As we reported last week, Gaspar Noé — the man responsible for the French films Enter the Void and, shudder, Irreversible — has directed the video for the rather excellent new Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds single “We No Who U R.” The video is rather restrained by Noé’s standards, but it fits the song beautifully, and it got us thinking about other well-known directors who’ve moonlighted in making music videos. There have been plenty over the years, some triumphant, some rather less so — so here’s a selection for your viewing delectation! Marvel, giggle, shake your head in despair, and then let us know if we missed any.
Tom Tom Club — “Genius of Love”
Director: Jonathan Demme
An awesome song, and a suitably hypercolor animated video from the man who also bought you uplifting entertainments like, um, Philadelphia and The Silence of the Lambs (as well as the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense). Demme’s video catches the mood of the song perfectly, tropical and whimsical but also decidedly strange in its own way.
Julian Lennon — “Too Late for Goodbyes”
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Who’d have thought that the 1970s’ bloodiest and most controversial director’s last work would be an innocuous film for the less interesting Lennon sibling’s cod-reggae top-ten hit “Too Late for Goodbyes”? He also made the video for “Valotte,” which is slightly better.
Red Hot Chili Peppers — “Under the Bridge”
Director: Gus Van Sant
The song that transformed the Red Hot Chili Peppers from endearingly randy West Coast Sly devotees to globe-bestriding superstars came with a suitably introspective video, courtesy of then up-and-coming director Gus Van Sant. The ubiquitous vision of John Frusciante playing guitar in a silly hat and Anthony Kiedis kicking it awkwardly with LA street vendors would become enduring images of early ’90s MTV. (It wasn’t nearly as good as Stéphane Sednaoui’s enduringly awesome video for “Give It Away,” though.)
Billy Idol — “Cradle of Love”
Director: David Fincher
Glorious ’80s excess! (OK, this was made in 1990, but still.) Befitting the song’s cheesy charms, Fincher creates a thoroughly silly narrative wherein an uptight computer nerd gets seduced by a hot girl while avatar of sexual liberation Billy Idol watches on from a Warhol-esque painting on his wall. Oh, the symbolism! There’s also a cameo of Andrew Dice Clay in his Ford Fairlane incarnation, which basically says it all.
Meat Loaf — “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)”
Director: Michael Bay
Of course this was directed by Michael Bay.
The White Stripes — “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself”
Director: Sofia Coppola
“Hey Meg, here’s an idea for our next video: why don’t we get Kate Moss to pole-dance in her underwear? And get someone famous to direct it?! Wait, where are you going?”
Public Enemy — “Fight the Power”
Director: Spike Lee
As the late ’80s/early ’90s’ leading cinematic and musical voices of African-American alienation, it seemed inevitable that Spike Lee and Public Enemy would collaborate, and they duly did so on this video for the band’s most iconic single (a song that was originally conceived for Lee’s film Do the Right Thing). The approach Lee chose for the video — lots of quick cuts, lo-fi documentary-style shots — meshes beautifully with the music’s sample-heavy, scattergun approach to production. The extended outro featuring synchronized dancing from the band’s S1W security wing is particularly great.
New Order — “Touched by the Hand of God”
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Long before Point Break and her subsequent career as Hollywood überdirector, Kathryn Bigelow came up with the genius idea of casting New Order as a Mötley Crüe-esque hair metal band in their own video. The band, and particularly Bernard Sumner, clearly have a ball with the idea — highlights include Sumner pointing at Gillian Gilbert as he sings “I have never looked at you in a sexual way in my life before,” Peter Hook’s disturbingly enthusiastic crotch-thrusting, and Sumner’s epic guitar solo. The intercuts featuring some sort of B-movie-esque plot are unnecessary, but still, this is awesome.
Bruce Springsteen — “Dancing in the Dark”
Director: Brian De Palma
In which, um, De Palma directs a live performance video of Bruce singing to a stadium full of screaming fans. It’s notable for capturing the Boss at the height of his pop star phase, pulling all his best moves and dancing with a fan on stage — it could just as easily be, y’know, Justin Bieber or someone similar that you’re watching. (Also: the “fan” is actually a young Courtney Cox, which rather spoils the whole look-how-spontaneously-awesome-Bruce-is angle.)
The Chemical Brothers — “Star Guitar”
Director: Michel Gondry
This is cheating a bit, perhaps, because Gondry got his start doing music videos, but then so did plenty of other directors. If we’re only choosing one of his videos, it’s this one, because unlike some of the more spectacular and outlandish productions on his CV, this is a surprisingly subtle piece of work, so much so that it takes a few moments to work out what you’re looking at. And then you realize that the pylons are synchronized to the clap sound, and the TV tower thing to the kickdrum…
The Beastie Boys — “Sabotage”
Director: Spike Jonze
And on a similar note, here’s another well-known director who got his start doing music videos. We don’t care how many times we watch “Sabotage” — it’s still great.
The Killers — “Here With Me”
Director: Tim Burton
In which a mega-famous band of declining artistic interest enlist a mega-famous director of declining artistic interest to make a video for a big soppy ballad. The resulting clip is a predictably opulent and overblown affair featuring some fairly silly literal interpretations of the lyrics and Winona Ryder (a mega-famous actor of etc etc) starring as a bug-eyed waxwork mannequin. There are some beautiful shots of the decidedly creepy English resort town of Blackpool, though.
Michael Jackson — “Bad”
Director: Martin Scorsese
And finally, yes, the one video to rule them all. Although it was the John Landis-directed “Thriller” that invented the big-budget video, it was this 18-minute epic that really took the concept and ran with it. In retrospect, the whole thing is a bit silly — especially the idea of Jackson as any sort of street-smart subway brawler, even one whose heart isn’t really in it — but it retains plenty of its charms, and it’s indirectly responsible for a lot of the other videos on this list, the good and the bad. (And yes, that’s Wesley Snipes playing the bad influence.)