Friday, 2 July 2010

The Sound of Movies

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE will tear through UK cinemas next week in much the same way it's doing in US picture houses right now. British director David Slade is set to score the biggest hit of his moviemaking career having made the critically respected indie thriller Hard Candy and studio horror flick 30 Days of Night. But why did Summit Entertainment give Slade such a high-profile gig after just a couple of edgy films? It may have something to do with his previous career as an excellent music video director.

David Slade directed one of my all time favourite videos for Aphex Twin called Donkey
Rhubarb ( and has made videos for massive Alt-Rock bands like Muse, The Killers and Stone Temple Pilots. Slade is just one of countless music video directors moonlighting as feature filmmakers. Francis Lawrence and Zack Snyder are the latest crop of former music video directors who've helmed innovative blockbusters like I Am Legend and 300 respectively. Tarsem Singh, David Fincher, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Jonathan Glazer are super successful music video directors who've fruitfully made the transition into movies. While some may have patchy film directing records, David Fincher is perhaps the most esteemed youngish Hollywood movie director of now. Spike Jonze is also another dude who can open a movie just on name-recognition. In turn, both Fincher and Jonze are Academy Award favourites: their films garnering many nominations.

For all the merits of getting music video directors to helm movies, the risks for any studio are big. One of the reasons why studios are attracted to music video directors is noticeably due to superficial motivations to do with youth and image. What studios fail to recognise is that music video directing is essentially about putting images to sound while film directing is about putting images to story. Telling a story through film is not easy and that's why many music video directors struggle. A good music video director may be able to mount fantastic visual style, but their inability to carry character and story may flounder efforts and result in a movie that provides little emotional connectivity. Music video directors like Hype Williams, Dave Meyers, Joseph Kahn, McG and Jonas Ã…kerlund are shit-hot visualists who can construct gorgeous looking vignettes, but demonstrate a complete lack of ability when it comes to executing engaging narratives. Their film efforts are steeped frenetic visuals that aim to mask an absence of substance. The same criticism can be applied to Tarsem Singh's movie efforts, but at least he manages to meld intoxicating imagery with atypical narrative conventions, thus in turn creating a cinematic experience that's hard to come by. The Cell and The Fall (and hopefully next year's Greek mythological epic THE IMMORTALS) exemplify this and his music videos for REM and Deep Forest are nothing short of masterful (

The worst part of this discussion is focussing on music video directors who you'd think are capable of greatness but end up delivering utter shite. This is best illustrated by Samuel Bayer whose remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street was nothing short of disastrous. Bayer helmed Nirvana's seminal music video Smells Like Teen Spirit. His music video record is wondrous and Hollywood studios have been tapping on his door for the last 20 years to make the transition into motion pictures. He's declined many offers; that is until Michael Bay (another former music video director) talked him into directing a superfluous remake of a classic horror movie that Bayer brought nothing new to. The eventual product was shunned by audiences and critics alike.

Maybe I'm being too hard on Samuel Bayer. After all, David Fincher's first film was Alien 3 and look at where he is now. What's strange is those music videos directors may not be as cursory they first appear and what they really want to do is direct psychologically epic stories. Mark Romanek directed Michael Jackson's Scream, which still remains the most expensive music video ever. His breathtaking videos for Nine Inch Nails, Beck and Sonic Youth prove he's more than capable of handling fantastical imagery; yet he's chosen to make smaller stories like One Hour Photo and the upcoming British drama NEVER LET ME GO. Likewise, Red Hot Chili Peppers' and the Smashing Pumpkins' regular video directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris made their feature film debut with Little Miss Sunshine, which was essentially a self-financed indie film about an eccentric middle-American family on a road journey. Floria Sigismondi, who directed classic videos for Marilyn Manson and David Bowie, made her feature debut earlier this year with indie-rock biopic THE RUNAWAYS which hardly made good use of here insanely weird artistry. It seems that music video directors feel they've already been pigeonholed enough and are intent on making film projects that affect them on an emotive level. While they may have become millionaires through creating extended adverts for pop musicians, they don't want their film careers to be tarnished with a comparable 'hollowness'. Mark Pellington has directed more spiritually charged music videos like Jeremy for Pearl Jam and One for U2. Pellington's film output may be slim (Arlington Road, The Mothman Prophecies, Henry Poole is Here), but it seems to compliment the sensitivity of his exemplary music videos. It's a balance that's hard to achieve but Pellington, like Tarsem Singh, seems to have almost managed it.

There are film auteurs like Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson who have tried their hand at music videos, but that's always seemed like a favour to a friend than any serious interest in classic music video making. Additionally, there are music video directors like Walter Stern, Nick Goffey & Dominic Hawley, Chris Cunningham, Dawn Shadforth and Sophie Muller who I'd love to see try their hand at feature films but have so far been reluctant. There are former music video directors like Marc Webb who seem to demonstrate great skill with narrative and perhaps that's why Sony have entrusted him with their lucrative SPIDERMAN reboot.

Dare I say it; I would even love to see what James Sutton (aka: Jam Sutton) would do with a feature film, but that's only because I wish the real world looked like a James Sutton music video. Sutton may be a paragon of vacuity but his sun-kissed aesthetics always manage to win me over (

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