The Work of Director Spike Jonze
February 1, 2002
Chances are that even if you don’t recognize the name Spike Jonze, you’ve probably seen one of his music videos. He is responsible for some of the most memorable videos since the creation of the medium and has worked with an eclectic roster of bands and musicians like the Beastie Boys, Bjork, Weezer and Fatboy Slim. Finally, someone has put together a DVD collection of some of his more well-known videos and some of his obscure short films that trace the fascinating development of a truly innovative artist who has subsequently made the jump to feature films with Being John Malkovich (1999) and Adaptation (2002).
Watching Spike Jonze’s videos it becomes readily apparent that he is an astute observer of popular culture in the 20th century. With the videos for the Beastie Boys song, “Sabotage” and Weezer’s “Buddy Holly,” he successfully paid homage to his love of ‘70s television. “Sabotage” transformed the Beastie Boys into undercover cops with names like Cochese and adorned with cheesy moustaches and bad clothes right out an episode of Barney Miller. If that video didn’t cement his reputation then “Buddy Holly” catapulted him into the stratosphere. He brilliantly transported Weezer into an episode of Happy Days, including seamlessly intercutting actual footage from the show so it looks like the band is interacting with characters from the show. It was a deceptively simple concept that worked like gangbusters.
Jonze also showcased his love of musicals with two distinctive videos, “Weapon of Choice” by Fatboy Slim and “It’s Oh So Quiet” by Bjork. The former features Christopher Walken as a depressed businessman who starts dancing to Fatboy Slim’s music in an empty hotel lobby. The video is nothing more than an excuse to let Walken strut his stuff and one can see the twinkle in his eye and the sheer joy of being allowed to cut loose unlike he has been able to in a film for some time. The latter video features Bjork as the star of a bright and colourful musical dance sequence where a mailbox comes to life and starts dancing with the Icelandic musician. Her video evokes one of those classic MGM musicals, which is only fitting seeing as how Bjork’s song is a cover of an old standard.
There is also a mischevious performance artist side to Jonze as evident in the video for Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You.” The video director leads a dance troupe in an impromptu dance routine outside of a movie theatre. It is a very Andy Kaufmanesque moment because one doesn’t know if Jonze is being sincere or this is all some kind of elaborate practical joke.
Included with the DVD is an excellent 52-page booklet that not only features photos from Spike Jonze’s videos but also an extensive interview with the director that covers his entire career.
The highlight of the supplemental material is the audio commentaries provided for most of the videos by the bands or the people who appeared in them. The Beastie Boys contribute typically low-key comments for their respective tracks. You’re not going to learn much but they are entertaining and funny. Norman Cook (a.k.a. Fatboy Slim) mentions in his commentary for “Praise You” that the bit where the theatre manager comes out and turns off the portable stereo was not planned and really happened. P. Diddy makes an appearance on the track for the “Sky’s the Limit” video and offers some excellent observations. He mentions how the video was a riff on the film, Bugsy Malone (1976), which was a gangster film but with an entire cast of little kids. In a real coup, Christopher Walken contributes a commentary to “Weapon of Choice.” The veteran actor talks about how he rehearsed his routine for the video in only five days and shot the actual video in one day. He accepted the job because he liked the song and wanted to do a dance number before he got too old.
Under the “Rarities” section are three short films by Jonze. “How They Get There” starts off as a whimsical boy meets girl musical that is flipped shockingly on its head at the climax. “The Oasis Video That Never Happened” is footage of Jonze interviewing people on the streets of London. He had them listen to Oasis’ new song at the time and asked them for ideas for a video with the notion of presenting the band with the five best—not surprisingly they didn’t go for it. Some ideas are predictable (one guy suggests setting the video in the Bahamas with the band surrounded by naked women) and some are pretty funny (one suggestion has the band’s heads put on the bodies of the Spice Girls). “Rockafella Skank” was the audition tape Jonze shot for Fatboy Slim that was never used but is clearly the precursor to the “Praise You” video.
The “Documentaries” section features three featurettes made by Jonze. “What’s Up Fatlip?” follows Fatlip (formerly from the band, Pharcyde) around during the making of his video. The documentary consists of a series of interviews with the musician and on the set footage. “Amarillo By Morning” was made while Jonze was making a commercial at the National Rodeo in Houston, Texas. He became friends with two kids who dressed like cowboys and dreamed of becoming pro fessional bullriders. Finally, “Torrance Rising” is a funny look at the Torrance Dance Community Dance Group’s preparations for their appearance at the 1999 MTV Video Music Awards where they performed their dance number for “Praise You.” This is either a sincere look at an up-and-coming dance troupe or an elaborate performance art piece.
The Works of Director Spike Jonze is a fascinating look at the career of this truly accomplished filmmaker. He has made some of the most well known music videos ever made and has since become a distinctive feature filmmaker. This DVD is an excellent look at his work as it features some of his best videos along with an impressive collection of extras.