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🎬 #27 When a Film Isn't Feature Length.
When I was growing up music videos and commercials held a very special place in my heart. You’d see a great one and then wait and wait until you could see it again. There was no ability to look it up online and watch it whenever you wanted. There was something special about seeing it once and then having to wait again to see it. That is, if you were lucky enough to have access to MTV or MTV 2 or other music video channels, that actually played music videos.
There is also something about a film with a shorter run time that helps you focus in on the creative decisions at play. They are more digestible and easier to deconstruct. Maybe it’s also just nostalgia, but it felt like the 90’s was a time when music videos were really coming into their own as an art form, a new type of filmmaking that was kindling the careers of future, big time filmmakers.
This shorter run time is also helpful when perhaps where you live is also in the middle of a heat wave. This week I’m keeping it short so that you can spend time outside enjoying the sunshine or trying to find some shade. These films are also short enough so you can enjoy both :).
FILM ONE: WINDOWLICKER
1999 Dir Chris Cunningham
A great track needs a great music video and Windowlicker certainly got it. Aphex Twin [Richard D James] and Chris Cunningham forged a remarkable creative partnership that resulted in a truly special series of music videos with this one, perhaps, being the pinnacle of their collaboration.
What’s amazing about the film is that it punctures all the cliches of a certain type of music video around that time - think the The Thong Song which came out the same year. Ones that feature girls dancing in bikinis in hot locations, sun soaked LA streets, limos, champagne popping in slow motion, elaborate dance choreography and bling. It tackles all of these visual motifs.
But together with the track, which isn’t pop or rap - genres that normally bring those images to mind, and the clash of the surreal, horrific use of a twisted, gnarled mask version of Richard D James’ face, it totally subverts what we expected to see. It takes the cliches and twists them into a sun-bleached nightmare that is weird, funny and joyous all at the same time. Once it ends you want to see it again.
From the slow motion graphic intro, a purposeful track into and through the Aphex Twin logo, to the, what seems to be largely improvised dialogue that goes on for 4 plus minutes, we know this is not going to be any normal music video. We are literally entering the world according to Aphex Twin. It feels like an event music video, a short film that is almost more important than the track. Something up there, from a parallel universe, with the likes of Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
It’s a track that feels like it give birth to the music video - there is nothing else the film could have been. And when you hear the track, the video comes to mind, that’s when you know you have something great on your hands.
Chris Cunningham is one of handful of directors who came from a very specific time in music video. He’s always someone I’ve admired and hoped would one take make the leap into feature films. With his mind, I’d love to have seen what he’d come up with when he had more than a few minutes to play with. He is really a unique artist who can only do things his way.
Enjoy the film here:
Fact: When Chris heard the track he said it ‘made him think of driving through LA.’ Which lead to the opening of the film.
Bonus: Rumour has it that he made a feature length zombie film covertly in the last few years but decided not to release it because he felt another film that had just come out had used a similar trope.
FILM TWO: KARMA POLICE
1997 Dir Jonathan Glazer
This is a music video that conjures up so much intrigue from such a short run time. It draws you into the unfolding story, and keeps you riveted to the screen for the duration. There is a haunting quality to the film that makes you ask so many questions. And all this is achieved with less than ten different frames and only one camera move.
It’s another great example of a special collaboration between filmmaker and artist that spawned this video and Street Spirit. One person’s vision melding perfectly with the others. It’s a music video that brings to life the feeling of the track, and even manages to tells the story of a karmic moment of revenge without it feeling too obvious. As I said in the intro, the shorter run time lets you hone in on the individual creative decisions.
If you see the bonnet in the frame above you’ll notice that it’s dusty and weathered. That was a choice. The style of bonnet and emblem makes it clear it’s a specific American car, from a specific period, - think how different the video would if we were inside a VW Beetle, for example, or shot on spherical, not anamorphic lenses, or with video rather than on film. All of these carefully made decisions add up to the tone of the film. The location has no street lights, but it has vibrant, short green grass that glows under the halogen bulbs in the headlights. Again think how different the mood would be if it was on a motorway in the UK lit by streetlight.
The body language of Thom Yorke in the backseat, the graphic framing and simple camera movement create a mini-world that the story unfolds in. Like Cunningham, Glazer is a very specific artist, he does things in his own way and this is one example of him doing just that.
Enjoy the film here:
Fact: Glazer was inspired by Lynch’s Lost Highway for the key visual of the film.
Bonus: Radiohead would continue their long history of great music videos by working with Paul Thomas Anderson on the film for their track ‘Daydreaming.’
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