Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Depth of Focus: Radiohead

We introduce a new feature which takes a studied look at the video careers of elite directors and musicians...

This is our collection of Radiohead's music video history. Stretching from 1993's Pablo Honey all the way to 2003's Hail to the Thief, we spent hours hunting through hundreds of poor live recordings and earnest fan-made videos on YouTube to find these originals for you. While this is not an entirely complete list (a series of shorter productions from Kid A are missing), it represents every major release as well as a few videos that only the most die hard fans will have seen.

We offer no overarching analysis of the band's video output, but it's clear that in choosing the first entry in our Depth of Focus series we quite deliberately settled on a group whose videography has few equals in terms of overall quality and creativity. From Jonathon Glazer to the ever-present Michel Gondry, the majority of Radiohead's videos are helmed by highly skilled individuals with esteemed artistic vision. These are videos that are as entertaining as they are substantial. But of course you'd expect nothing less from the greatest rock band in the world.

Start Shouting

Creep (1993) Pablo Honey

dir. by Brett Turnball

Looking back, this is really probably the band's least creepy video. Though it uses a number of interesting filters and lightning techniques the most impressive moment of the entire thing is when Thom belts out the climax of the song - which is probably the way they wanted it.

Note: The US version of this music video was directed by Corinne Ray.

Anyone Can Play Guitar (1993) Pablo Honey

dir. by Dwight Clarke

Actually filmed before "Creep," most of this one is silly, but it does succeed in mocking celebrity band culture and in presenting the band as an alternative. Once again Thom steals the show with his now famous hyper kinetic straight-jacket convulsing.

Pop is Dead (1993) Pablo Honey [Japan]

dir. by Dwight Clarke

Umm. The first in a series of bad hair days.

Stop Whispering (1993) Pablo Honey

dir. by Jeff Plansker

This is when things get interesting. If you look past the obvious distractions (ahem), there is genuine commentary emerging from behind the camera. Like the song itself, director Plansker asks us to take a broader view of the world - which actually entails noticing the smallest of details.

My Iron Lung (1994) The Bends

dir. Brent Turnbull

Though the band's sound and style of live performance has changed quite a bit over the years, this is a welcome glimpse into what an early Radiohead show was like - and it captures the energy fairly well.

Fake Plastic Trees (1995) The Bends

dir. by Jake Scott

The first truly great Radiohead video works around a rather simple concept - the band riding around in shopping carts in a sterile supermarket. Yet the clean imagery conjures some bleak thoughts. Pushed around with our backs to the world, led forward by the eye of our parents, we are trained from birth to seek approval and attention in love. And it isn't just our family, society and the men behind the cameras are equally complicit in our needy psychological development.
But as Yorke sings, it can be tiresome spending your life pleasing others. And it isn't just a fake plastic romance we're dealing with, it's a fake plastic world in which everyone hides behind images in order to feel any sense of worth.

Just (1995) The Bends

dir. by Jamie Thraves

Like something out of Beckett or Kafka, this masterpiece of suspense and absurdity is all the better for it's non-ending. Yet despite that famous inaudible whisper, a more significant moment comes earlier when the young man inexplicably trips over the older man laying across the empty sidewalk. The younger man begins compassionately asking the fallen if he's alright, but then quickly turns to anger once he realizes the man is not hurt at all. As people crowd around they shift between offerings of help and mad questioning of the stubborn man. These people are initially quite "civilized," but in their rabid pursuit of knowledge they lose all customs and inhibitions. And though we know from his mouth movements that the man probably isn't whispering "the horror, the horror" - he is waking these folks up to something rather dark and frightening about their guarded hearts.

Lucky (1995) Help!

dir. by ?

The opening shots of cute little kids in war torn neighborhoods sets up the violence of the middle passage - the bombs and killing are a direct result of a poverty-stricken upbringing. The final black and white still images emphasize that these kids are truly stuck in an unfair cycle. How do we free them? By buying this album of course! We could have done without the celebrity appearances bridge, but then again knowing Oasis is on-board totally makes me anti-poverty.

High and Dry (1996) The Bends

dir. by Paul Cunningham

uk version dir. by David Mould (1995)

So near the release of Pulp Fiction in '94, this might seem like a blatant attempt at cashing in on a popular trend (there are some seemingly obvious references), but Cunningham and the band have some tricks of their own planned. It's a story of trust and betrayal, where couples and shady businessman alike suffer the consequences of doubt, and where the only true moment exists in a chance encounter between Yorke and a young kid in the restroom.
The band itself supposedly stumbled upon this cafe before deciding to shoot the entire project here, and we get a real slice-of-life feel with the multiple characters and road-stop imagery. Which is actually the same reason the diner seen in Tarantino's film works so impeccably.

Street Spirit (1996) The Bends

dir. by Jonathan Glazer

Glazer went on to direct an absolute stunner of a film, Sexy Beast in 2000, but his visual tricks and jaw-dropping technique rarely have been on fuller display than in this gorgeous work. Pinning slow-motion and fast-motion in the same shot is a breathtaking maneuver, but it's the ballet-like aerial flight that really sends this video soaring.
There's more than just nifty editing and cinematography here though, the pose Thom strikes at the end is more than a little cross-bearing. It also mirrors him sprawled on a car and falling through the air at the beginning of the black-and-white vid. But how does one make the transition from falling to floating? By immersing "your soul in love" of course.

Paranoid Android (1997) OK Computer

dir. by Magnus Carlsson

By this point it's fairly clear that Radiohead (and their directors) see the world as a strange, confusing and painful place to grow up. There are drunk homeless men lining the streets, a man cries while a giant zero flashes on the screen above and even the angels fly mechanical helicopters (god loves his children indeed). The off-beat animation depicts a world where greedy men will stop at nothing to keep their power & masculinity intact and the tree of knowledge comes with a hefty price. All of which makes one want to just escape it all - climb up a pole somewhere. But there are also beautiful mermaids in the sea, friends to share taxis with and a shining sun beneath the bridge. Or at least that's what I tell myself.

Fitter, Happier (1997) OK Computer

dir. by James Engwell

Though this was never going to get a lot of play on MTV, it stands as a very effective and chilling representation of the themes in the track. Just as the rising piano and fuzz represent the cracks in the framework of our ideals, here we get distorted images and blurred vision. It isn't just that our robotic adherence to the norm is void of real happiness, it's also increasingly harmful and meaningless.

Karma Police (1997) OK Computer

dir. by Jonathan Glazer

The first half of this video is highly claustrophobic with it's faux-one-take and dimly lit swiveling camera work. We are thoroughly in the mind of our unseen driver, unable to escape once the door slams shut and Yorke enters. Glazer hints at the sinister intimations in the chorus, "this is what you get," by painting Thom all gangster-like; with a black-leather jacket and cold demeanor. Perhaps he's out to right a wrong or maybe he's just messing with this guy. Yet in the minute when he "loses himself," he hesitates and succumbs his power. The man outside jumps on this opportunity and everything is lost - including our backseat self-confidence.

Online Videos by

No Surprises (1997) OK Computer

dir. by Grant Gee

Maybe my personal favorite, it puts the emphasis on the music and lyrics through twinkling lights and literally putting the words on the screen (not to mention Yorke's face front and center). It's a simple video for a deceivingly simple song. But the words are backwards, and they scroll past almost too fast to read. Yorke's writing is pretty clear here, the world is upside down and drowning people in it's blandness. But in repeating the phrase "no alarms and no surprises" so many times it's clear that all the blame can't just be put on a government that doesn't speak for us. Thus here we have him looking in a mirror, realizing that he is the one that must pull himself out of the water - speak up.

Let Down (1998) OK Computer

dir. by Simon Hilton

This unreleased video shakes a lot of power out of what seems like the left over symbols and words from the OK Computer cover art. Playing out like a elementary chalkboard lesson, it utilizes the same powers of suggestion embedded in socially structured suffocation for the purposes of promoting free-thinking.

Palo Alto (1998) Airbag/How Am I Driving?

dir. by Grant Gee

This is an interesting video that continues many of the themes we've seen cycling through the OK Computer-era. It also focuses closely on the effect of music on people while quietly suggesting a dillema between making high-tech music and what seems to be the stifling progression of technology.
That last shot looks a lot like Sidney Lumet's Network too, which is a connection I hadn't previously thought to make. That's a damn good movie.

Continue to Part 2, post-OK Computer...


Raymond said...

Obtusity should be an academic journal of music videos!

Anonymous said...

psst.... or Click

I won't tell if you don't.

Anonymous said...

Nevermind, I scrolled over it, seeing that 'Creep' was first. My fault, keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Great job, thank you so much!!!

The man who cries in Paranoid Android is not French, however... the flag is horizontal. I should review my geography, because I'm not sure of the right country anymore... Is it the Russian flag?

Imran said...

yeah that's an embarassing mistake. thanks.

Anonymous said...

actually it looks like the dutch flag - i think it is, as it's a 'littlish' man shouting to be heard, as people may think of Holland - it being a small country an' all...

Unknown said...

thank you for the beautiful video ones, I adore radiohead it is a religion

Ana Cess said...

wuauu, thanks for the post. Such amazing videos, such amazing music. Amo a radiohead, thanks again.

Anonymous said...

No Surprises is one of my favourites. I saw an interview with Grant Gee where he said that Thom had problems keeping calm when the water rises up to fill the bowl. He said that whilst Thom was capable of holding his breath, he kept getting panicky and had to have the water drained.

In the end, they managed to get the shot done and he said the grin on Thom's face as the water drains down is a genuine one - probably one of relief, I would imagine!

Anonymous said...

one of the best bands of all time, and what a collection of classic video's

Anonymous said...

This isn't all of their videos... There have been another like 10 videos. National Anthem, Idioteque, Motion Picture Soundtrack, I Might Be Wrong, Pyramid Song, Push/Pulk/Like spinning plates, Go to sleep, and there there. There might be more too... So there, you shouldn't advertise this a "Depth of Focus: Every Radiohead Video Ever", as you're missing a bunch.

Imran said...

There's a link to a Part 2 at the end of this post that includes all the videos after OK Computer that you mentioned. Peace.

Imran said...

here's the link again in case anyone else misses it earlier on the page"

Part 2

Anonymous said...

I LOVE this band very much! Thanks for the nice post...

Anonymous said...

good post

radiohead creep said...

Great post, thanks for sharing. I love radiohead!!!

radiohead creep said...

Creep is my favourite song - I know it's obvious but it's what made them. Closely followed by Street Spirit!

creep said...

thanks this is great! more info on radiohead at my site! :)

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jamesdean said...

nice article,,
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Anonymous said...

I wanted to get a blog like this where I can get excellent original videos of this perfect band, thanks so much because this is my favorite band.

Depth of Focus Videographies: Radiohead / Bjork / Michael Jackson / Bowie