Corbjin, Glazer, Romanek and Sednaoui
published: 16 /
Anthony Dhanendran looks at the second volume of releases in Mute's Director's Label series, which profiles the work of pop video directors and film makers Anton Corbijn, Jonathan Glazer, Mark Romanek and Stephane Sednaoui
The music video has, over the past 20 years, become something of an art form. Having gone from throwaway promotional item to an integral part of modern culture – and, in that way, mimicking the pop song itself – the form has spawned its own share of star artists.
The Director’s Label chronicled the work of three of those directors with its first three releases a couple of years ago. The discs on Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham and Michel Gondry were great little packages featuring a selection of videos, some with commentary, some mini-documentaries, and a few specially-shot scenes and menus.
With its latest four releases, the label has had to look to what you might call the second division of great modern pop video directors, and it’s hard to see which other directors will have a sufficiently high-quality body of work to qualify for inclusion in future. In fact, only one – Air and Moby director Mike Mills (no relation to the REM bassist) – springs readily to mind.
That said, the company knows how to put together an enticing disc, even when the directors in question aren’t too familiar. The first two, Anton Corbijn and Jonathan Glazer, have directed videos for enough well-known artists for them to be easy to dip into. The Corbijn DVD includes work for his most famous clients, U2 – a special cut of the 'One' video – as well as Nirvana, Depeche Mode, Nick Cave, Mercury Rev and Metallica. His stunning video for Joy Division’s 'Atmosphere' is also included, along with a commentary by members of New Order. There’s a decent documentary featuring plenty of star cameos – as benefits the one out of these four directors who’s the most famous in his own right.
Jonathan Glazer is probably better known as the director of one of the few good British gangster films of recent years, 'Sexy Beast', than as a creator of music videos. There are nine included here, from Radiohead ('Karma Police' and 'Street Spirit', as well as Unkle’s 'Rabbit in your Headlights', on which Thom Yorke sings) to Jamiroquai. There are also a few ads, such as the famous Guinness ‘Surfer’ ad which kicked off Leftfield’s brief renaissance, and the Levi’s walking-through-walls Odyssey. There are also excerpts and mini-documentaries on both 'Sexy Beast' and 'Birth', which starred Nicole Kidman.
The highlights of Mark Romanek’s disc come from opposite ends of the emotional scale. First there’s the literally incendiary video for Audioslave’s 'Cochise', showing the band playing atop an under-construction tower in the midst of a giant fireworks display. Reportedly, though possibly apocryphally, the Los Angeles Police received hundreds of calls the night it was filmed, from people who heard the explosions and feared the San Fernando Valley was under attack. It’s a superb video, but it demonstrates what you might call the Hollywood end of pop video making, with – literally – fireworks going off in the background.
Remarkably, the moving video for Johnny Cash’s cover of the Nine Inch Nails song 'Hurt' provides an excellent counterpoint to this. This features Cash at the end of his life, at home, simply playing the song on a guitar, intercut with footage of his earlier life, and shots of the now-closed Cash museum. It’s a slow, heartfelt tribute to a fine performer, and one that brought Romanek his third Grammy. Like most of his fellows, Romanek has moved on to mainstream films, his first being 'One Hour Photo'. That’s not mentioned here, but its star, Robin Williams, does appear along with Ben Stiller and Chris Rock, in an entertaining ‘rock-umentary’ about the director. There’s also a cameo from Jay-Z, among others, in the commentary tracks for some of the other 26 videos on the disc.
The bands for whom Stephane Sednaoui has directed videos are possibly more mainstream than those of the other three directors. His work encompasses the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Garbage, Black Crowes and U2, among others. There are videos by all of those here – 19 in total – along with a short film based on Lou Reed’s 'Walk on the Wild Side', and several interviews with various pop luminaries.
Each of the DVDs comes with a 52-page book with drawings, photos, storyboards and interviews, and one excellent feature runs across all of them – the menus are expertly presented, often featuring specially-shot footage. That said, whether or not to buy these discs is going to depend on how much you like either the director or the artists in question. There is perhaps not quite enough here to sustain the average disinterested purchaser, although the Jonathan Glazer and Mark Romanek discs probably stand out best for those without a specific directorial interest.