Consider this week's column an appendix to the one over in the Screens section on music docs and concert films; if we're giving the DVD section to the musicians this issue, why not give the record column to the filmmakers?
I'm talking about The Director Label, a generic sounding outfit made up by three of the most exciting artists working on the often numbing music video circuit. One of them, Spike Jonze, has gone on to feature fame with Being John Malkovich and Adaptation; another, Michel Gondry, made a bold step into the feature arena with the problematic but intriguing Human Nature; the third, Chris Cunningham, has yet to make a feature - it's only a matter of time, surely, and one supposes its screenplay will be written by Charlie Kaufman, author of all the aforementioned films.
The first thing you notice about these compilations (aside from the elaborate packaging, clearly designed to the exact specifications of each filmmaker) is that the cutting edge of the audiovisual avant garde owes a lot to Björk, and vice-versa. Each of these men has made at least one film for the vocally acrobatic Icelandic elf-woman; Gondry's collection contains half a dozen. Nice for these guys that they're dug by somebody whose records sell so well and whose aesthetic sense is so open to the bizarre.
How bizarre? Well, these directors bring some truly unique flavor to the musicians they work with. Gondry, for example, is obsessed with animation, computer morphing effects, disorienting trickery and unbelievably elaborate sets. I hate to think of the planning behind his take on Massive Attack's "Protection," where a high rise apartment building seems to be controlled by numerous localized anti-gravity fields, or for Kylie Minogue's "Come Into My World," where computer-controlled tracking and meticulous choreography craft a miracle-world where not one but four Kylies strut the streets together. Animation-wise, Gondry gets big points for a White Stripes short in which the Whites are brought to life with red, white, and black Legos.
Cunningham, on the other hand, is somebody I'm not sure I'd ever like to meet. His dark, gritty, urban visions are often really disturbing - fluorescent-lit alleys and warehouses where people are at the mercy of mysterious forces. His single commission for Björk, "All is Full of Love," pairs two enamel-coated robots in a sexualized embrace that's almost touching, but most are not so tender. Cunningham is especially frightening when he's taking the face of Aphex Twin's Richard James and pasting it on everybody. That happens twice here, once in a mini-horror movie and once in an outrageous parody of ghetto fabulous fantasies ("Windowlicker") where a bevy of bikini-clad dancers retain their bootylicious bodies while getting a Richard D.-makeover.
Jonze also has a little fun with rap video stereotypes, in a piece for the Notorious B.I.G. in which the Cristal-sipping high livers are all played by elementary school kids. Simultaneously deflating rap egos and lending a strange mystique to the youngsters, Jonze turns something tired into a beautiful new thing. Ditto for videos that turn the Beastie Boys and Weezer into, respectively, hard-boiled '70s cops and a quartet of cardigan-wearing rockers on Happy Days. Old gems for the Breeders and Pharcyde are nice to see, but the best pieces here have already been widely celebrated: two videos for Fatboy Slim, one a piece of sidewalk-planted guerrilla choreography for "Praise You," and one truly exhilarating soft-shoe routine by Christopher Walken.
The latter, for the song "Weapon of Choice," inspired one of the coolest mash-up bootlegs floating around the Internet, on which a fan has taken "Weapon" and grafted bits of dialogue from the actor's filmography. I don't know how Norman Cook and Mr. Walken feel about having their work appropriated in such an inventive way - but when you're in the habit of hiring alchemists like Jonze and Co., you have to be open to all sorts of possibilities. •