A medium that has long been a vital part of the music industry, over the past thirty years the music video has served many purposes. From artist promotion and entertainment, solving world issues and experimental masterclasses, it’s an undeniably powerful art form. For this week’s Friday Fives feature we shine a spotlight on the music video and the artists and directors that are responsible for some of our all time favourites – from LEGO driven stop-motion animation through to a coke-snorting, body-popping, wheelchair-bound kid called and beyond…
The Pharcyde – ‘Drop’ directed by Spike Jonze (1995)
One of the most innovative Hip Hop music videos of all time, The Pharcyde’s ‘Drop’ was directed by auteur filmmaker Spike Jonze. It was recorded backwards and played forward. It features footage of the group strutting braggadocious through downtown LA, undressing, being un-soaked with water and culminates with the reverse painting of a mural.
The group had less than five days to learn how to walk, talk and undress backwards. To realise this, they hired a private linguist, who broke down the backwards language speaking process to phonetic sounds for them. They literally sat down whilst they were on tour, put on their headphones and memorized gibberish. This level of commitment in itself is pretty impressive and goes to show why they pulled it off so well. Group member Tre said, “It’s like learning a different language… but it wasn’t really much of a problem being from the planet that we’re from.” You can see Spike’s one page idea for the concept here, and watch a behind the scenes, making-of process for the video here to get a better idea for yourself…
Arctic Monkeys – ‘Leave Before the Lights Come On’ directed by John Hardwick (2006)
Film, television and theatre director John Hardwick collaborated with Arctic Monkeys for the second time in 2006 for their third single ‘Leave Before the Lights Come On’. The video features the story of a chance encounter between a man, played by Paddy Considine, and a seemingly suicidal woman, played by Kate Ashfield. Set in the bands hometown of Sheffield, the video begins with Ashfield’s character on top of a building contemplating leaping from the edge. She drops her shoe from the edge of the building as Considine’s character walks past, to which he reacts by running to the top of the building to convince Ashfield not to jump.
What’s most captivating about this video is the highly emotive narrative conveyed within a succinct restricted time frame. The complexity of emotion displayed within the three minutes fifty-nine seconds is vast, particularly expressed by Ashfield’s character. The visual aesthetic stretches the songs sentiments to extremes, both pontificating on the desperate need for love and attention. The lyrics express the awkwardness and discomfort of the morning after a one-night stand. Front man Alex Turner vocalises his dismay at the situation through lyrics such as ‘How can you wake up, with someone you don’t love, and not feel slightly fazed by it?’ Interpreting a one-night stand as a need for attention, Hardwick ensures Ashfield’s character demonstrates these feelings in extremes. Attempting to kiss and hold her savoir Considine results in the married male character violently resisting Ashfield’s persistent attempts, only for the process to begin again with a different man at the end, this time with drummer Matt Helders. The genius of the video is the depth of Ashfield’s character. As the viewer it’s difficult to decide whether you hate or empathise with her.
Aphex Twin – ‘Rubber Johnny’ directed by Chris Cunningham (2005)
Rubber Johnny is a six-minute experimental short film and music video directed by Chris Cunningham in 2005 with music composed by Aphex Twin. The name Rubber Johnny is drawn from a British slang for ‘condom’ and is the name of the videos main character. The short was made in Cunningham’s own time as a side project and took over 3 years worth of weekends to complete.
The initial idea for the Rubber Johnny video came from Cunningham envisaging a raver morphing as he frantically danced. This idea rapidly evolved, as things do whith Cunningham, and Johnny transformed into an isolated and severely deformed young man, slouched on a wheelchair and locked in a dark basement with only his petrified chihuahua for company – I’ll always remember watching this with friends for the first time around the age of 15 or 16 and being instantly in awe of the opening section of the video which presents an out-of-focus closeup of Johnny (played by Cunningham), jabbering frenziedly whilst being interviewed by a man off screen, all shot in the fear-inducing DV night vision. What unfolds over the next part of the video is a barrage of sick choreography; zippy, jerky, a technical feat of editing, synching and animation.
Although Cunningham’s talents definitely come to life in extraordinary ways when working on projects with bigger budgets (see Bjorks ‘All Is Full Of Love‘ as the main example), there is something so captivating about this particular labour of love, where an artist achieves such startling results with what seems to be a small amount of tools and endless skill.
Atoms For Peace – ‘Before Your Very Eyes’ directed by Andrew Huang (2013)
Director of Bjorks unforgettable ‘Mutual Core’ video Andrew Thomas Huang returned to collaborate with Thom Yorke and co in 2013 for ‘Before Your Very Eyes’. Working with sculptors, digital artists and animators, Huang utilised similar colour grading and contours to delivers another psychedelic immersive and morphing video.
Like a broken statue, body parts of Yorke are scattered around a mutating swamp like desert. The landscape evolves into a colourful clay city that continuously shifts, disintegrates and drowns, concluding in a full bodied Thom Yorke being encased underground. The handcrafted mountainous city, depicted in this brilliant Making Of video, was immersed in digital post production to create the flow of a city in flux. A face painted performance by Yorke was superimposed to create a seamless engrossing visual experience.
It seems apt for boundary breaking artists such as Bjork and Thom Yorke to collaborate with Huang, a director working with a highly proficient team to create such memorable pieces of art. The visual accompaniments create a multisensory experience, magnifying and constituting too emotive elements of already accomplished pieces of music in abstract form.
The White Stripes – ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’ directed by Michel Gondry (2003)
Gondry, responsible for classic videos for the likes of Bjork, Daft Punk and The Rolling Stones, enjoyed a fruitful creative partnership with The White Stripes – with this, their first effort, standing the test of time as one of the pairing’s most visually stimulating offerings. Going on to work on two more videos together, the band and director actually came together rather serendipitously as the result of a label cock up. With Jack White asking to work with the director of Beck’s ‘Devils Haircut’, the record label secured the services of Gondry – rather than Mark Romanek, who was the actual director of the aforementioned video. Despite realising the mistake early on, White was thankfully a fan of the Frenchman’s, and the rest – as they say, is history.
Beginning with a cameo from Gondry’s son, the rest of the video consists of ingeniously executed LEGO driven stopmotion animation. Put together with painstaking attention to detail, Gondry’s video captures the punchdrunk, Garage-Punk style of the music, changing shot and scene constantly. One of the most visually iconic bands of the modern era, Gondry makes the most of The White Stripes’ instantly recognisable colour combo of black, white and red, with the LEGO versions Jack and Meg shown frantically running, swimming, dancing and playing their instruments.Instantly acclaimed upon release, its rather remarkable that LEGO did in fact not officially sanction the video at first – with Gondry and the band having to buy vast quantities of the stuff in order to make this happen.