The work of Director Michel Gondry
December 2, 2001
Michel Gondry is a visionary music video director. He presents images that feel like they have sprung right out of fanciful dreams or fevered nightmares. Like feature filmmaker Terry Gilliam, Gondry seamlessly blends reality with dreams so that it is impossible to know where one ends and one begins. Palm Pictures has collected some of his best videos from early on in his career, when he worked with French bands like Oui Oui, to his more recent videos with bands, like The White Stripes, that helped break him through into the mainstream.
The first thing that is apparent about Gondry’s videos is a child-like innocence mixed with a technical complexity that makes his work truly innovative. “Lucas with the Lid Off,” by Lucas, is like an M.C. Escher painting come to life and feels like it was all done in one long take as Gondry moves seamlessly from one surreal image to the next, at one point referencing the self-reflexivity of Buster Keaton in Sherlock, Jr. (1924).
If that video shows the influence of silent cinema on Gondry’s work, then “Army of Me,” by Björk, demonstrates the influence of contemporary movies. Björk plays a terrorist who drives a large truck in a retro future world, much like the heroine in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985).
“Sugar Water,” by Cibo Matto, is an ingenious video structured like a visual palindrome. Gondry splits the screen so that Miho Hatori’s story is shown in reverse and Yuka Honda’s goes forward, they meet at the middle of the video where they switch sides so that by the end it could be rewound with the same results.
If there was any video that put Gondry on the map on a mainstream level it was “Fell in Love with a Girl” by The White Stripes. It was given ample airtime on MTV2 and also shot the band into the stratosphere. Gondry transforms Jack and Meg White into Lego figures that perfectly symbolizes the nature of a lot of their lyrics. Jack White has said in interviews that many of their songs are written from a child’s point-of-view and Gondry picks up on this idea and perfectly translates it in a purely visual way.
Included with the DVD is a 52-page booklet that features behind-the-scenes photos, interviews with Gondry and several of his written treatments for the music videos he ended up directing.
Several of his short films are included on the DVD. Among them, “Drumb and Drumber,” features Gondry repetitively drumming and the footage being looped and heavily edited. It anticipates the same kind of technique he would perfect on a more ambitious scale with the “The Hardest Button to Button” video by The White Stripes.
“Pecan Pie with Jim Carrey” is a funny short film that involves the actor riding around in a bed in his pajamas. He pulls into a gas station singing a very Elvis-esque song while the attendants fill up his tank. It’s a surreal vignette that makes no sense—which is largely its appeal.
The DVD also collects some of Gondry’s commercial work, most notably one for Levi’s jeans which beautifully captures many of the video director’s pre-occupations. It is set in what looks like the 1950s but with modern techno music on the soundtrack and photographed like a silent film.
In lieu of audio commentaries for the videos (as on the Spike Jonze DVD) there is a 75-minute documentary about Gondry and his career that is divided into two parts over both sides of the DVD. The second segment is the most interesting because it features interviews with many of the musicians that have had videos directed by Gondry. We get to see Beck trying to do a commentary for his video while a phone in the background keeps ringing. Even better is Jack White dryly noting that Gondry’s concept for “Fell In Love With A Girl” was better then his bandmate, Meg’s idea of having them be made out of Oreo cookies.
Michel Gondry creates very cinematic music videos that are rooted in both silent film and more contemporary examples. And yet, he puts a personal spin on every video he does that gives them a particular look unique to him. This DVD perfectly conveys Gondry’s unique vision with an excellent cross-section of his work. This disc is highly recommended for fans of the music video medium.