Unless you want an unwelcome visit from the Karma Police or the dastardly Don Logan, Judge Bill Gibron recommends you give this collection of Jonathan Glazer's cinematic efforts a spin.
Karma police, arrest this man.
The difference between a music video and a feature film is not as vast as one might think. Certainly, different mindsets are at play, as the grand scheme that comprises five minutes worth of illustrated music is not always the same that puts a full 90-minute narrative through its paces. The nuances are different and the scope can fluctuate wildly. A feature doesn't corner the market on epic, while the video isn't always a minor story of smaller details. Indeed, the commonality in both far outweighs the contradictions, and artists who challenge the validity of either miss the overall magic that each can create.
Videos occasionally can be as provocative and cinematic as the most amazing work of celluloid. But, somehow, when a film is given the characteristics of a video mini-musical, the feature is faulted for being too much like its commercial clip brethren. Maybe it's a bias born out of jealously. Or perhaps the right filmmaker hasn't come along to showcase an able aptitude at both.
Director Jonathan Glazer could be that man. He walks the parapets of this dichotomy very skillfully. In Volume 5 of Palm Pictures' amazing Director's Label Series, we get eight examples of his work. Naturally, his work in videos is paramount to the presentation, with clips from artists as diverse as Radiohead and Massive Attack. But we also gain insight into Glazer's other marketable constructs, as we see 11 commercials and two film clips (for Glazer's two big screen nods, 2000's Sexy Beast and 2004's Birth).
If there is an overriding theme to this set—as there seems to be with each installment of this influential series—it is that Jonathan Glazer is a skilled, visionary filmmaker who just so happens to helm music videos once in a while. In the mind of those who discuss him, there is no difference between the two. To them, he is the same as such diverse directors as David Lynch, David Fincher, and Martin Scorsese. In Glazer's case, however, the difference between his big and small screen efforts is almost invisible. Indeed, throughout most of the material here, you will see his interests and his propensities spelled out in sensational optical excellence, no matter the format.
The sole anomaly in the set, the one music clip among many that just doesn't look like it belongs with the others, is also probably Glazer's most recognizable turn behind the video camera. "Virtual Insanity" by those Stevie Wonder soundalikes Jamiroquai features the now infamous "moving floor" brain buster in which lead singer Jay Kay appears to float inside a strange, sterile, single room set. While it's a fascinating technical exercise to watch, it is truly antithetical to the rest of Glazer's work. Looking at Radiohead's two clips ("Karma Police" and "Street Spirit (Fade Out)"), or the videos of ex-Verve vocalist Richard Ashcroft ("A Song for the Lovers") and Massive Attack ("Karmacoma"), we see an obvious affection for crime and suspense, for visuals both sinister and semi-surreal. Even when working in the Clockwork Orange-inspired "The Universal" (for Blur) or Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds melancholy "Into My Arms," we see a lack of gimmickry, and a real desire to connect with both the music and the audience.
The masterpiece on this DVD is for a track called "Rabbit in Your Headlights" by UK trip-hop artists UNKLE. The song, a somber bit of dramatic soundscaping which features a forlorn Thom Yorke (from Radiohead) on vocals is nice enough, but when matched with the vision Glazer conceived for it, the clip becomes transcendent, even poetic. Certainly it is a tough video to watch (the main premise involves a troubled man, a busy underground tunnel, and lots of cars aimed directly at the derelict), but the ultimate message of both the music and the mini-movie is uplifting, powerful, and determined. The use of effects—sometimes obvious, other times seamless—really maximizes the sequence's success, and the bravery Glazer shows in his shot selection and storytelling is spellbinding. If there is a sole reason to pick up this volume, it would be for this amazing video alone.
The real revelation here, however, is Glazer's work in advertising. Since commercials usually don't translate across cultural or national barriers, we rarely get to see how products are pushed in other parts of the world. For Glazer, advertisement is about association, about meeting the audience with your campaign and having it resonate beyond the product. That is definitely the case with the Stella Artois ads (for a "very expensive beer," according to the slogan). These clever comic vignettes used to shill are marvelous, since they each tell a separate story while never forgetting the import of the merchandise.
The same can be said for the three Guinness commercials. Each one approaches the length of time it takes to pour a pint in different, inventive ways. From the Samuel L. Jackson fronted rants about miscommunication and money (for Barclays) to the stunningly strange ad for Wrangler jeans (presented without its Wizard of Oz-inspired backing track) we see a cinematic convergence, a coming together of film facets that truly prepared their creator for his next step to the big screen.
The discussion of Glazer's feature films is rather limited, but very fascinating nonetheless. We witness a three-minute epithet-filled moment from Sexy Beast and the opening 10 minutes of Birth. Accompanying each clip is an interview featurette. Beast's Ben Kingsley and Ray Winstone are questioned separately, and the comments intercut, so we end up with a "he said/he said" look at making a movie with Glazer. Both actors are incredibly engaging and forthcoming, and make the production of their film sound like quite an adventure.
The Birth material is a little more subdued. Some of the issues critics had with the motion picture (unsure narrative, a tendency to pull back from the brink of taboo-busting) are skirted over, though you can read explanations into the conversations about last-minute rewrites and "looking" for the film inside the separate scenes. What's clear is that Glazer is a filmmaker first. His forays into other avenues of artistic expression were just ways to get money—and meaning—for his muse.
Technically, Palm Pictures delivers another terrific package. From a set of filmed menu screens (all surrounding adventures with a hobo), we can access the videos, the commercials, the films, and the commentary/interviews. Unlike the Mark Romanek set, Glazer does not speak for himself here. He is nowhere to be found in the alternate narrative tracks, nor is he featured in the making-of footage. Instead, he leaves the talking to some of his talented associates. The most interesting commentaries come from Ashcroft (who loves what the director did with his song), Cave (who believes the clip is beautiful, but actually betrays his song), and Graham Coxton of Blur (who hates everything about music videos, period!). Sadly, Radiohead appears to be the only group not represented in the bonus features. Add in the 56-page booklet containing amazing photos and snaps from Glazer's efforts, and you have an excellent complementary collection of content to mull over.
Visually and aurally, we get another amazing DVD presentation. The videos range from full frame to 2.75:1, and sadly, are not mastered for anamorphic widescreen setups (sorry, 16x9 owners who love their MTV). There is some occasional pixelation during the instances when the screen goes pitch black, and the contrast can seem overcompensating at times (especially in the many monochrome sequences), but overall, this is an amazing looking experience of sensational imagery. Sonically, the Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 delivers devastatingly accurate recreations of the music, with "Karmacoma," "Karma Police," and "The Universal" sounding especially strong. During the interviews, the conversations are clear, concise, and easy to understand.
While he's not the industry icon that Mark Romanek, Anton Corbijn, or Stéphane Sednoui are, Glazer still deserves a place in this amazing celebration of artistry. He may perhaps be the one and only director in this set who can claim to make the same statement the same way, whether it's on the big or small screen. It's not the size of the canvas that counts—it's the creativity within. And for Jonathan Glazer, that amount is absolutely astounding.
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