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Case Number 03982: Small Claims Court

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The Work Of Director Chris Cunningham

Palm Pictures // 2003 // 400 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // February 27th, 2004

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All Rise...

The Charge

A collection of music videos, short films, video installations, and commercials.

The Case

"let me tell you what bugs me of the human endeavor
i've never been a human in question, have you?
mankind went to the moon
i don't even know where grimsby is
forget progress by proxy
land on your own moon
it's no longer about what they can achieve, out there on your behalf
but what we can experience
up here and of our own time
and it's called mental wealth"

How insanely cool is Chris Cunningham? Even if the name rings no bells, odds are you have encountered his work before, either through his incredibly stylized and dystopic music videos, his long-term collaboration with Aphex Twin, or his groundbreaking and distinctive television commercials.

Cunningham is a seriously dangerous music video director, crafting cinematic technological dreamscapes that border on the nightmarish. They are, simply put, full-out assaults on the senses; his videos are a jumble of confusing, disturbing images married with an onslaught of digital noise and aggression, fusing the organic and the technological, the flesh and the steel. And yet, he manages to make videos consistently entertaining in their esoteric strangeness. They are impossible to quantify, and more impossible to forget.

Though released in a retrospective line of DVDs alongside his contemporaries Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry, it is hard to compare Cunningham to them, or to anyone else, really. As an auteur, he has no true contemporary, no peer. His is a uniquely singular vision, dystopic and postmodern, cutting-edge and digitally manipulative, a merging of flesh and machines that is as thoroughly fascinating as it is profoundly disturbing—like a Cronenberg movie on cyber-steroids.

It should come as no surprise, then, that his film work consists of equally visionary and stylized projects; Cunningham spent a year and a half working with Stanley Kubrick on a head prop for the movie A.I. and has also worked as a character designer and on alien creature effects for Alien3 and Alien: Resurrection. Cunningham was also the man who attempted to bring the movie adaptation of William Gibson's Neuromancer to life (an ill-fated endeavor, ultimately; the film has been in "development hell" for so long that most fans have lost all hope of the project ever getting off the ground), which is a shame, truly; Cunningham's vision would have been absolutely perfect for the project.

A strong cross-section of music videos is offered on this disc; the videos included are:

Autechre—Second Bad Vibel
Aphex Twin—Come To Daddy
Portishead—Only You
Leftfield featuring Afrika Bambaataa—Afrika Shox
Squarepusher—Come On My Selector
Aphex Twin —Windowclicker
Björk—All Is Full Of Love

While nowhere near a complete career offering, the video choices are definitely his most notorious; his breakthrough Aphex Twin video for "Come To Daddy," the award-winning, bizarre Japanese mental institution break-out in Squarepusher's video "Come On My Selector" (my personal favorite), the industrial robotic, A.I.-inspired Björk video for "All Is Full Of Love," and the eerie, atmospheric, underwater Portishead video for "Only You" are among the highlights.

And, of course, one cannot forget Aphex Twin's "Windowclicker," which could be the foulest music video ever conceived.

The audio and video are fantastic, as with the other Director's Label DVDs. The videos are transferred immaculately, and the sound captures every buzz, hiss, crackle, and digital distortion with perfection. Turn off the lights and crank the volume, and get absolutely blown to smithereens. The only real featurette included is "Making 'All Is Full Of Love,'" featuring behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Björk and Chris Cunningham. It is certainly interesting, but far too short. A few of his short films are also included here, including a segment from "flex," a contorting, violent and spellbinding indescribable piece.

The only big, ugly, major flaw with this DVD is its relative shortness, especially compared to its "Director's Series" counterparts. The Work of Director Chris Cunningham is a single-sided DVD, unlike the double-sided and more noticeably padded entries of Jonze and Gondry, which contain much more supplemental interviews, videos, and goodies. It is hard to call this DVD a poor value, per se, but this disc definitely feels thinner and less robust than the Spike Jonze and the Michel Gondry offerings, and therefore must score slightly lower.

But, considering that Cunningham's work is the stuff of actual nightmares, perhaps "more" would be an ill-conceived offering. After all, more could lead to permanent physical and emotional damage.

Much has been written, speculated, and dissected on the subject of Cunningham's work. One can argue that his work tears open and exposes bare the underlining Freudian anxieties of a society growing more dependent on technology, technology that we, as society, depend on immensely, but secretly loathe. Others may simply call him seriously f**ked up.

Priced for under $20, the Director's Label DVDs represent fantastic, unparalleled value. If you have never been exposed to Cunningham's vision, now is the time to get intimately acquainted.

When you are finished, a Judge will be around shortly to bring you a glass of warm milk and tuck you in.

Sweet dreams.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 89

Perp Profile

Studio: Palm Pictures
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 400 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Concerts and Musicals
• Performance
• Short Films

Distinguishing Marks

• 52-page book with Chris Cunningham's photographs, storyboards, sketches, drawings, and interviews
• "Making 'All Is Full Of Love'"--featuring behind the scene footage and interviews with Björk and Chris Cunningham
• "Monkey Drummer"--video installation, featuring music by Aphex Twin
• "flex"--video installation, featuring music by Aphex Twin
• "Mental Wealth"--Sony Playstation commercial
• "Photocopier"--Never-seen Levis commercial
• "Engine"--Nissan commercial, featuring music by Boards of Canada

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