videos concerning one artist, such as Björk. She has had great videos from Jonze and Cunningham as well, but almost all of her videos are Gondry’s work.

His variety of techniques, coupled with his extensive library of work, suggests bigger and better things, such as movie projects. Although, if Gondry is to pack the same technical punch into a feature length project that he puts into his videos, he may have to find a more manageable pace.

–Harold Valentine

Spike Jonze

Spike Jonze’s recently released DVD showcasing the music video work of this director offers up a strong case for why he remains one of the most successful and best-loved artists in the medium. This may be a bold statement or a modest accolade depending on your view of MTV’s first frequently acclaimed director.

Watching Jonze’s videos, even for the most skeptical, is to see music videos done correctly, especially in relation to the music. Jonze works as a conceptualist. He does not limit himself to visual polish like many other directors who fake it by slapping together random footage and then adding a soundtrack.

Jonze is a master at burning images into a song’s perception. Jonze affected the entire concept of bands like Weezer in its initial kitschy but earnest videos, especially on their debut one-take video “The Sweater Song.”

The directoral difference starts when the caliber of Jonze’s vision that begins with him swallowing a song, but he knows when to let the music simply be. The music in his videos becomes imbued with something extra. Jonze’s signature, like that of other good video directors who came out of the same generation, is freshness. Other personality tendencies, such as his over-stimulated sidewalk surrealism and willful postmodern irony, would have been old long ago if he weren’t so serious about it all.

It’s easy to forget the context of these videos appearing on the small screen. Along with Mark Romanek, Peter Care and the Coppola brats, as well as DVD series mates Chris Cunningham and Michel Gondry, Jonze made up the first directorial generation that began to deliver artistic legitimacy rather than an advertisement.

In the early to mid ’90s, David Fincher was just making the leap from videos to film, and videos became a breeding ground for new talent. Jonze has been, to date, the only video director after Fincher to score big commercially and critically in his second life as a film director. Of the three directors featured in the series, Jonze gets the lion’s share of recognition, partially for the following he’s developed with Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.

In a sense, this volume is most interesting because of Jonze’s success. Jonze is the example, mixing artistry and commerce, which every director after him will puzzle over and chase. The auteur of the unlimited inspiration on the limited budget has by now long become an aesthetic calculation. Jonze frustrates those who struggle to match his success, this scruffy, over-aged whiz kid.

–Brad Valentine

Chris Cunningham

Although it’s the shortest of the three DVDs, Chris Cunningham’s vehicle could be disappointing if the quality of his work weren’t so damn impressive. Whereas the other DVDs featuring the works of Jonze and Gondry are imbued with quirky, type-A obsession for elaborate fun, Cunningham’s artistic perspective feels spawned from an emotional train wreck made articulate through the logic of nightmares.

This “nightmare logic” is not the kind that makes sense, such as a bad entity doing bad things; it’s more of a backward, parallel universe where sexy booty-shakers have hideous faces, where limbs randomly shatter and where children wield diabolic powers purer than any adult’s conditioned falsities.

An obvious, yet important, aspect to remember in considering these directors is that they’re artists. Though they are obliged to appeal to MTV’s commercial market, they are all attractive to musicians because of their artistry. Cunningham is an especially good example being this kind of possibly misunderstood director.

His first major success in the United States was Aphex Twin’s 1997 video “Come To Daddy,” in which midgets and children run around a desolate district wearing silicon and latex masks of Richard James, a.k.a. Aphex Twin. During this video’s shoot an on-set security guard thought it was sick, so he quit.

This greatly surprised Cunningham because his childhood was full of creative endeavors that were much more grotesque, including severed heads and stabbing effects. His family considered this highly creative and encouraged the boy’s efforts.

Cunningham piqued the attention from Stanley Kubrick as a visual effects dynamo. All three DVDs come with an impressive booklet about their respective director. In it Cunningham, said he was “too young and flattered to say no” when Kubrick asked him to head the FX workshop for A.I., the disappointing Spielberg flick originally conceived by Kubrick. But in that year of working on A.I., Cunningham wanted desperately to film his personal ideas through music videos.

It’s disappointing that some of these videos are excluded — such as the Auteurs video “Light Aircraft On Fire” and six other good ones — since those Cunningham admits as failures, such as Madonna’s “Frozen,” are included. But the DVD does feature a wide variety on his dark aesthetic.

In Portishead’s “Only You” Cunningham uses an underwater effect to exaggerate the character’s dreamy motion on a dark city night. Leftfield’s “Afrika Shox” is an uncharacteristically traditional nightmare set-up, where a man is frantically trying to escape an invisible fear, but his legs and arms keep falling off. Squarepusher’s “Come On My Shoulder” is Cunningham’s most comedic video, where children in an insane asylum triumph in showing up their big adult oppressors.

The two most impressive achievements in the library of Cunningham’s work to date are Björk’s “All Is Full Of Love” and Aphex Twin’s “Windowlicker.” “All Is Full Of Love” was an anxious attempt for two reasons: Björk’s work with Gondry is stellar (and intimidating) and the video’s seamless perfection wasn’t realized until the very last cut. The result is an elegant equation using THX 1138-styled (Lucas movie) robots with the theme of inter- and intrapersonal relationships.

“Windowlicker” is a tour de force of rap music’s booty-shaking sensibilities taken to the max. It starts with five minutes worth of over-the-top, thuggish dialogue.

Everything about the video is intense and artistically absurd, and what unfolds is thoroughly entertaining. Richard James’ face is used again, but TV gazers won’t see this aired on MTV, apparently because the booties are too graphic. Never has the jiggy been so jiggly and hypnotic.

–Harold Valentine