It's all right, it's all right, all right... Judge Bill Gibron thinks in mysterious ways... and he happens to love this latest edition in the Directors' Label Series on music video pioneers.
Give it away, give it away, give it away now.
Film, by its very nature, is a visual medium. Say all you want about dialogue and ambience, but without images, all you'd have is radio. Music video moves us further along the sensory line of the medium. It introduces sound back into the mix, making the two complementary components that cannot thrive without the other. Indeed, the best musical movie clips are those that find a way to successfully marry the sights to the sonics, merging and blurring the two until one cannot be evaluated without the other, and vice versa. Those who come closest to eradicating the differential all together are considered the auteurs of the industry.
But out on the outskirts of the format is a director who is trying to bring all five senses into the show. For Stèphane Sednaoui, music is such a vital, visceral element of life, and film so fresh and fascinating that, by combining to two, he hopes to bring out the optical and the aural, as well as the olfactory, the palatable, and the tactile. He wants people to feel the song, to smell the strong musky aroma of creativity and imagination. He needs you to taste the sex, to drink in the drive and drama inherent in the propagation of melodic madness. He wants to highlight hope, illustrate imagination, and expose emotion while simultaneously shilling for himself and the artist. Quite an aesthetic workload. Perhaps this is why his videos are so resoundingly spectacular.
Representing the final volume in this recent issue of DVDs from Palm Pictures' Directors' Label Series, The Work of Director Stèphane Sednaoui is a mind-expanding experience. Erotic and provocative, confrontational and calm, Sednaoui is best known for painting the Red Hot Chili Peppers silver and putting them through some synchronized gymnastics in the middle of the California desert. The video for "Give It Away," the first single off the Peppers' smash Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik album introduced Sednaoui, and the band, for that matter, to their proper place in the mainstream. Sednaoui had been a photographer before, working with bands and celebrities to craft an identifiable and iconic image. He strives for the same in his videos, but there is such a perverse physical bond here between performer and director that you can actual feel elements both arousing and envious.
Sednaoui strives for the corporeal and the passionate. His choice of artists—Björk, Tricky, R.E.M., U2, The Chili Peppers—are all musicians who bring a heated, hormonal quality to their decibels. Sednaoui emphasizes the connection between rock and roll and carnality, utilizing harsh lighting and saturated colors to create a kind of symphonic softcore porn appeal. His are not videos overflowing with hidden symbolism or deeper allegorical meaning (even if the imagery for Massive Attack's "Sly" or Mirwais "Disco Science" seem to be telling its own stories). Sednaoui is about expression and explosions, about the body in motion, moving to the unfettered freedom offered by beat, bass, guitar, and voice. He may add some eccentric elements along the way, but for him, it's about visualizing the vibe he finds inside a song.
The videos available for purview here are as follows:
• "I Can't Wait"—Mirwais
There are many highlights in this collection, standout clips that create their own private universe of performance and potency. It is hard not to like what Tricky is turned into at the hands of Sednaoui. Usually, this London-based hip-hop badass comes across as arrogant or detached, but this director totally understands his angry black man persona, and gives him three amazing settings (with the simple "Pumpkin" being the best) to show off his strength. Similarly, Sednaoui uses U2's brash bravado to sell sentiments of overheated lust ("Mysterious Ways") and high class camp (the Village People inspired "Discotheque"). Both Chili Peppers clips are charismatic classics, with "Give It Away"'s funk outburst as orgasm matching perfectly with the somber and reflective "Scar Tissue." Even the works by artists we don't know (Mirwais, NTM) resonate with a real artistic power. Unlike other directors—Anton Corbijn comes to mind—who constantly recreate a certain look or style, Sednaoui plays with his parameters, tweaking each to fit the artist in question.
No where is this truer than with ex-girlfriend Björk (the lady herself spills the beans on their relationship during the enclosed documentary). Indeed, you can read their entire rapport in the videos for "Big Time Sensuality" and "Possibly Maybe." The former is like first love, a celebration of excitement and stimulation. Björk dancing inside the monochrome canyons of New York City's skyline is just amazing. "Possibly Maybe" illustrates the end of an affair, mixed emotions matched with primary color sets of surreal strength. Within these settings, the Icelandic singer croons her wounded wail of a warble in obvious expressions of emotion. You can feel the fierceness in her gestures and sense her open resolve. Sednaoui also likes to push proclivity issues, making the musicians' sexual preferences seem ambiguous and unknowable. We don't see standard male/female—macho/feminine—facets to his clips. They all tend to meld into a single statement of androgynous humanity. It's what makes "Lotus" by R.E.M. and "Ironic" by Alanis Morissette so intriguing and arresting.
As part of the presentation here, Palm Pictures provides an amazing technical package. The transfer is flawless, and each video is given its own original aspect ratio (anywhere from 1.33:1 to 2.35:1). Again, these are non-anamorphic presentations, so owners of a 16x9 set up need to suffer without a proper visual variable for their hardware. There is a nice Dolby Digital Stereo Surround 2.0 mix which gives the music real power and depth. The immersive elements are minor, but the overall auditory experience is stellar.
As for bonus or added features, the Directors' Label Series really doesn't offer much in the way of outside context. Everything here, from the videos to the documentaries, interviews, and short films, is considered part of the overall presentation. What is sadly missing from this set are individual commentaries on the clips. Unlike other installments, the artists here only discuss their work in a 40-minute interview featurette that, frankly, fails to cover all the bases. A few of the artists featured in the set do not appear (most notably, Alanis), and even then, those present pass over many of the more interesting aspects of their collaboration to praise their pal Sednaoui. Tricky is particularly eloquent, as is Flea. But for the most part, it's a "we're not worthy" kind of smooze fest that is interesting, but not essential. Much better is the 20-minute excerpt from a 2002 appearance by Sednaoui at New York University. Articulate, friendly, and full of beans, the director takes questions from the students and gives us insights into his loves (anything by Björk) and hates (Mariah Carey).
There are a few short films as supplements here as well. "Walk on the Wild Side" is a near-literal translation of the Lou Reed song, and makes for a fascinating look at metropolitan misery. "Army of Me" is an animated short inspired by the Björk song (she later filmed the video with director Michel Gondry). It is all anime styling and black-and-white weirdness. "Acqua Natasa" is like a cinematic screensaver. It is an original and engaging production that features Natasa Vojnovic floating in a beautiful blue pool of water. The slow-motion movements and ethereal elegance of the piece are mesmerizing. Finally, Sednaoui allows us a window into his distant past with "Reve Reche," his first attempt at a short film. It is amateurish and awkward, but it does contain a commentary featuring Sednaoui making fun of himself. Along with a wonderful 56-page booklet of photos, storyboards, treatment ideas, and sketches, we get a grand insight into the Sednaoui's creative process.
While missing some of his most familiar work (no sign of Smashing Pumpkins' "Today," Madonna's "Fever," or Alanis's "Thank U"), this volume of the Directors' Label Series proves that no one understands the five senses better than Stèphane Sednaoui. He truly makes videos that offer experiences in sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell. Everything about his oeuvre is licentious and lively, exuding a kind of concentrated corporeality. Certainly, he is celebrated as one of the medium's most visually arresting filmmakers, but he is much more than that. He brings life—all aspects of it—to the talent he is featuring, and they and their songs are better for it…and so are we. Stèphane Sednaoui is soul salvation in short-film form.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Palm Pictures
• Interviews with Artists Featured
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