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From Palm Pictures comes an amazing idea, one that's been a long time coming. Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze are, arguably, two of the most innovative music video directors ever. At the very least, they are the reigning kings of the format.
In the early 1990s, it seemed there wasn't much going on in the realm of music videos. The smoke machines and arty excesses of the '80s were, by this point, thankfully passé. When I think back to the era, the videos that truly stand out are Pearl Jam's "Even Flow," and of course, Nirvana's "Smells like teen Spirit." Although both are decent, the video-as-story seemed to be a dormant art. With the release of "Sabotage" by the Beastie Boys, in 1995, Jonze brought a return to videos that were so much more than slick commercials. "Sabotage" was a video that you could watch over and over, each time discovering subtle nuances and inside jokes. To date, it easily goes down as one of the best ever, and is an extraordinary work of art in its own right. Yet what is even more spectacular is that the video wasn't the beginning or the end of Jonze's run. When thinking about the best videos of the past 10 years, certainly all of these would be included near the top of the list: Weezer's "Undone" & "Buddy Holly"; "It's Oh So Quiet" by Bjork, "California" by Wax (you know, the video of the man on fire running to catch a bus) and "Weapon of Choice" and "Praise You" by Fatboy Slim. Jonze's mad genius propelled many of these songs to wide exposure on MTV, and brought additional radio airplay. And in the case of a band like Wax, their video was responsible for their only modest hit.
What is best about Jonze's videos is their irreverence and complete Fuck It All for conventions, not to mention their frequent hilarity. However, his ability is farther reaching than being a merry prankster. Take, for instance, "Elektrobank" by The Chemical Brothers. It's a rarely seen video with the music as a backdrop to a gymnastic floor exercise with Sophia Coppolla as the gymnast. It is incredibly intense and gripping, a bit like an after school special, but I'll give you ten dollars (only ten, I'm poor) if you can watch the first minute of the video and not be glued to the screen, tense about the outcome.
But the payoff in PALM's Director's Label DVDs is not solely in the videos. Any boob can go to a site like launch.com and watch videos at his/her leisure for free. Like any good DVD, there's added content. Nearly exhaustive, the DVD features upwards of four hours of content on two sides, including interviews with the musicians, "making of" documentaries, short videos, an excellent short movie about teenage bull riders, and audio commentary of the artists about the videos. For any fan of the videos themselves, it's a nice cherry on top to hear the artists speak about their visual representation. Highlights include Bjork's anecdote about a dancing mailbox and Puff Daddy's musing on B.I.G.'s "Sky's the Limit." On the other hand, not all artists are as animated; J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. sounds utterly miserable and bored. Even that, however, is a stretch for criticism. The only true thing lacking is that not all of Jonez's videos have been included, nor has his recent commercial work. Maybe those are gems being saved for the next Best Of DVD.
While Jonze has made the leap from videos to feature films in a highly visible fashion with the Charlie Kaufman-penned hits Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, Michel Gondry's name as a director is not as widely known. His videos, however, are highly reputable. Like Jonze, Gondry is capable of directing an excellent video and propping a band for a hit. In the mid 1990s, there was an innovative one-shot video for an MC called Lucas and a song called "Lucas With the Lid Off." Lucas isn't really around these days (I suppose back then, he was lumped in with the whole Neo-funk Hip hop of groups like US3, Digable Planets or the Brand New Heavies), but the video has really stood the test of time, and is a great nostalgia trip.
Michel Gondry may not be as instantly well known as Spike Jonze, but his resume is no less impressive: The White Stripes "Hardest Button to Button," and "Fell in Love With a Girl," the Foo Fighters' "Everlong," Five videos for Bjork, Beck's "Dead Weight," "Come Into My World" by Kylie Minogue, and the list goes on. What makes Gondry's videos eternally enjoyable is the fact that no musical preference acts as a prerequisite; often, his images are more compelling than the music. The majority of side B of th Gondry DVD consists of videos of a French band, Oui Oui. Even though my French is limited to three years of barely passing the class in high school, one only needs sight to realize the videos are amazing.
Every video is captivating in its own right, but certainly one of Gondry's greatest achievements on the DVD is making the Rolling Stones younger (or at least less old), as well as the video for the Chemical Brothers' "Let Forever Be." Like Jonze's DVD, Gondry's includes some added content: short films, commercials, and extensive interview, making of, and behind the scenes footage.
Insanely brilliant and exquisitely tripped out, both directors could easily be classified as visionary. Along with 50+ page booklets with photographs and interviews, the Directors Label DVDs are well worth the time it might take to sample all the content. All you really need to do is buy it, grab some Cheetos, sit down, and enjoy. Oh, and at least make an attempt to curb how many times you say "cool" and "awesome" - it gets mighty annoying after a while.
Directors Label Spike Jonze
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Directors Label Michel Gondry
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A staff writer based in Brooklyn, New York, Dan Williams is a frequent contributor to LAS magazine. He once lived in Köln, Germany for a semester, is currently persuing his MBA in New York, and recently switched sides and began working as a publicist for Special Ops Media in New York.
See other articles by Dan Williams.
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