I remember back in the Summer of 2008, sitting through the previews during the first midnight screening of The Dark Knight when I first saw the stunning first trailer of Zack Snyder's Watchmen (video above). If you'll notice Warner decided to refer to Snyder as "From the Visionary Director of '300" -- that got me thinking -- what the hell did they mean by visionary? There's a couple of definitions of the word visionary itself -- the first being: having or showing clear ideas about what should happen or be done in the future -- applies to filmmakers in some sense. For instance, the Dogme 95 avant-garde filmmaking movement started in 1995 by the Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, set out rules to create financing based on the traditional values of the story, acting, and theme, and excluding the use of elaborate special effects or technology in the hope that the industry would give the power back to the artist as opposed to the studio. These directors ended up cheating in some ways from their own manifesto, but the point is they set out a clear philosophy about what filmmaking should be.
Visionary, especially in the sense of what I will be discussing -- music video directors turned filmmakers -- fits more in line with the second definition: having or showing a powerful imagination.
History of the Music Video
The first proto-Music Video was likely created in 1894 when George Thomas combined music and images on glass slides. These “illustrated songs” were designed for public viewing in theatres and rapidly became popular, turning a great profit for music publishers. Over the coming decades, various forms of “musical short films” and “promotional clips” were produced for a number of different media, primarily capitalizing on the popularity of – and inspired by – musical feature films.
By the 1960s the influence of experimental film had crept in, and artists such as The Beatles were testing different ways to package and promote their music. Artists often sent a video of themselves performing a song to a TV studio when they were unable to make an appearance in person. In 1966 the Beatles released "Rain" with an accompanying promotional clip. The clip features various on-location shots of the Beatles at Chiswick House in London, during many of which the artists are neither singing nor playing instruments. This promotional clip is often cited as being amongst the first to look and sound like a modern music video.
Towards the 1980s, Music Video showcase TV shows became popular in Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada, and the medium came into its own when MTV – a dedicated Music Video cable TV channel – was launched in the USA in 1981.
With more than a touch of irony, the first Music Video aired on MTV was The Buggles ‟Video Killed the Radio Star". Even with its own TV channel and space to innovate and evolve, Music Video's roots were not forgotten. The larger-than-life musical genre obviously still exerts its influence, as evidenced in Music Videos such as Madonna's "Material Girl‟. This tribute to – or perhaps a parody of – Marilyn Monroe's "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend" from the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, contains the same costuming, camera moves, lighting, and set. Even very modern Music Videos appropriate the abandonment of narrative, stroboscopic editing and montage of 1920s and 30s Russian experimental cinema. Similarly, The Smashing Pumpkins "Tonight, Tonight‟ is a blatant (albeit loving) repackaging of Georges Méliès 1902 visual-effects laden Le Voyage dans la Lune. After helping to better establish this genre, the demand for Music Video consumption itself has meant that the MTV brand has been very successful.
2005 saw the launch of the website YouTube, which made the viewing of online video much faster and easier; Google Videos, Yahoo! Video, Facebook and Myspace's video functionality, use similar technology. Such websites had a profound effect on the viewing of music videos; some artists began to see success as a result of videos seen mostly or entirely online.
The Rise of the Music Video Directors Turned Auteur Filmmakers 1981-2004
With this new outlet for material, the music video would, by the mid-1980s, grow to play a central role in popular music marketing. Many important acts of this period, most notably Adam and the Ants, Duran Duran and Madonna, owed a great deal of their success to the skillful construction and seductive appeal of their videos. The advent of high-quality color videotape recorders and portable video cameras coincided with the DIY ethos of the new wave era, enabling many pop acts to produce promotional videos quickly and cheaply, in comparison to the relatively high costs of using film. However, as the genre developed, music video directors increasingly turned to 35 mm film as the preferred medium, while others mixed film and video.
In this period, directors and the acts they worked with began to explore and expand the form and style of the genre, using more sophisticated effects in their videos, mixing film and video, and adding a storyline or plot to the music video.
In 1983, the most successful, influential and iconic music video of all time was released: the nearly 14-minute-long video for Michael Jackson's song "Thriller", directed by filmmaker John Landis. The video set new standards for production, having cost $800,000 to film. The video for "Thriller", along with earlier videos by Jackson for his songs "Billie Jean" and "Beat It", were instrumental in getting music videos by African American artists played on MTV.
Michael Jackson tended to hire really high profile filmmakers of the time like Landis, Scorsese, Singleton, and Spike Lee. Madonna would occasionally hire already established filmmakers as well -- but she, along with many other artists, including Jackson, would take chances on young - up and coming aspiring filmmakers who hadn't yet established themselves.
In November 1992, MTV began listing directors with the artist and song credits, reflecting the fact that music videos had increasingly become an auteur's medium. These directors would go on to make a significant impact in the motion picture industry as well.
Propaganda Films was a prolific and successful music video and film production company founded in 1986 by producers Steve Golin and Sigurjón Sighvatsson and directors Michael Bay, David Fincher, Nigel Dick and Dominic Sena. By 1990, the company was producing almost a third of all music videos made in the U.S.
Notable directors who worked with Propaganda Films
- Vaughan Arnell
- Michael Bay
- Paul Boyd
- Markus Blunder
- Nick Brandt
- Jhoan Camitz
- John Dahl
- Nigel Dick
- David Fincher
- David Kellogg
- Antoine Fuqua
- Douglas Gayeton
- Greg Gold
- Steven Hanft
- Spike Jonze
- Alek Keshishian
- Christian Langlois
- John Lithgow
- David Lynch
- Scott Marshall
- Michael Moore
- Jeffrey Obrow
- Willi Patterson
- Albert Bravo
- Alex Proyas
- Paul Rachman
- Mark Romanek
- Stéphane Sednaoui
- Dominic Sena
- Simon West
- Bobby Woods
- Zack Snyder
- Michel Gondry
- Gore Verbinski
Here are my Top Ten that came out of the Music Video Industry:
10. Alex Proyas
Proyas was born to Greek parents in Egypt and moved to Sydney when he was 3. At 17 he attended the Australian Film, Television, and Radio School, and began directing music videos shortly after. He moved to Los Angeles in the United States to further his career, working on MTV music videos and TV commercials.
Music Video Credits:
- "Flicker" – Fetus Productions (1983)
- "In Your Eyes" – Dropbears (1985)
- "Kiss the Dirt" – INXS (1986)
- "Magic Touch" – Mike Oldfield
- "Don't Dream It's Over" – Crowded House (1987)
- "Holiday" – The Other Ones (1987)
- "Rhythm of Love" – Yes (1987)
- "Better Be Home Soon" – Crowded House (1988)
- "Mysteries of Love (Songlines)" – Alphaville (1989)
- "When We Dance" – Sting (1994)
Notable Feature Films Directed by Alex Proyas:
The Crow (1994)
Dark City (1998)
I, Robot (2004)
9. Zack Snyder
Snyder made his feature film debut with the 2004 remake of the horror film Dawn of the Dead, which earned a good box office return and a Certified Fresh" rating of 75% on Rotten Tomatoes. He has gone on to be known for his comic book movies and superhero films, including 300 (2007), Watchmen (2009), the Superman film Man of Steel (2013) and its upcoming sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016).
Snyder often uses slow motion in and out of the fight scenes in his films, which Amy Nicholson of Boxoffice magazine remarked separates the director from other filmmakers who make multiple cuts and close-ups during a fight. A minute-long shot from 300 shows King Leonidas walking down as he slaughters his enemies, and the camera only dollys in and out to emphasize each kill and move, though he has proven capable of directing a fast-paced combat scene, as shown first in Watchmen, and later on in Man of Steel.
Music Video Credits:
- "Love Is a Crime" performed by Lizzy Borden (1990)
- "Tomorrow" performed by Morrissey (1992)
- "Black Gold" performed by Soul Asylum (1993)
- "World Class Fad" performed by Paul Westerberg (1993)
- "I Know" performed by Dionne Farris (1994)
- "Walk This World" performed by Heather Nova (1995)
- "Desolation Row" performed by My Chemical Romance (2009)
Notable Films Directed by Zack Snyder:
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Man of Steel (2013)
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
8. Jonathan Glazer
Jonathan Glazer would be a little bit higher on this list if his feature film output was greater than just three. However, I really admire this filmmaker, and like many on this list, Glazer has worked successfully between commercials, music videos, and feature films.
After studying theatre design at Nottingham Trent University, Glazer started out directing theatre and making film and television trailers, including award-winning work for the BBC. In 1993 he wrote and directed three short films of his own ("Mad", "Pool" and "Commission"), and joined Academy Commercials[where?]. He has directed popular campaigns for Guinness (Swimblack and Surfer) and Stella Artois (Devils Island). Since the mid-1990s he has directed a number of music videos, and was named MTV Director of the Year 1997. His work in these areas is often noted for its originality.
In 2000, he directed his first feature, the British gangster film Sexy Beast, starring Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley. In 2004 he directed his second feature film Birth, starring Nicole Kidman, in the United States. While Sexy Beast is a brilliant film, a new gangster classic that features one of the greatest modern day performances from Ben Kingsley -- Birth was not well received. For whatever reason, Glazer wouldn't make another feature film for ten years until last years incredible science fiction film Under the Skin.
Glazer's music video output has been well received -- including his collaborations with Massive Attack, Radiohead, Jamiroquai, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
Radiohead, “Street Spirit”
Radiohead, "Karma Police"
Jamiroquai, “Virtual Insanity”
Massive Attack, “Live With Me”
Notable Feature Films Directed by Jonathan Glazer:
Sexy Beast (2000)
Under the Skin (2014)
7. Anton Corbijn
The Dutch photographer, music video director, and film director is the creative director behind the visual output of Depeche Mode and U2, having handled the principal promotion and sleeve photography for both bands for almost three decades. Some of his works include music videos for Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" (1990), U2's "One" (version 1) (1991), Bryan Adams' "Do I Have to Say the Words? and Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box" (1993), as well as the Ian Curtis biographical film Control (2007), The American (2010), and A Most Wanted Man (2014), based on John le Carré's 2008 novel of the same name.
Corbijn began his music video directing career when Palais Schaumburg asked him to direct a video. After seeing the resulting video for Hockey, the band Propaganda had Corbijn direct Dr. Mabuse. After that he directed videos for David Sylvian, Echo & the Bunnymen, Golden Earring, Front 242, Depeche Mode, Roxette and U2. His first video in colour was made for U2 in 1984 for their single "Pride". In 2005 Palm Pictures released a DVD collection of Corbijn's music video output as part of the Director's Label series.
He made his feature film debut with Control, a film about the life of Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis. It premiered to rave reviews at the Cannes Film Festival on 17 May 2007. The film is based on Deborah Curtis' book Touching from a Distance about her late husband and the biography Torn Apart by Lindsay Reade (Tony Wilson's ex-wife) and Mick Middles. Although shown outside the Palme d'Or competition, Control was the big winner of the Director's Fortnight winning the CICAE Art & Essai prize for best film, the "Regards Jeunes" Prize award for best first or second directed feature film and the Europa Cinemas Label prize for best European film in the sidebar.
2010 Corbijn returned as a director with the character-based thriller The American, starring George Clooney. His film A Most Wanted Man was released in 2014. The John Le Carré novel of the same name, which is loosely based on the true War on Terror story of Murat Kurnaz, was set in part in Hamburg, as parts of the movie were. In February 2014, he start filming his next project Life about James Dean and photographer Dennis Stock.
For a complete list of Corbijn's music video credits click here.
Notable Feature Films Directed by Anton Corbijn:
The American (2010)
A Most Wanted Man (2014)
6. Mark Pellington
Pellington has received greater acclaim for his music video output than his feature film output, but part of this list is balancing the two. He directed The Mothman Prophecies, a 2002 film starring Richard Gere dealing with mysterious deaths foretold by a strange red-eyed flying creature, Mothman, as well as Arlington Road in 1999 starring Tim Robbins and Jeff Bridges.
Pellington has also worked with such musical artists as Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Nine Inch Nails, U2, Public Enemy (group), and Bruce Springsteen. He has also made cameo appearances in The Mothman Prophecies, Almost Famous, and Jerry Maguire. He directed the landmark mini-series The United States of Poetry for PBS in 1995.
Pellington's music video for Pearl Jam's "Jeremy" in 1992 is often considered one of the greatest music videos of all time. Slant Magazine ranked it number 30 in their Top 100 Music Videos of All Time.
Working with veteran editor Bruce Ashley, Pellington's high-budget video incorporated rapid-fire editing and juxtaposition of sound, still images, graphics and text elements with live action sequences to create a collage effect. Actor Trevor Wilson portrayed Jeremy. Wilson filmed his classroom scenes as Jeremy at Bayonne High School in New Jersey. The video also featured many close-ups of Vedder performing the song, with the other members of Pearl Jam shown only briefly. Some of the stock imagery was similar to the original video, but when it came to the band Pellington focused on Vedder. Vedder thus serves as the video's narrator. Ament said, "It was mostly Mark and Ed’s vision. In fact, I think it would have been a better video if the rest of the band wasn’t in it. I know some of us were having a hard time with the movie-type video that Mark made, because our two previous videos were made live."
The video premiered on August 1, 1992, and quickly found its way into heavy rotation on MTV. Michele Romero of Entertainment Weekly described the music video as "an Afterschool Special from hell." She stated that "when Eddie Vedder yowls the lyric 'Jeremy spoke in class today,' a chill frosts your cranium to the point of queasy enjoyment." The success of the "Jeremy" video helped catapult Pearl Jam to fame. Pellington stated, "I think that video tapped into something that has always been around and will always be around. You're always going to have peer pressure, you're always going to have adolescent rage, you're always going to have dysfunctional families." The video won four MTV Video Music Awards in 1993, including Best Video of the Year, Best Group Video, Best Metal/Hard Rock Video and Best Direction. Trevor Wilson appeared with Pearl Jam onstage when they won 'Best Video Of The Year.' Vedder introduced him to the crowd: "This is Trevor. He lives."
For a complete list of Pellington's music video output, click here.
Notable Feature Films Directed by Mark Pellington:
Arlington Road (1999)
The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
Henry Poole is Here (2008)
I Melt With You (2011)
5. Tarsem Singh
With all due respect to my number 9 selection Zack Snyder -- it's Tarsem who was the inventor, or at least brought to the mainstream, that slow motion photography I mentioned. The main reason I mention this is that Tarsem's 2011 film Immortals was seen by many as a rip off of Snyder's 300. No my friends, Tarsem used it first.
Tarsem began his career directing music videos, including those of "Hold On" by En Vogue, "Sweet Lullaby" by Deep Forest and R.E.M.'s smash hit "Losing My Religion", the latter of which won Best Video of the Year at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards. He has directed dozens of commercials for brands such as Nike and Coca-Cola. Tarsem's feature film directorial debut was The Cell (2000), starring Jennifer Lopez.
Tarsem's second film, The Fall, debuted at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival and was released theatrically in the United States in 2008. His third film was 2011's Immortals. He directed an adaptation of the Brothers Grimm story of "Snow White", called Mirror Mirror (2012).
Tarsem's "Losing My Religion" is often considered one of the greatest music videos of all time.
As opposed to previous R.E.M. videos, Michael Stipe agreed to lip sync the lyrics. The video originated as a combination of ideas envisioned by Stipe and Singh. Stipe wanted the promo to be a straightforward performance video, akin to Sinéad O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U". Singh wanted to create a video in the style of a certain type of Indian filmmaking, where everything would be "melodramatic and very dreamlike", according to Stipe.
The video begins with a brief sequence inside a dark room where water drips from an open window. Buck, Berry, and Mills run across the room while Stipe remains seated. A pitcher of milk drops from the windowsill and shatters, and the song begins. Director Singh drew inspiration from the Italian painter Caravaggio and Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. The video is laden with religious imagery such as Saint Sebastian and Hindu deities, portrayed in a series of tableaux.
The music video was nominated in nine categories at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards. The video won six awards, including Video of the Year, Best Group Video, Breakthrough Video, Best Art Direction, Best Direction, and Best Editing. "Losing My Religion" also ranked second in the music video category of the 1991 Pazz & Jop poll.
Notable Feature Films Directed by Tarsem:
The Cell (2000)
Note: Now, look at that clip and tell me Snyder hasn't ripped off Tarsem before...
The Fall (2006)
Mirror Mirror (2012)
4. Mark Romanek
Mark Romanek is also better known and more acclaimed in the music video world than feature films. However, his last two feature films received great acclaim.
Romanek wrote and directed the 2002 film One Hour Photo and the 2010 film Never Let Me Go. His most notable music videos include "Hurt" (Johnny Cash), "Closer" (Nine Inch Nails), "Criminal" (Fiona Apple), "Scream" (Michael & Janet Jackson),"Got till It's Gone" (Janet Jackson) "Bedtime Story" (Madonna), and "Shake It Off" (Taylor Swift). Romanek's music videos have won 20 MTV Video Music Awards, including Best Direction for Jay-Z's "99 Problems", and he has won three Grammy Awards for Best Short Form Music Video (more than any other director).
For my money, Romanek's video for Nine Inch Nails "Closer" is one of the great achievements in music video history.
The video was popular and helped bolster the success of the band. The video shows events in what appears to be a 19th-century-style mad-scientist's laboratory that deals with religion, sexuality, animal cruelty, politics, and terror. Its imagery was controversial and included:
A heart connected to some sort of device; the beat of the heart corresponds to the beat of the song:
- A nude, bald woman with a crucifix mask.
- A monkey tied to a cross.
- A severed pig's head spinning on some type of machine.
- A diagram of the vulva/vagina.
- Reznor wearing an S&M mask and long leather gloves while swinging in shackles.
- Reznor seated in front of a wall covered in fetish gear, wearing a ball gag.
Several times, Reznor, wearing leather pants, floats and rotates through the air, suspended by invisible wires. There are also scenes of Reznor being blown back by a wind machine while wearing aviator goggles.
These images seem to be inspired by the art of Joel-Peter Witkin, as well as Francis Bacon and George Tooker. The video is also very heavily inspired by the animated short film Street of Crocodiles, with much of the video being a live-action recreation of the sets and scenes from that film. For the television version, certain removed scenes were replaced with a title card that read "Scene Missing," and the instances of the word fuck being edited out were accompanied by a stop in the video motion, making it appear as if the stop was a result of defective film (this was supposedly done to make sure the flow of the song was not affected). According to director Mark Romanek, the video was filmed using "a slightly out of date film stock but it was still a contemporary film stock.
They had stopped making it three years before and we found some of it. All the new color film stocks have this T-Grain, like little Ts that are interlocking. The film stock we used had the original old granular grain. The new stocks are just really modern looking, really sharp, really contrasty, very fine grain. We didn't want that. Normally you don't want to use that kind of stock because the colors will be off. It does have a shelf life but in this case we didn't care, the more fucked up it was the happier we were.
Notable Feature Films Directed by Mark Romanek:
One Hour Photo (2002)
Never Let Me Go (2010)
3. Michel Gondry
Now we're getting to the filmmakers who've received arguably an equal amount of critical acclaim for both their music video and feature film output. The first is French director Michel Gondry. He is noted for his inventive visual style and distinctive manipulation of mise en scène.
Gondry's vision and career began with his emphasis on emotion. Much of his inspiration, he says, came from the film Le voyage en ballon. He stated: "When I watch this movie, I dream I'm flying and then I do stories where people are flying. I think it's directly influencing."
His career as a filmmaker began with creating music videos for the French rock band Oui Oui, in which he also served as a drummer. The style of his videos for Oui Oui caught the attention of music artist Björk, who asked him to direct the video for her song "Human Behaviour". The collaboration proved long-lasting, with Gondry directing a total of eight music videos for Björk. Other artists who have collaborated with Gondry on more than one occasion include Daft Punk, The White Stripes, The Chemical Brothers, The Vines, Steriogram, Radiohead, and Beck. Gondry has also created numerous television commercials. He pioneered the "bullet time" technique later adapted in The Matrix (he met Joel Silver, the producer of the film, and said he had no choice but to accept the deal for a small amount) in a 1998 commercial for Smirnoff vodka, as well as directing a trio of inventive holiday-themed advertisements for clothing retailer Gap.
Gondry, along with directors Spike Jonze and David Fincher, is representative of the influx of music video directors into feature film. Gondry made his feature film debut in 2001 with Human Nature, garnering mixed reviews. His second film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (also his second collaboration with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman), was released in 2004 and received very favorable reviews, becoming one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year. Eternal Sunshine utilizes many of the image manipulation techniques that Gondry had experimented with in his music videos. Gondry won an Academy Award alongside Kaufman and Pierre Bismuth for the screenplay of Eternal Sunshine. The style of Gondry's music videos often relies on videography and camera tricks which play with frames of reference.
Gondry also directed the musical documentary Dave Chappelle's Block Party (2006) which followed comedian Dave Chappelle as he attempted to hold a large, free concert in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. His following film, The Science of Sleep, hit theaters in September 2006. This film stars Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, and marked a return to the fantastical, surreal techniques he employed in Eternal Sunshine.
According to the Guinness World Records 2004, Michel Gondry's Levi's 501 Jeans "Drugstore" spot holds the record for "Most awards won by a TV commercial". The commercial was never aired in North America because of the suggestive content involving purchasing latex condoms.
In 2011, Gondry directed The Green Hornet, a superhero film by Sony starring Seth Rogen, Jay Chou and Christoph Waltz; Rogen co-wrote the script. In 2011, he was the head of the jury for the short film competition at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. His film The We and the I was selected to be screened in the Directors' Fortnight section at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.
As alluded to above, Gondry's music videos have received tremendous acclaim. Four of Gondry's music videos are in the Top 20 of Slant Magazine's Top 100 Music Videos of All Time.
Lucas, "Lucas with the Lid Off"
Björk, "Big Time Sensuality"
Chris Isaak, "Wicked Game"
Notable Feature Films Directed by Michel Gondry:
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
The Science of Sleep (2006)
Be Kind Rewind (2008)
The We and the I (2012)
Moon Indigo (2013)
2. Spike Jonze
At the tender age of 45, Spike Jonze is perhaps the most accomplished filmmaker to have started out in music videos. He definitely is the most versatile -- a director, producer, screenwriter and actor, whose work includes music videos, commercials, film and television. He started his feature film directing career with Being John Malkovich (1999) and Adaptation (2002), both written by Charlie Kaufman, and then started movies with screenplays of his own with Where the Wild Things Are (2009) and Her (2013).
Jonze is well known for his music video collaborations with Fatboy Slim, Weezer, Beastie Boys, and Björk. He was a co-creator and executive producer of MTV's Jackass. He is currently the creative director of VBS.tv. He is part owner of skateboard company Girl Skateboards with riders Rick Howard and Mike Carroll.
He has been nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Director for Being John Malkovich, and Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Song ("The Moon Song") for Her. He won the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay, the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay, and the 2014 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Her.
In 2006, he was nominated by the Directors Guild of America for "Outstanding Achievement in Commercials in 2005." He was nominated for a body of work that included Hello Tomorrow for Adidas, Lamp for IKEA, and Pardon Our Dust for The Gap. He was a producer and co-creator of MTV television series Jackass and Jackass: The Movie, also directing some of the segments. Jonze has acted in some videos and films; his most prominent role was in Three Kings as the sweet, dimwitted, casually racist Conrad, in which he was directed by friend David O. Russell, and also in the 2013 Martin Scorsese film, The Wolf of Wall Street.
My personal favorite Spike Jonze music videos are his collaborations with Fatboy Slim, Björk, Beastie Boys, Weezer, and Kanye West:
Fatboy Slim, "Praise You"
Fatboy Slim, "Weapon of Choice" - This is perhaps Jonze/Fatboy Slim's most famous collaboration because the video features Christopher Walken, who trained as a dancer in musical theatre before his acting career, it features Walken dancing and flying around in the empty hotel to the music.
Note: If this music video doesn't bring a smile to your face....then you're fucking dead.
Björk, "It's So Quiet"
Björk, "It's In Our Hands"
Björk, "Triumph of a Heart"
Beastie Boys, "Sabotage"
Beastie Boys, "Sure Shot"
Weezer, "Buddy Holly" - Filmed at Charlie Chaplin Studios in Hollywood over the course of one full day of shooting. The video portrayed Weezer performing at the original Arnold's Drive-In diner from the popular '70s television show Happy Days. The video combined contemporary footage of the band with clips from the show.
The video was met with great popularity and heavy rotation on MTV. The innovative video scored four awards at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards, including prizes for Breakthrough Video and Best Alternative Video.
Kanye West, "Flashing Lights" (Co-Directed by Kanye West) - Notable for being filmed entirely in slow motion. In reality, only seconds, maybe a minute goes by, with an ending that's great.
Notable Feature Films Directed by Spike Jonze:
Being John Malkovich (1999)
Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
1. David Fincher
Come on, was there really any doubt? Was my sole purpose of this list to merely jerk off to Fincher yet again? Perhaps....but nonetheless our greatest modern day living film director emerged from the music video scene of the 1980's.
Set on a directing career, Fincher joined video-production company Propaganda Films and started off directing music videos and commercials. Like Fincher, directors such as Michael Bay, Antoine Fuqua, Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Alex Proyas, Paul Rachman, Mark Romanek, Zack Snyder, Gore Verbinski and others honed their talents at Propaganda Films before moving on to feature films.
As a music video director, Fincher has won two Grammy Awards for Best Music Video, for his work in "Love Is Strong" by The Rolling Stones (1995) and "Suit & Tie" by Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z (2013), and three MTV Video Music Awards for Best Direction, being one of the most awarded directors in the category, alongside Spike Jonze. His video for Don Henley's "The End of the Innocence" won Henley the MTV Video Music Award for Best Male Video in 1990. He also earned back-to-back MTV Video Music Awards for Best Direction in 1989 for "Express Yourself" and in 1990 for "Vogue". In 1990, he earned three of the four available nominations in the Best Direction category.
Indeed, it's Fincher's output with one of the greatest pop stars of our generation, Madonna, that catapulted Fincher to stardom. Great artists like Madonna tend to have an eye for talent, and there's no question her taking a chance on the young Fincher paid off extraordinarily for both parties.
Three Fincher-Madonna collaborations appear in the Top 11 of Slant Magazine's Top 100 Music Videos of All Time, including spots 4 and 1. Also, two of these videos are my two favorites of all time.
Madonna, "Oh Father"
Madonna, "Express Yourself"
Note: Yes, that's RoboCop Peter Weller in the Music Video overseeing the factory workers.
"Express Yourself" music video was inspired by the Fritz Lang classic film Metropolis (1927), and featured an epigraph at the end of the video from the film: "Without the Heart, there can be no understanding between the hand and the mind". The video marked the first appearance of the Shep Pettibone remix of the song. It had a total budget of $5 million ($9.51 million in 2015 dollars), which made it the most expensive music video in history at the time it was made, and currently the third most expensive of all time. "Express Yourself" had its world-premiere on May 17, 1989, on MTV and was an MTV exclusive for three weeks, being aired every hour on the music channel. The concept of the video was to portray Madonna as a glamorous lady and chained masochist, with muscular men acting as her workers. In the end, she picks one of them—played by model Cameron Alborzian—as her date. When Fincher explained this concept to Madonna, she was intrigued and decided to portray a masculine persona. She was dating actor Warren Beatty at that time, and asked him to play the part of a slave working at a factory; Beatty politely refused, saying later that "Madonna wanted the video as a showcase of her sexual prowess, I never wanted to be a part of it. (LOL)" She then thought about Metropolis and of its scenes displaying factory workers and a city with tall skyscrapers. Fincher liked the concept and it became the main backdrop for the video. In Madonna 'Talking': Madonna in Her Own Words, she commented about the development of the video.
This one I had the most amount of input. I oversaw everything—the building of the sets, everyone's costumes, I had meetings with make-up and hair and the cinematographer, everybody. Casting, finding the right cat—just every aspect. Kind of like making a little movie. We basically sat down and just threw out all every idea we could possibly conceive of and of all the things we wanted. All the imagery we wanted—and I had a few set ideas, for instance the cat and the idea of Metropolis. I definitely wanted to have that influence, that look on all the men—the workers, diligently, methodically working away.
"Express Yourself" (1989) is one of the most celebrated and analyzed music videos to emerge from the 80's and 90's.
Authors Santiago Fouz-Hernández and Freya Jarman-Ivens commented that "the video portrayed the deconstructive gender-bending approach associated with free play and self-reflexivity of images in postmodernism." They had initially thought the video as a feminist approach to sexuality, leading them to say that "the video might also relate to several core political questions raised by feminism." However, they deduced that the scenes showing Madonna in a seductive manner and chained to her bed do not portray women in an empowering position, but emphasizes the fact that women can be in control because of their sexual prowess. Jarman-Ivens added that the epigraph establishes the status-quo, with a clear distinction of the body (workers, hand, labors) and the mind (elite, intellect capital). Unlike Metropolis, where the line denoted the binary oppositions of the labor class against the elitist, in the video Madonna did not distinguish between the two. Jarman-Ivens noted that the video portrayed both men and women being looked at, actively or passively. The body and the hand are not separate there, instead the heart, hand and head are portrayed as a balance in everybody, male or female. Scholar Theodore Gracyk also noted of the initial portrayal of female sexuality in the video, in his book, I Wanna Be Me: Rock Music and the Politics of Identity, and criticized the video for its portrayal of male domination. However, on close inspection, Gracyk came to the conclusion that "Express Yourself" was a smart move for Madonna, as it actually portrayed women in a much stronger position. Author John Evan Seery wrote in his book Political Theory for Mortals, that "Madonna with her 'Express Yourself' video splicing together images of machines with images of sex,... represents the ultimate cyborg of late twentieth-century America." Allen Metz felt that the scenes of Madonna grabbing her crotch and dancing were reminiscent of "Michael Jackson's androgynous imitation of phallic masculinity." He went on to compliment the video for its gender-bending depiction.
Madonna's crotch-grabbing in the music video was compared to that of Michael Jackson. Michelle Gibson and Deborah Townsend Meem, authors of Femme/Butch, commended the video for showing a shift in power between the sexes, declaring that "Madonna assertively claimed all possible gender space like Marlene Dietrich."
Professor Carol Vernallis noted in her book, Experiencing Music Video that the diffused light around Madonna in the video was adopted to mimic the diffusion of sound and make the borders around Madonna appear soft, and her body spread outwards. In the book The 1980s, authors Bob Batchelor and Scott Stoddart called "Express Yourself" as one of Madonna's most challenging videos. They noted the video for its "exploitation" of the male body and sexualizing them as an object of desire. The authors also added that the video "was a colorful homage to the term gaze, but Madonna is the bearer of it—not men." Batchelor explained that the scenes of Madonna performing alone in her room and atop the stairs suggested that she was the object of the gaze, however it seemed to them that she was mocking the movement of the men below. "She controls the mind of the men below, with a form of siren's song of female empowerment, signalling that the men do move in unison to her song", Stoddart concluded. Elizabeth Edwards, one of the authors of Visual Sense: A Cultural Reader, explained that the shot of Madonna crawling on the floor, while another image of hers watches from a nearby sofa, illustrated the mutation that Madonna's image was undergoing. According to her, Madonna was acting out self-consciousness by "watching herself". She concluded by saying, "'Express Yourself' gives its viewers a whole new series of image references to traditional American gendered and sexual icons—male and female—and a whole new level of irony." Shari Benstock and Suzanne Ferriss, authors of On Fashion, deconstructed the video for its display of the artificiality of images of gender. Sal Cinquemani from Slant Magazine reviewed the video in 2003, and commented that the video "is the embodiment of 'queer chic', a bombastic masterpiece that heralds Madonna's uncanny ability to use her consumer-driven image to code her feminist politics."
With "Oh Father" and "Express Yourself" being released in 1989, Fincher and Madonna made it three for three in a big way with 1990's "Vogue".
However, it doesn't get more iconic, more seminal, more Fincher, than "Vogue."
Filmed in black-and-white, the video recalls the look of films and photography from The Golden Age of Hollywood with the use of artwork by the Art Deco artist Tamara de Lempicka and an Art Deco set design. Many of the scenes are recreations of photographs taken by noted photographer Horst P. Horst, including his famous "Mainbocher Corset", "Lisa with Turban" (1940), and "Carmen Face Massage" (1946). Horst was reportedly "displeased" with Madonna's video because he never gave his permission for his photographs to be used and received no acknowledgement from Madonna. Some of the close-up poses recreate noted portraits of such stars as Marilyn Monroe, Veronica Lake, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, and Jean Harlow. (Additionally, several stars of this era were name-checked in the song's lyrics.) Several famous Hollywood portrait photographers whose style and works are referenced include George Hurrell, Eugene Robert Richee, Don English, Whitey Schafer, Ernest Bachrach, Scotty Welbourne, Laszlo Willinger, and Clarence Sinclair Bull.
Madonna's "Vogue", needless to say, is one of the most celebrated music videos of all time. MTV placed the video at second on their list of "100 Greatest Music Videos Ever Made" in 1999. In 1993, Rolling Stone magazine listed the video as the twenty-eighth best music video of all-time. Also, the same magazine listed "Vogue" as the #2 music video of all time in 1999 second only to Michael Jackson's Thriller. It was also ranked at number five on "The Top 100 Videos That Broke The Rules", issued by MTV on the channel's 25th anniversary in August 2006. It was the third time Fincher and Madonna collaborated on a video (the first being 1989's "Express Yourself" and the second being 1989's "Oh Father"). About.com listed as the best Madonna video.
Slant Magazine had this to say regarding "Vogue": In 1990, voguing enjoyed its fifteen minutes of fame with the release of Jennie Livingston's riveting anthropological exposé Paris is Burning and David Fincher's ferocious clip for Madonna's "Vogue." In the late '80s, "voguing balls" became rituals of empowerment for Harlem's black and Latino transsexual communities. The city's bitch queens created "houses" to promote solidarity in the ranks and hosted competitions to prove their ability to seamlessly blend in with the rest of the world. Their weapon was attitude, though Madonna would go on to refer to it as "giving face." At first glance, the purposefully sanitized look of "Vogue" seemed to negate the down-and-dirty politics of voguing itself, but the people at Harlem's vogue balls had a way of quickly forgetting the power of their dance in the heat of competition. Madonna appropriated both voguing and the ghosts of classic Hollywood to create a song and video that extolled the power of attitude. Though she was criticized by some for commodifying a subculture's movement (the main gripe was that Livingston and Madonna—both white women—were explaining "other" behavior), Madonna truly understood the politics of voguing and used her postmodern power to expose this movement to white America. This was the House of Madonna. It had a white voice, but the black, Latino and female faces that decorate the video follow Madonna not as slaves but as empowered disciples.
Madonna, "Bad Girl"
Madonna and Fincher's last collaboration was the equally as interesting 1992 music video for her single "Bad Girl". In their most narrative collaboration, Madonna plays the character "Louise Oriole" (Madonna's middle name is Louise and Oriole is a street she once lived on), a high-powered and successful but ultimately lonely Manhattan female executive who is a chain smoking alcoholic who has a penchant for one-night stands with many different men (from affluent yuppies to shady low-lifes). She behaves this way in order to try and deal with her depression and sadness over a relationship with someone she loves deeply, but ultimately has no future. Through her days, Louise gets distracted by cigarettes, cocktails, and random hook-ups, as lamented in the song's lyrics. Christopher Walken plays her guardian angel, who watches over her self-destructive activities. In one scene Louise wakes up alone in her bed after a one-night stand and discovers a hand-written note laying on the pillow beside her. She is clearly upset after reading the note and she crumples it and throws it to the ground. The next scene shows her guardian angel reading the note which simply reads "thank you whoever you are." In a later scene her guardian angel delivers Louise with a "kiss of death" before her final encounter with a man, during which it is suggested she was strangled with pantyhose. After her death, she reappears as a spirit alongside with her guardian angel overseeing the police taking her body away to the morgue. Author Carol Vernallis, in her book Experiencing Music Video: Aesthetics and Cultural Context, points out that there are several examples of "iconic imagery" throughout the music video which helps the viewer predict the final outcome of Madonna's character. According to Vernallis, Madonna's black dress, encased in dry cleaner's plastic symbolizes the body-bag she will eventually be carried out in; her cat hissing at her suggests that she is a ghost or a figure that bears a curse; and a doorway that she passes through during the music video looks like the entrance to Hades.
Besides Walken, the video also features appearances by actors Mark Margolis, Tomas Arana, Rob Campbell, James Rebhorn, and an uncredited cameo appearance from Matt Dillon, who plays a crime scene detective.
Notable Feature Films Directed by David Fincher:
Fincher would make great use of the talents he honed in the music video industry when he moved into feature film directing. Unfortunately, Fincher's first film was the much maligned Alien 3 (1992), although, it was more assholes at the studio trying to take advantage of a young, inexperienced feature film director than Fincher himself.
Se7en (1995) - Note the music video influence in the fantastic opening credits of Se7en (perhaps the best of all time), with special influence towards Mark Romanek's Nine Inch Nails "Closer" video. The music in Se7en's opening credits is a remixed version of "Closer".
The Game (1997)
Fight Club (1999) - Fincher would again explore new and exciting ways to incorporate the opening credits sequence in this film as well.
Panic Room (2002)
Zodiac (2007) - While this film features more toned down opening credits, Zodiac would see Fincher experimenting with a "theme song" in Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" to great effect.
The Social Network (2010) - The film that solidified Fincher as the preeminent auteur of our time -- America's best director paired with America's best screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin -- to tell the story of how we came to be as a society today. When scholars and academics look back at what it was like to live in our generation, I have no doubt that Fincher's The Social Network is a film that will be looked at and studied to great effect. Also, Fincher would begin his collaboration with Nine Inch Nails Trent Reznor. Fincher's direction, Sorkin's words, and Reznor's music would create some of the most memorable scenes in recent film history -- my favorite being Zuckerberg creating facemash intercut with the Phoenix Club party that Zuckerberg desires to be at.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) - In this far superior adaptation than the 2009 Swedish version (you heard that right), Fincher pulls off the greatest opening titles sequence of all time (along with Se7en above). Fincher out James Bond's a James Bond opening title sequence -- with James Bond (Daniel Craig) starring in his picture! Fincher also created, in what my opinion is the best teaser trailer of all time. Both of these utilize a fantastic cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" by Trent Reznor and Karen O.
This is the art of David Fincher at it's absolute best.
Gone Girl (2014)
What's interesting to note is how much we take for granite the art of the music video, especially in these days of instant access -- but back in the MTV days of the 80's and 90's -- watching them on TV were the ONLY ways to catch them. So, in many ways, MTV was the YouTube, instant gratification of it's day -- but, it also allowed these videos to be as highly anticipated as the Premium Cable/Netflix shows we desire today.
There are quite a few names I've left off this list, however, I am fully satisfied with this top ten and I hope you found it informative as well as enjoyable, as always.