IN THIS PHOTO: Michel Gondry/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Michel Gondry: His Eleven Finest Music Videos
I have quite a few features on the go...
PHOTO CREDIT: David von Becker
so I should probably call this one the last! It is nice to have a few different things spinning and it gives me the chance to concentrate on a specific area of music. I have looked at vinyl albums and the ones you need to get: now, as I look at music videos, I am celebrating long-lasting and inspiring directors and their greatest videos. The music video is often overlooked and there was a time when it was what defined a song. I feel stations like MTV helped push directors to new heights and there have been some iconic examples through the years. Whether they are as relevant today as they were years ago remains to be seen but I think a well-directed and imaginative video can change a song and elevate it. It can be hard creating a video that endures and resonates but there are plenty out there. To me, there is no better music video director than Michel Gondry. He has directed films too – including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – but it is his music vids that strike me hardest. Whereas a lot of directors, when faced with a song, will go for something straight-forward and grounded; Michel Gondry pushes open the mind and weaves in these weird and wonderful visuals. Perhaps is best known for his collaborations with Björk but, through the years, he has directed sterling videos for The White Stripes, Donald Fagen; Beck, Kylie Minogue and Daft Punk.
IN THIS PHOTO: A promotional shot from the Showtime series, Kidding, which stars Jim Carrey (pictured) and is directed by Michel Gondry/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Showtime
Sometimes, I struggle to get my head around concepts and what I am actually seeing! He sometimes does split-screen videos and will have two different threads playing that unite at a point; other times, he does a single-shot video and, in many ways, it is hard to define a ‘typical’ Michel Gondry video. I guess he does not have a distinct and unified style: his work is definitely imaginative but Gondry is masterful in a number of different moulds. He can create these huge and evocative pieces but is just as skilled when toning it down and using some brilliant piece of trickery. I think music videos are not quite as special and memorable as they used to be but, in many ways, they are more important. There are more artists out there and every song requires a visual accompaniment. I know budgets are tight but there have been some terrific videos over the past few years – have any of them reached the same height as a Gondry masterpiece? You can make your mind up but I have combined the eleven finest Gondry videos, when they were released and the standout moments from each – hard to do when his videos have so many highlights. Have a look here and associate yourself with one of the music world’s greatest directors. You might not know his name now but, when watching these videos, you’ll want to get more invested...
IN THIS PHOTO: Michel Gondry with Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey on the set of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
WITH Michel Gondry.
ALL PHOTOS/IMAGES (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images
The White Stripes – The Hardest Button to Button
Pitch: This is a video that makes use of pixilation animation and creates dozens of kits and guitar amplifiers. We see Jack and Meg White multiplied and each image projected in time to the rhythm of the song. Every time there is a guitar strum or drumbeat, there is another image of them. It creates this trippy and unforgettable visual. The effect we get – where Meg moves forward and occupies a new drum each time, leaving a vacant one behind her – was achieved when a trail of bass drums was set up. She would play on the last drum, that was removed and then she would move back one drum; move back another drum and play another beat. The sequence was filmed and run in reverse. The video was filmed in New York and sees the duo pass by local landmarks and down the Subway.
Song Release Date: 9th December, 2003
Album: Elephant (2003)
Standout Moment: (2:25): Beck appears in a cameo in a white suit and presents Jack with a “box with something in it”. What is in the box, man?!
Lucas – Lucas with the Lid Off
Pitch: In terms of the actual story, it follows Lucas as he takes us through various scenes. The chorus sees him in the booth, singing his song but, as the verses come through, he can be seen lying on his bed, taking a train and watching something at the cinema – one assumes a fictional ‘video’ for Lucas with the Lids Off. The video is rare because it was a single take; a long continuation with no edits, cuts or post-production magic. The video is shot in black-and-white and it is filmed on a set. It is an amazing technical feat and one that could have been sticky for the actors. Gondry keeps the camera moving and takes us through the world of Lucas and the creation of a song. To me, the video is a tale of the creative process from conception to execution: another Michel Gondry masterpiece that has yet to be equalled!
Song Release Date: October 1994
Album: Lucacentric (1994)
Standout Moment: (0:42-0:44): A delicious twist of the camera takes us from Lucas rapping at the microphone to underneath a table where we see a woman’s legs. It is a quick move but one that is dazzling and all done in that single shot.
Kylie Minogue – Come into My World
IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify
Pitch: We are taking into the world of Kylie Minogue on the streets of Paris. Adding a new spin to the song’s title and chorus, it is a typically impressive Gondry video that finds Minogue, at first, walking a circuit and singing to camera. Eventually, we see another Kylie doing the same circuit, and on and one. The multiple versions of Minogue interact and she literally ducks under a version of herself. The screen gets busier and busier as we see multiple layers and people; an arresting and challenging video that makes you wonder how it was done. In fact, the video was shot on 8th September, 2002 at the intersection of Rue du Point du Jour and Rue de Solférino in Boulogne-Billancourt, Paris. Forty extras were on hand and the video took a total of fifteen days to design and master.
Song Release Date: 11th November, 2002
Album: Fever (2001)
Standout Moment: (2:53): One version if Kylie Minogue swings around a lamppost as another one ducks under her arm.
Daft Punk – Around the World
Pitch: Perhaps this is the most iconic and recognisable Gondry video! Gondry was tired of choreography in videos and seeing fast cuts and shallow editing – something needed to change. He used five groups of chatters on a platform that represented a vinyl record: four robots walking around in a circle; four athletes wearing tracksuits with prophetic heads on as they walked down stairs; four women dressed as synchronised swimmers moving up and down another set of stairs; four skeletons dancing in the centre of the platform and four mummies dancing in time to the song’s drum pattern. Each ‘group’ symbolises a different instrument and the robots, as Gondry told, represent the singing.
Song Release Date: 17th March, 1997
Album: Homework (1997)
Standout Moment: (3:30-3:32): A wide shot sees all the performers dancing onto the central part of the set (the middle of the vinyl record) as robots then dance on the outside circle.
Donald Fagen – Snowbound
Pitch: We see a combination of impressive stop-motion and real-time footage. The real-time visuals were imposed onto models. These models are then sent to a modelled, futuristic city – effects were added in post-production. The story of the video revolves around worker drones whose daily lives are cluttered. It is a grey city where they work and they live in a red, hazy state of repression. Imposed onto the images of this daily grind is soft snow falling. Fagen’s face appears like an overlord as he watches over the drones. The video spotlights one male and female drone but the arresting moment happens when one drone gets zapped whilst napping; Fagen shoots electricity from his vantage point above the city. The drone goes to fight Fagen but is then tossed off from that watch point.
Song Release Date: 16th December, 1993
Album: Kamakiriad (1993)
Standout Moment: (4:13): A striking image of Fagen’s head appearing on a metal structure; spanners as his hands. A tiny man in a tiny car passes by him on a railway-like system as Fagen turns a stern look in his direction.
Björk – Jóga
IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify
Pitch: It is hard to pick which Björk-Gondry video to pick because there are so many great examples. This is the first one that comes to mind as it signalled a departure from his usual style. It is quite a subtle, if gorgeous, video that focuses on Icelandic terrain and landscapes. Björk is only seen at the beginning and end of the video: the rest of the video follows this once-peaceful scene being interrupted by an earthquake (done using computer animation) and we end with an image of an island floating inside Björk’s chest.
Song Release Date: 15th September, 1997
Album: Homogenic (1997)
Standout Moment: (0:05): The first time we see Björk in the video. It is an aerial shot and we zoom into her face. Seeing her as this tiny figure against the beauty and vastness of nature is a stirring and gorgeous image.
Cibo Matto – Sugar Water
Pitch: It is hard to watch this video only once! It is one of my favourite ever and is an early example of Gondry using split-screen effects to look at two different stories happening on screen at the same time. The duo, Miho Hatori, Yuka Honda, start their day in bed as the screen is split and follows each of their days. The left-hand screen is shown is shot forward and the right is reversed. It is dizzying but you will see why that effect was employed. Hatori is seen showering with water whereas Honda is showering in sugar. They get dressed and walk down the stone stairs of their respective apartments. To the left, we see Honda on the ground having been knocked from a moped. On her lap is what looks like a death threat with the letter saying ‘You Killed Me’. The left of the screen shows her getting up and walking away whereas the right shows the moments before. The video then shows the moment the death threat was mailed and Hatori posting it. It all tracks to the opening moment of the duo showering. It is not explained why the accident happened or why that sinister message was sent – creating mystery and allowing the viewer to make up their own mind.
Song Release Date: 1996
Album: Viva! La Woman (1996)
Standout Moment: (2:00): Where we see a close-up of the death threat/letter and both images are fused to spell out ‘You Killed Me’.
The Chemical Brothers – Let Forever Be
IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify
Pitch: Let Forever Be often tops lists when we think of the best Michel Gondry videos. The video depicts a young woman’s (played by Stephanie Landwehr) nightmares. It was inspired by Ray Davies’ 18975 Granada TV production, Starmaker. It employs ground-breaking effects and is a dizzying insight into a haunted and nightmare-riddled mind.
Song Release Date: 2nd August, 1999
Album: Surrender (1999)
Standout Moment: (0:31-0:34): We see a line of the heroine dancing by a mattress. The effect is great and it is a typical piece of Gondry brilliance. She is dressed in a sparkly dress and all of the images then merge together to the one bed where we see her under the covers and the alarm clock by her.
The Living Sisters – How Are You Doing?
IMAGE CREDIT: Spotify
Pitch: Similar to the video with Cibo Matto, this one is shot using split-screen – we see three images rather than the two. It follows the trio and contradicts the positive messages of the song with a series of disastrous events. Included early on is one member burning breakfast, the other pregnant and worried and the third on a plane. We follow those stories as they each try and deal with the events. There is a figure in the kitchen, the baby looks like it is coming and the plane is struggling in turbulence. The anxiety heightens and we see a burning house as the women flees. In the pregnancy scene, the woman packs a suitcase and hops into a taxi. Oxygen masks come down in the plane. Each member makes it safely and hits the road – the first and middle shot by car; the final using a motorbike – but things go wrong as we witness a robbery, labour and a lost woman stranded. An earthquake hits and affects the situations: the baby is delivered but, elsewhere there is carnage on the streets as cars crash and the ground splits. It all ends happily as all three band members are in the delivery room and see the baby.
Song Release Date: 2011
Album: Love to Live (2010)
Standout Moment: (2:46): All three segments of the screen merge in the hospital room and it looks like a single shot. It is wonderfully shot and a great resolution to a tense day for the band!
Björk – Army of Me
Pitch: The music video opens with Björk, wearing a black karate gi, driving a large vehicle that is carrying a man in cryonic slumber in a city, but the passers seem to ignore the mass of the vehicle. The vehicle begins to sputter and slow, prompting Björk to check the motor. Before floating off the vehicle, she turns to the camera and shows metallic teeth. The vehicle's engine assembly consists of a mouth in which all of the teeth appear rotten, comically exaggerated by a shaggy-looking man engulfed in a stench-cloud crawling out of the mouth and offending passers-by.
Björk touches her cheek, appearing to have a toothache, and proceeds to a nearby dentist's office. While she is going to the room of the dentist, her image appears reflected in a series of mirrors that make it impossible to distinguish her real self. She is examined by the dentist, an anthropomorphic gorilla, who discovers a diamond in her mouth. The dentist attempts to steal the diamond for himself, but Björk leaps onto his back and pummels him, and, retrieving the diamond, escapes the office. She takes the diamond back to her vehicle, all the while it multiplies in size until she is barely able to carry it. Björk tosses the diamond into the vehicle's mouth, apparently correcting its earlier affliction.
She then drives to a museum and proceeds inside, carrying a satchel containing a bomb. The museum is full of surrealistic things like mirrors reflecting non-existent people. Sneaking past the museum's guards, she places the bomb on one of the exhibits, a man lying on an altar in a deep sleep. She then bolts toward the museum's exit, concerning the guards and other patrons. She makes it out of the building just moments before the bomb explodes. After the explosion, she re-enters the building to find all the unarmed visitors and the man from the altar, who appears to have been just wakened by the blast. Björk hugs him, crying teardrops of jewels - Wikipedia
Song Release Date: 21st April, 1995
Album: Post (1995)
Standout Moment: (2:02): The gorilla dentist removes a diamond from Björk’s mouth.
Beck – Deadweight
PHOTO CREDIT: Richard Burbridge
Pitch: Everything is back to front and the wrong way around! Beck starts on the beach but he is working at his desk. Clips of the film, A Life Less Ordinary, are interspersed and impact Beck. Beck takes photos from the walls of his house – samples of wallpaper in frames – and we follow him as he seems to appear in the film itself. Maybe the film is a dream or a daze; a clever device that gets you wondering. In one of the most striking images, Beck’s shadow pulls him along the street.
Song Release Date: 27th October, 1997
Album: A Life Less Ordinary (film soundtrack) (1997)
Standout Moment: (2:59): Beck is on the street and waves as his shadow waves back.