The music video is an interesting and rewarding artform to explore, but one that doesn’t get enough attention from those who love film. While music videos as we traditionally think of them are unarguably mired in the world of the commercial, this doesn’t prevent them from often serving as an amazing bridge between music, art, and cinema. A perfect format for short-storytelling, aesthetic exploration, tone poems, and (most importantly) experimentation, it is the playground of filmmakers and artists who are often pulling off the most fun and inventive accomplishments of anyone working with motion-pictures. Each week Renn Loves Music Videos will take a look at a batch of music videos –new, old, weird, radical, classic, experimental, and everything in between– to try and figure out what makes each one special.
Keep in mind that many older videos aren’t available in magnificent quality.
Graphic photo: Nathan Jones
Aphex Twin – Come To Daddy (dir. Chris Cunningham)
What can I say? This is definitely one of my absolute favorite music videos of all time. Horrific, gritty, energetic, and willing to climax with a Videodrome allusion, I’m an easy lay for this one. Even still, it’s a classic work of grotesquery from video artist Chris Cunningham, whose work with Aphex Twin, Madonna, and Bjork put him on the cutting edge in the late 90s. A true video artist, his work has always pushed extremes and struck nerves in people, evidenced by his freakshow short Rubber Johnny attaining some viral infamy in ’05. This music video is part of a pair of videos he did with Aphex Twin that involves Richard D. James’ creepy fucking face showing up in a whole lot of places it shouldn’t.
Come To Daddy combines energetic picture cuts with improved mayhem and analog video distortion to perfectly compliment the grungy glitch-fest. Thematically it isn’t exactly subtle, but music video rarely are, and Cunningham has a wonderful way of perverting our relationship with television and digital culture that’s hard to describe as anything other than “icky.” The malnourished horror that emerges from a cathode ray womb at the end of the video is enough to give one waking nightmares. It’s going to be hard for the artists of the future to make flatscreens quite that scary.
Stepdad – My Leather, My Fur, My Nails (dir. Titanic Sinclair)
The low-rent editing aesthetic and the vaguely hipstery wardrobe of Stepdad in this video may be enough to turn some folks off right away, but if you give this video a chance you’ll see how important creativity and texture can be to a good music video. Ostensibly an orgy of out-of-the-box Final Cut Pro and After Effects video filters, My Leather, My Fur, My Nails is filled to the brim with video beveling, clumsy keying, and video reverb. It’s also constructed with a keen eye for visual rhythm, and such a complete dedication to an aesthetic that it’s a real joy to watch. It’s fun witnessing a set of tools that are available to anyone be used in the most primitive manner possible, but with such extensive layering and vivid use of color that it looks like nothing you’ve ever seen. There’s also a bizarre multi-dimensionality to the effects that puts everything on some bizarre visual plane where objects and scale and motion are just a little bit off, making it even more interesting. This is a newer video, but it’s definitely one of my new favorites.
ROME – 3 Dreams of Black (dir. Chris Milk)
ROME is a collaboration of Danger Mouse (who is a part of more duos, collectives, and partnerships than I can count) and Daniele Luppi, and it’s an album that’s notable for “featuring Jack White and Norah Jones on vocals and is soon to be released on the record label Parlophone/EMI. ROME is inspired by Italian soundtracks from the 1960s and the classic Italian Western genre. In fact, the album was recorded with the original orchestra from Italian director Sergio Leone’s westerns (remember The Good, The Bad & The Ugly?).”
Google partnered with music video director Chris Milk to create an interactive visual experience inspired by a song from the album called 3 Dreams of Black. It’s partly a marketing tool for the Chrome Browser, partly an HTML5 engineering project, and partly an interactive music video experiment. Whatever you want to call it, it’s an interesting experience. If you load it up in a chrome browser, you’re taken on a railed journey through several landscapes which can be interacted with and changed by the movement of your cursor. In some animated segments you’re able to look around, and in others the movement of your mouse creates a real-time generated explosion of creatures and color. Eventually you end up in a desert filled with pixelated meme imagery that you can fly through and explore. You do need Chrome to try it out, and it’s fairly processor-intensive, but if your set-up can pull it off, it’s definitely worth your time. There have been other similar experiments from Google that I’ll definitely be including in future installments.
Blink 182 – Always (dir. Joseph Kahn)
Career music video director Joseph Kahn has been a friend of CHUD since the Torque days, and remains so today. I flipped for his new movie Detention before I ever met him, and since then I’ve made sure to keep up with his twitter feed and his new hobby of uploading his old videos to vimeo, along with text commentary. Just recently this brought to my attention a video I’d never caught when I was younger for a band I’m not particularly fond of, but a video that still managed to blow my mind when I saw it. From 2004, it’s called Always from Blink 182, and it’s a magically choreographed multi-layered video that presents three separate-but-parallel, continuous timelines. You have to see it to fully grasp it, but it’s pretty incredible. The use of space in the frame, the mesmerizing dance of imagery as it aligns and breaks, the way movement ripples through the three panes, and the painstaking choreography all make this video something much more than the sum of its parts. (oh no, that pun happened).
Pay particular attention to how the main figure’s identity will shift between different band-members when the camera tilts up or down, or how after several minutes of experimentation with a centralized camera, the view suddenly moves and creates an entirely new multi-dimensional phenomenon when it begins moving through the room around a centralized subject. It’s crazy stuff, and it shows how you can take a simple visual gimmick and exhaustively explore its potential in only a few minutes.
The Hard Gravel – Cowboys Don’t Hold Hands
I’m not going to go on at length about this video as it is ultimately self-promotion, but I hope you might enjoy this new Hard Gravel video. I’ve mentioned before that I’m involved with Hard Gravel, and I remain a part of it whenever I can, having acted as a producer for many of the shoots, and playing a recurring role as “Steve” the band’s manager, and supervisor of CTM Studios. Hard Gravel is a country music group, a web series, a video blog, a tv show, and many many other things. I’m not in nor was I part of the filming of this latest piece, but I remain proud of the group and the newest piece of Hard Gravel greatness. I hope you enjoy it as well.
I appreciate you taking the time to read through this column, and I hope you’re looking forward to more.
I’m very much open to suggestions so if there’s a video you’d like to see appear, shoot me the name and a link to a place where it can be watched. I’ll make sure to let everybody know who submitted it. General feedback is also very welcome, via email, or on twitter… @RennBrown.
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