Before Michel Gondry made perplexing and underwhelming feature films like The Green Hornet and The Science of Sleep, he made perplexing and almost universally amazing music videos. With The Green Hornet coming out on DVD today, we figured it was a good time to remind ourselves of just how brilliant Gondry’s work on the musical side of things was –- and, indeed, continues to be. Watch ten of our favorite Gondry music videos, both well-known masterpieces and overlooked gems, after the jump.
Chemical Brothers – “Star Guitar” (2002)
This is our all-time Gondry favorite, for one simple reason: its subtlety. The problem with Gondry’s films is that they can be visually and conceptually overwhelming –- the mind-bending nature of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind worked because of Charlie Kaufman’s fantastic script, but The Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind were less endearingly idiosyncratic and more flat-out confusing. It’s notable, then, that his best videos are built around very simple concepts, albeit ones that can take a while to grasp. “Star Guitar” is perhaps the best example –- the first time you see it, you wonder what’s going on. It’s just looking out the window of a train, isn’t it? But then you notice that those pylons are going by at regular intervals. Just when the snare hits, in fact. And those huts — they’re corresponding to the kickdrum. In fact, what you’re doing is gliding through a visual representation of the MIDI patterns that make up the song. It’s a simple concept, once you work it out, but as an idea, it’s a stroke of directorial genius, and it’s executed to perfection.
Donald Fagen – “Snowbound” (1993)
Gondry’s first expedition into America came via ex-Steely Dan singer Donald Fagen, for whom he directed a video way back in 1993. The song was “Snowbound,” the second single from Fagen’s 1993 album Kamakiriad, and the video is an early example of Gondry’s fondness for innovative technical work -– it features a hybrid stop-motion technique, whereby live footage of peoples’ heads was superimposed in post-production over footage of models that the director made himself. It still looks way cool.
Oui Oui – “Junior et la Voix d’Or” (1988)
Gondry’s fondness for animation is a long-standing one. Indeed, it stretches right back to his very first video, from 1988. The song’s by the director’s band Oui Oui -– the title translates as “Junior and his Voice of Gold” -– and it’s accompanied by a decidedly wacky animation that served as the introduction to the wonderfully weird world of Gondry’s subconscious.
Mia Doi Todd – “Open Your Heart” (2010)
It’s good to see that Gondry is still making the occasional video, and that he’s still got the magic touch. Like “Star Guitar,” this is a simple idea that’s executed with panache -– in this case, the idea is synchronized dancers wearing multi-colored rainbow shirts, moving in time with the song. The song’s, y’know, OK -– but the video is inspired (particularly the scene at the end with the people turning around again and again).
Cibo Matto – “Sugar Water” (1996)
And while we’re on simple ideas that are strokes of genius, how about this one? Split the screen in two, take the same footage and run it forwards on one side and backward on the other, and then switch them over halfway through the video. As ever, the genius is in the conception -– the execution is surprisingly straightforward, and the result is mind-bendingly brilliant. As with “Star Guitar,” it takes a whole to work out what’s going on -– but once you do, you can only shake your head ruefully and smile in appreciation.
Inspiral Carpets – “Two Worlds Collide” (1992)
For all that they’re ultimately a band with a silly name and an underwhelming back catalog, Inspiral Carpets have a Forrest Gump-esque tendency to intersect with those who went on to bigger and better things -– Noel Gallagher was once their roadie, and a young director called Michel Gondry made one of his first forays outside the world of French music to make a video for them in 1992. The apocalyptic landscapes and sci-fi flavors of “Two Worlds Collide” are unlike anything he’s made before or since, making this video a curiosity for Gondry completists.
Radiohead – “Knives Out” (2001)
Given Radiohead’s fondness for making strange and innovative music videos, it’s something of a surprise that they’ve only worked with Gondry once, especially when you watch the one video they did make together. It’s for the second single from Amnesiac, and was made at around the same time Gondry was making Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind -– which makes sense, given the conceptual similarities between the two. Among other things, it features a life-size version of childrens’ game Operation, and also Thom Yorke battering a female train passenger with a hammer (in fairness, she is attacking him with a knife at the time). Apparently, it was all shot in one take. Wow.
Björk – “Human Behaviour” (1993)
This ultra-trippy video is where Gondry’s career really took off, and it was the start of a long and fruitful collaboration between he and Björk that yielded five fantastic videos from 1993 to 1997. “Human Behaviour” is classic Gondry, with the air of a surreal childhood nightmare and packed with strange and memorable imagery. Who’d have thought a giant stuffed bear could be so scary? And simultaneously hilarious?
Björk – “Declare Independence” (2007)
Björk and Gondry reunited in 2007 for the first time in a decade to create a visual interpretation of this anti-war anthem from Volta. The result was strange and curiously beautiful –- just what you could have hoped for, in other words. The idea of a bunch of soldiers on strings, like puppets to be jerked at will, is a decidedly sinister one, although the mood is lightened somewhat by the fact that, as puppetmaster, Björk has got them painting, not shooting.
The White Stripes – “Fell in Love with a Girl” (2002)
For all his work with Björk, Gondry is probably still best known to the public as the guy who did the Lego video for the White Stripes. And, y’know, if that’s going to be your epitaph, it’s not a bad one.