A Collection of Music Videos, Short Films, Documentaries, and Stories
In the early days of music videos, being a video director must have been a fairly thankless job; aside from well-publicized efforts by "name" filmmakers like John Landis (Michael Jackson's "Thriller"), Brian DePalma (Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark"), and Martin Scorsese (Jacko's "Bad") slumming in MTV-land, video directors were little more than anonymous producers of promotional clips. Nowadays, with guys like David Fincher and Spike Jonze using videos as a springboard to feature films, video directors have stepped out from behind the curtain to become stars in their own right.
One of the most memorable and singularly talented of these MTV auteurs is Michel Gondry, a French filmmaker who has made his own leap to the big screen with 2001's Human Nature and the upcoming Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The Work of Michel Gondry is the third entry in a three-volume series of "Director's Label" DVDs from Palm Pictures showcasing the work of some of the most innovative and original music video directors of recent years (the other two volumes feature Spike Jonze and Chris Cunningham). This double-sided DVD set offers a fairly comprehensive (if incomplete) overview of Gondry's work, including music videos, short films, commercials, and a two-part documentary featuring interviews with Gondry and his collaborators as well as behind-the-scenes footage.
As is typical of Gondry's quirky, anachronistic style, the two sides are presented in reverse chronological order, that order extending to the material included on each disc:
Side A (2003-1995)
Side B (1995-1987)
Looking through this collection of videos, it's difficult to locate a particular look or technique that instantly identifies Gondry's work. It's not so much of a visual style, really, as an overall sensibility, marked by dream imagery and often astounding conceptual trickery. Gondry counts magicians among his many influences, and that propensity for sleight-of-hand distinguishes some of his best videos, such as Kylie Minogue's "Come Into My World," a deceptively simple clip of Minogue walking around a city street that develops into a startling visual feedback loop, leaving the viewer to wonder how the hell Gondry did it.
My favorites among this collection are built around that sort of puzzle- and dream-based concept: Cibo Matto's "Sugar Water" video is a fanciful split-screen palindrome; Björk's haunting "Bachelorette" becomes, in Gondry's hands, an infinitely regressing shard of a narrative that folds back upon itself to the point of chaos. Foo Fighters' "Everlong" video is an '80s punk fable-slash-"Evil Dead" parody-slash-Grimm Brothers fairy tale that unrolls along the convoluted lines of dream logic. Gondry can be sly, too: his video for "Star Guitar" by Chemical Brothers appears at first glance to be nothing more than random footage of passing scenery shot from a train window—until you realize that the trees and buildings are moving past in time to the music, and that the landscape itself has been transformed, through the subtlest of camera tricks, into a visual representation of the song.
Gondry isn't without his missteps; the intense emotional core of Björk's "Hyperballad," for instance, is dissipated in Gondry's video with a lot of pointless electronic nonsense. While most directors settle for literal interpretations of the songs they visualize, Gondry aims for deeper psychological journeys that draw as much on his own psyche as the songs themselves, and the result can seem capricious and irrelevant at times, but when it hits, it captures its subject with offbeat but somehow perfect accuracy.
Both video and audio presentations on this disc are flawless. It goes without saying that image quality is variable, as the material here was created using a variety of formats and post-production techniques, but everything looks and sounds the way it was obviously intended.
For any fan of Michel Gondry in particular or music/short-form video in general, The Work of Michel Gondry is a treasure trove, offering hours of mind-blowing eye candy and great music. The included documentary and 52-page booklet will give anyone interested in knowing more about Gondry's background and creative process more than enough to satisfy the most curious of minds. And at less than $20 list price, it's a fantastic bargain.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Palm Pictures
• 52-Page Book of Michel Gondry's Stories, Drawings, Photographs, and Interviews
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