Wednesday, February 28, 2007

New Video: Timbaland ft. Nelly Furtado & Justin Timberlake "Give It To Me"

Timbaland feat. Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake "Give It To Me"

dir. by Paul "Coy" Allen/Timbaland

A very lazy video that was probably thrown together in a few hours, it attempts to convey the ease and fun with which these three make great records. Compiling concert footage with random shots of Furtado looking hot and the other two goofing around inside Timbaland's trailer, it only succeeds in re-establishing the pop dominance of the trio. Which in reality is the point of the song anyway, but one wishes they would have done more with such a fantastic beat.

What Rough Beast: Bright Eyes "Four Winds"

Bright Eyes "Four Winds"

dir. by Patrick Daughters

In W.B. Yeats iconic 1920 poem “The Second Coming”, society post World War I is falling apart and in dire need of a savior. The sphinx that slouches towards Bethlehem has yet to arrive in 2007, but Conor Oberst feels a similar sense of impending doom in the wake of our own wars. His incendiary rebuke of contemporary culture is given center stage in this very watchable new video from indie-star Patrick Daughters. The director wisely chooses to avoid a narrative that might compete with the imagery of the words and instead concocts one that merely illuminates the energy behind them.

Oberst’s apocalyptic leanings are on full display through his biblical and political references that imply an inevitable end to modern civilization as we know it. The death of Satan, which is an ironic symbol for religion, reflects his contention that these faiths have lost their purpose in the deserts of their own emptiness and messages of fear. The whore of Babylon, which is yet another biblical sign of the apocalypse, is also commonly interpreted as a reference to Jerusalem. Thus there is the possibility that “great satan” refers to the United States and that what really “caves” here is Israel in the Middle East – where many winds collide.

This only touches the surface of Bright Eyes lyrical content, but these basic ideas shed some light on the concept behind the video. Though there is something rather lazy in picking an all-white audience at a tented concert dressed in cowboy hats and wife-beaters to represent what’s wrong with America, Daughters establishes that the crowd is firmly opposed to Oberst and company through his early shots of bored faces, even before the first bit of trash is thrown. The subsequent deluge of garbage coincides with the increasingly bleak imagery of the song, visually emphasizing the degradation of culture – or perhaps mocking what we like to call “civilization.”

The band plays on and the camera focuses tightly on Oberst’s painful delivery, further painting him as a rebellious spirit. These images, especially when the singer closes his eyes to sing, give further weight to the words he puts together. At the same time Oberst stands in front of a rising sun, which promises some change in the future. If you hear “Santa Clause is Coming to Town” in the early melody of the song it's most likely a sarcastic salute to some hopeful revolution. Yet like the majority of Bright Eyes catalog, this video does a good job of reminding us of everything that is wrong with the world without offering any valuable solutions. The ballast is buried indeed.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

What Lies Beneath: The Rapture "Pieces of the People We Love"

The Rapture take minimalistic cues from "My Love" and drop a hot video about the influential presence of others in each individual's composition...

The Rapture "Pieces of the People We Love"

dir. by Ben Dickinson & Jon Watts

"I can't hold you tomorrow, but I hold you in my heart"

As the The Rapture emerge from the dark shadows of an early scene in "Pieces of the People We Love", a number of faceless folks jump in to add the finishing touches to the band's appearance. They extenuate eyes and blush cheeks, but more importantly they establish the primary conceit of the video. There are many whom we keep within our hearts and minds who often go unseen, but are nevertheless essential to our unique make-up. We are defined as individuals only under the light of these people who shape us.

Thus the video begins in the shade, with drummer Vito Roccoforte pounding away under a lonely chandelier. Yet as the vocals spring out of the track, the light turns on and the shadows shift across the floor. In the same way that the words and voice of the singer add different textures to the song, the song itself augments the definition of the band members. Lead singer Luke Jenner, who co-founded the band with Roccoforte, pulls himself out of the drums in the shot that follows. In a later shot a guitarist digs into the shadows of himself to find an instrument - music is a connective force that lives both within and outside of ourselves as an expression of individuality and a reminder of unity.

Yet the imposition of wealth and fame is often lambasted by fans and the music community as an inevitable sign of disconnect from those "pieces" in our past and present. Thus the opulence of the chandelier, champagne and blinding flood lights (which remove all shadows) are intentionally highlighted in the video. The Rapture challenge that their "intentions are untrue" and instead reflect on the ability of their craft to keep them grounded and connected to their inner selves.

One can read this in combination with the overall aesthetic of the work as a comment on some other recent mainstream videos. But apart from a near matching color scheme, The Rapture include similarly dressed female dancers, a T.I.-like couch scene and a general theme of performance that make a straight-critique reading difficult. Instead they seem to point out an inner need to be recognized, that is just another facet of ourselves. At one point a band member pops out of his own dark cave dressed in a shiny reflective suit - recalling the imagery of the initial chandelier and suggesting an up-side to letting your light shine.

In this way the video doesn't limit the "pieces" simply to loved ones or outside influences, many times band members represent themselves in different forms or costumes. Making this distinction isn't entirely necessary, since in a way everyone who has inspired or touched your life exists as part of you anyway, but it helps to understand the fluidity between the distinctive person and all those who inspire them. Thus each of the characters in the video, from one perspective, is part of the same person.

When Jenner makes this realization in the climax of the song his shadow abruptly decreases in size. He has been humbled by the overwhelming presence of his loved ones in his own internal composition. And when he stands in front of all these influential people in the next shot, he looks tiny and almost disappears into the image. Suddenly he is simply a collage of his pieces, rather than the solitary "superstar" image developed elsewhere in the video.

But the artist, and any person who expresses themselves, is more than the sum of her or his parts. Ironically it first takes a concerted effort to recognize the impact of others in your life in order to then understand the inherent value of your own voice. In a subsequent shot Jenner's shadow increases in size once more - now bigger than ever. It is knowing who is behind you, or within you, that gives you the confidence to succeed. As the video closes the final emphasis is put on the shadow that follows us forever; not as an annoyance, but as an essential push forward.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Web of Disconnect: Boy in Static "Where It Ends"

Boy in Static "Where it Ends"

dir. by Yoshi Sodeoka/C505

If upon first glance this reminds you of your favorite video blog or least favorite fan-made YouTube production, you aren't too far off base. Director Yoshi Sodeoka uses the DIY aesthetic of mass-produced internet videos to compliment this tale of doomed and distant lovers, in the process commenting on the entire culture of computer romance. While his attempt fails to develop into something grand, it quietly delves into some very interesting areas.

Though there is only one actor in this entire video, the editing and cuts create a sense of at least two different characters. Sodeoka uses a style of film and close-ups that immediately imply a web cam or something of the sort. Thus when we see a man with glasses, eyes fixed upon something, we are ready to assume he might be looking at a computer. The next shot is the lower half of the same face, but it's facing the other direction, and thus the implication is made that this is a conversation. The transition between the two shots is a number of wavy colored lights that pass across the screen - which further suggests a "connection" of sorts.

Among the opening lines the singer admits, "I don't believe we've met before," and begins his lament of the eventual end to all his relationships. In between his lines fingers pound away on a drum machine, which becomes a keyboard of sorts. The messages that pass between these characters are inaudible and unknown, but with the colored lights the director suggests an increasing connection, just as the music itself rises to the occasion.

The multiple shots of the singer splitting into two could also obviously describe an internal separation or conversation within himself. Furthermore the entire affair can be read as a metaphor for a lack of communication in an actual physical relationship. Regardless the centric lighting and darkness that forebodes on the edges of the screen suggests a real sense of isolation. Boy in Static's breathy delivery is emphasized by the extreme close-ups on his mouth, but he doesn't seem as if he's truly seducing anyone. Rather he is coming to terms with the truth of his loneliness. There is something inherently depressing about falling in love alone in front of a computer, and even more in falling out of it.

All of this is great, but in the end the video isn't very affecting or too remarkable. It's a nice extension of the homemade quality of the music (which is actually very catchy) but it runs out of steam and good ideas fairly quickly. And for all our talk of internet connections there is no overt moment of meaning, which wouldn't necessarily be a fault if the rest of the video had maintained a higher level of visually interesting progression. But as an introduction to Boy in Static's music and artistic vision, it works well enough.

As an added bonus, and since the song has really grown on us, here's the mp3 for "Where It Ends"

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Eye Candy: Tracy Thorn, Fields, Ben Taylor

Tracy Thorn gives us one of the best of the year, Fields take a look at themselves and Ben Taylor turns heartthrob...

Ben Taylor "Nothing I Can Do"

dir. by Tim Royes

This simple but somewhat endearing video matches the tone of Taylor's songwriting fairly well. The narrative is straightforward enough and the perspective is engaging, but too much time is spent on the cab riding scene, especially since nothing much happens there. Taking a cue from the song, the video imagines the meeting of the "morning" and the "sun" as one between two lovers in bed, with Taylor directing his song at the girl. There is a sense of romantic idealism and the value of dedication, but the video doesn't have much to say otherwise.

Fields "Charming the Flames"

dir. by Minivegas

The director chooses to focus on a theme of reflection with both his camera tricks and his imagery, which underscores both the rejection of vanity and the self-reflective mood of the lyrics. The mirrors also hint at the "fragile" nature of "fate" that the singer speaks of. In many ways it wants to inspire us to run out and do something with ourselves instead of fixing our make-up while the world burns around us.

Tracy Thorn "It's All True"

dir. by Si & Ad

What is so exciting about this video is that it takes risks that pay off. As some keen Antvillers have pointed out, this is a music video that has no close-ups of the singer or shots of anybody lip-syncing the words. There are no visible cuts either, and the choreography is almost all actual human beings moving around - not computer graphics. Furthermore it plays off the minimalistic vibes of the song to establish an almost robotic work environment which is disturbed by the vibrancy of human individualism. It could have been catastrophically boring, but the connections between the images and the song, as well as the overall quality of the music, keep things from becoming dull. The directors focus on the domino effect of the power of expression as it spreads across the room like wildfire. But it isn't simply rooted in a spontaneous need to sing. One of the final images (created with the opened red umbrellas) is of a beating heart at the center of this group. It is human courage and love which has brought them to this point of shared experience - together they create something beautiful.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Obtusity Classics: The Avalanches "Since I Left You"

In this new feature we step into our time-machines to unearth some of our favorite music videos from the it's two videos from one of the top albums of the decade...

The Avalanches "Since I Left You" (2001)

dir. by Rob Leggatt & Leigh Marling

When I first heard The Avalanches' monumental "Since I Left You," I felt it rush through my imagination just as it sparked revolution in my ears. It not only made we want to dance, but it inexplicably looked like dance in my mind. Then I saw this video and realized I wasn't the only one who felt their toes tap with every beat of this song. It is something of a small miracle that directors Rob Leggatt and Leigh Marling came up with a vision so strikingly original, and yet perfectly in tune with the mood of the track. Since my very first viewing I've been unable to separate the image of the dancing miner from the notes in the song, they have become indelibly linked in my imagination.

The directors do more than make a solid Flashdance-like dance video, they approximate the aura of the track, which is perhaps a more difficult and impressive feat. In the song the summery vibe of the flutes and shimmering synths are projected against a somewhat bittersweet tone in the lyrics and vocal delivery. With each subsequent repetition of the chorus we begin to wonder if the sampled singer has truly found a "world so new." The video takes the same mix of heartbreak and happiness but tells its own tale, something clearly inspired by but also independent of the music.

The two miners trapped underground with nothing but lighted-hardhats and a caged bird are suddenly awoken to beautiful music drifting down from above. The camera zooms in on them from afar, revealing the complete isolation of their situation - and yet still portraying a light among the pitch black of the surroundings. There's a cornucopia of imagery in that set-up, but the meaning is harder to get at. The song begins with "welcome to paradise" and when the miners break through to the surface there is an outpouring of light, so we might be inclined to assume this is a metaphorical journey to the heavens. Though it may very well be on one level a representation of a man's ascent to paradise, there is a deeper sense to the video as a whole.

The key to the work is the birdcage, which symbolizes exactly what you think it does. It appears not only in the beginning (the bird chirps as the light appears above), but also at the very end in the surviving miner's home. The elderly man speaks of his fallen friend as one who is gone, but one who is necessarily happy as well. The video doesn't simply want to suggest that perhaps his counterpart ran off with the mysterious dancers and lived a beautiful life- but that in his actions he displayed something of a characteristic required in the pursuit of joy.

When the two dirty men emerge from the darkness to find two gorgeous women staring down at them, they are both transfixed by the absurdity and excitement of the moment. Yet only one of them chooses to let the light lead him out of his "cage" and into freedom. He begins rather roughly, tentatively moving to the beat in whatever style he can think of. But he quickly learns from his partners how to truly express himself through dance, and by the end he has perfected an elegant grace that is completely his own. The dance floor is softly flooded with sunlight and the judges seem rightfully impressed by his moves. His friend, on the other hand, has numerous opportunities to join in and even has a willing dance partner by his side, but can only muster the courage to meekly play tambourine.

The video depicts the surviving miner as a black and white mirage as he fades away, while the missing one is shown in shining colors above him. He may be dead, but the risk he took in expressing himself, if only for a moment, has at the very least given voice to his emotions. He has transfigured the norms of society and ascended somewhere truly inspiring, while his friend remains still trapped with his birdcage and tambourine decades later. It's something beyond carpe diem, and more than anything it's immersed in the hope of human spontaneity - the power of opening yourself to the possibilities of life.


The Avalanches "Frontier Psychiatrist" (2001)

dir. by Kuntz and Maguire

This equally transcendent video gleams the majority of it's strength from juxtaposing humorous and seemingly random images in one epic collage. Much like the song itself.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Romance of Exoticism: John Legend "PDA"

We focus on the interesting concepts of intimacy and expression behind John Legend's latest video for "PDA"...

John Legend "PDA" (hi-quality link)

dir. by Neon

Why are foreign places always more romantic than our own? Most lovers may dream of Paris, but it's doubtful that Parisians themselves consider their own backyards the most romantic locales in the world. Beyond the adventure and appeal of unknown horizons, there is something more that draws us to exotic cultures and remote locations. On the one hand there is the privacy and excitement of being unrecognized, but that same anonymity allows for freer expressions of affection as well.

Philosopher Robert Solomon imagines love as the creation of new "worlds" between people, an environment composed of shared memories, words and emotions. Perhaps we seek out desert islands and cobblestone alleys to give face to our connections - to prove their worth and value by imprinting the physical world outside the bedroom. Though psychologists may argue over degrees of exhibitionist tendencies in human beings, we all require moments of public affection in order to feel confident in our valued place among humanity. Whether it be a concealed touch between a couple taking a walk, or an exuberant hug among friends at the airport, we participate in PDA's to feel connected to something outside ourselves.

There are also those moments when we might steal a kiss to intentionally impose our joy over others, or perhaps to feel safe when threatened in public. But John Legend's video deals more with the exhilarating freedom that can come with overflowing desire, which is inherently more about throwing caution to the wind than holding tight in fear. The artist sings "we just don't care," but there is intentionality to each choice that these couples make. The director highlights the differences among open and closed intimacy through differing film styles, locations and a contrast between native Brazilians and foreign tourists.

Legend's character carries a camera at all times in order to capture the moment permanently, and to share something private within the confines of the pictures. At the same time the need to videotape seems somewhat exhibitionist in itself, even when recording home movies. The younger couple, conversely, speed through the lanes of Rio De Janeiro in vivid color, without care for the longterm proof of their escapade. Instead they allow the streets, the markets and the onlookers to hold the memory. Both couples exercise their need to express, but Legend and his partner are portrayed as the more mature and experienced duo.

The younger pair are also native Brazilians, lovers who have yet to exhaust the romantic capabilities of their own hometown. They have yet to reach the stage of hotel rooms and videotapes that their counterparts have, but they don't really need that at this point. In this initial stage of romance they are still learning about each other and themselves (their homes as well), whereas the tourists have come to explore further corners of the love they have presumably known for some time.

The question remains whether our eventual need to hide away and suppress desire in public comes from social pressure or actual preference for secrecy. There is a different sensation in the move under the table that Legend makes as opposed to the one the younger male does openly. Yet if we eliminated the thrill one gets from doing what is considered "inappropriate", it's unclear which one we would ultimately prefer. Is there more truth in expressing in front of others what is traditionally shared privately? The bedroom scene, when the camera is set down, implies that perhaps the reason we enjoy intimacy is precisely because it is unseen and private - much like the vacation to a foreign place. There may be artificial mores and constraints that make the bedroom more exciting, but the differences between outside and inside are unavoidable.

But the final shots are of an encounter between the two sets of lovers in the open - one pair snapping photos of the other. There is a separate joy in the admiring of love, and also in the performing of affection. This seems to be associated predominantly with youth here, or at least with the beginnings of relationships. As we grow older, more accustomed to each other and our communities, we need to escape to new societies, or peer through an 8mm lens, in order to feel the same excitement of expression and show - we become disconnected in a way from ourselves and the world around us. It would be ideal if we could always hold onto the uninhibited freedom of those early emotions, but perhaps it is in the ability to contrast the two that we gain the greatest happiness. To know the rareness of what you have and cherish it for that reason seems preferable to blindly soaring through the ecstasies of grand emotion - but just barely.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Love, Blood and Trucks: The Decemberists "O Valencia"

Colbert-conquering indie gods The Decemberists rightfully decided to forgo the fan-made videos and instead release this mammoth project directed by the same guy behind the very successful "16 Military Wives"...

The Decemberists "O Valencia" (Director's Cut)

dir. by Aaron Stewart-Ahn

In the wake of Justin Timberlake and company's 9 minute epic unleashed earlier in the week, The Decemberists unveil their own mini-movie music video for the previously released "O Valencia." In the director's cut (a shorter version was released on MTV earlier) the story of a head-over-heels man and his lover is extended to include more violence, more drama and more strange eyebrow movements from guitarist Chris Funk. What emerges is a brilliantly shot fairly entertaining production, featuring a surprising performance from Colin Meloy and one too many tacked-on endings.

The compositions of Stewart-Ahn's shots are the most impressive aspect of the video. When Meloy goes to pick up Francesca she stands in the middle of the sidewalk and at the crossroads of the multiple highways speeding behind her. Her mind is not only full of thought, but she is about to make a rather important decision. Later, as they exit Meloy's turquoise truck at the motel, there is a slight zoom from the back of the truck towards the green doors of the motel. The insides of the motel rooms are thematically color-coded in yellows and greens, and when Meloy stands heroically with his fist-clenched these two colors are directly contrasted. The green may represent the naivety and hope with which Meloy's character approaches the scene, the yellow being his inner fear (cowardice) and the reds and grays used in the end could be the realities of the situation (there is a strange red light emanating from behind the villain's vehicle as well).

Meloy's character overcomes his fear and has a moment of grand power, breaking through the yellow door, before eventually wilting to the sheer numbers of his opposition in the dark night. Yet it seems what is most important is that he was able to stand fearless in the name of some cause, even if just for a moment. Or it might very well be that all of these choices where purely stylistic in nature. Regardless Stewart-Ahn directs with a keen eye for aesthetically pleasing compositions and interesting color combinations.

There is also a Wes Anderson/Guy Ritchie-type feel to the director's style. The red jump-suits are straight-out of The Royal Tennenbaums, but more significantly the types of cuts used and the low-angle shots of large groups reminds one of both directors' films. He also retains some of Andersons flare for 'dramedy', though he errs on the side of straight parody for the most part. The decision to create a story of unrequited love to contrast with the almost Romeo and Juliet-like undertones of the lyrics is a good one, and the video would have benefited greatly if it ended with the discovery of Francesca's letter. Unfortunately Stewart-Ahn stays true to the absurd tendencies of the affair and sets up one more scene 2 months later.

To his credit the director manages to tell a rather compelling tale in a short time frame (the words on the screen help quite a bit), without letting the dialogue distract from the narrative or song too much (something JT's video failed to do). It's also a video that seems to fit the aesthetic of the band and their music as well, which in itself is a rare accomplishment. The final diner scene though is unnecessary and ridiculous, even as it concludes the themes of fate and violence that are in the air from the beginning. But in a sense Meloy does succeed in "burning" the whole city down in the name of his love, as he promises in the song. All major parties are dead by the end, and only his hopeful green truck rests untouched outside the restaurant.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Eye Candy #8: Robyn, The Go! Team, Lily Allen

Three of the most flat-out fun videos you'll see the entire year...guaranteed!

Robyn "Konichiwa Bitches"

dir. by Johan Sandberg, Fredrik Skogkvist, Henrik Timonen

Not much needs to be said about the non-stop creativity of this video, but there are a few important things worth mentioning. First off the Dave Chappelle reference is clever without being self-conscious, but some of the moments actually mocking Japanese culture are a bit hard to swallow. But most of the set pieces are brilliantly realized (some of them are laugh-out-loud hilarious) and finally I sort of read the entire affair as an enormously effective critique of Fergie, her gaudy music and her offensively bad videos. So even if it perpetuates your typical sumo-wrestler and geisha stereotypes, anything aimed (intentionally or not) at taking the "dutchess" of shit music down a notch is a-OK in my book.

Lily Allen "Alfie"

dir. by Sarah Chatfield

Starting where the Robyn video ends, with the Looney Tunes intro, the latest from the MySpace diva references another Comedy Central hit show - Crank Yankers - with it's dirty puppet character. Lily Allen is a bona fide star with oodles of wit, but did anyone else read that horrible review of Alright, Still in Rollingstone? How could anyone listen to "LDN" all the way through and actually think it was about how sunny the sky in London is? Not only is Rollingstone sinking further into irrelevance, but they aren't even good journalists anymore! Anyway, fun video.

The Go! Team "Junior Kickstart"

dir. by Doug Schachtel

The video for this A-Team inspired track from 2005's Thunder, Lightning, Strike begins exceedingly well and is shot in a style perfectly in tune with the references of the song. Yet it ultimately looses steam once we realize they aren't going to incorporate more elements of the actual Mrs. Pacman game. Still, the opening and the split-screen scene are classic.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Speak Up: Director Moh Azima on "From the Devil Himself"

We did this interview for our friends over at Videology, the hippest music video community out there, and they have graciously let us post it here as well.

Viva Voce "From the Devil Himself"

dir. by Moh Azima

With the video for Viva Voce’s "From the Devil Himself," director Moh Azima combines the 60’s/70’s folk feel of the band’s music with the imagery and themes of the lyrics – all while keeping a dark sense of humor. The video plays on the songs mood of corruption in the music business rather blatantly, with the appearance of ‘the devil himself,’ but it’s Azima’s ability to accurately recreate a historic musical vibe that makes this a memorable project.

: "With this particular band there where a lot of things that led to the video concept. First off they’re a couple - husband and wife - and then there is the song being about the evils of the record industry. It just really felt like a protest song to me.”

In assembling the realism of the chaotic hotel room scene, Azima enlisted the help of Viva Voce’s fans and friends to pose as reporters and groupies (most of whom perform adequately). But he also looked at classic documentary films like Don’t Look Back to create an authentic feel for the video.

Azima: “I definitely did some research for this video and I’m a fan of all those music documentaries. I looked at original footage from John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s bed-in, and some of the stuff in the hotel room is directly referencing that.”

Much of the success of the video comes from the open collaboration between Azima and the band, which gives the video a natural feel and made shooting the project much easier.

Azima: “It was a real low-budget production so they got some of their friends to be in the video and hooked us up with different people and things that we could use for cheap.”

Low-budgets and limited time frames are part of the grand appeal of music videos for the up-and-coming director. It’s in the difficulty of doing something compelling while under these limitations that Azima finds creative inspiration.

Azima: “It’s a challenge to come up with something people haven’t seen before. I try to capture what makes a band special, and put that into visuals that also capture the meaning of the song. Whether it’s because it’s funny, or whether it’s something poignant.”

Director Bio:

“I try to develop visuals from which people can derive their own interpretations. I like things that work on a lot of different levels and certainly avoid clichés.”

For the past six years Moh Azima has been doing exactly that with his music videos. From his breakout success with Calla’s "Televised" back in 2003, to directing the acclaimed “Chips Ahoy!” for the Hold Steady in 2006, each new Azima video has been steadily unique.

“I think if you look at my work as a whole it’s very eclectic,” the director said. “Lately I’ve been in a better position to get the kind of things i want produced. once you start to build some credibility – and therefore have the luxury to chose your projects more carefully - i find that music videos are a great form.”

In 1998 Azima began working at a creative boutique in New York after graduating from the University of North Texas’ film school. But the job was unfulfilling and he soon put together a short film for Sundance in 2002 which rocketed his career forward.

His first video - for Calla - was shot a year later for only 1.000 dollars but garnered the attention of the music industry. “I try to stay as far away from my ideas as a director,” Azima said. “At the end of the day people just want to see a great idea, and my job is to simply work in service of the ideas.”

February 2007 - Interview by Imran Siddiquee - ©Videology 2007

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Eye Candy # 7: Nas, Jay-Z, The Killers

Jay-Z "Minority Report"

dir. by ?

Though the video doesn't hold quite as much power following Juvenile's 2006 epic, Jay-Z's song is more accessible and is co-sponsored by MTV, thus guaranteeing it will get more playtime. Apart from some great shots of broken records, graffiti walls and lonely children's toys, the video cleverly keeps the focus on a shadowed Jay-Z. This is a personal song from a personal record, and as Hova raps "sure ponied up a mill/but I didn't give 'em time/so in reality I didn't give a dime" he stands sideways and in the darkness - as if he is so ashamed and humbled by Katrina that he can't even look us in the eyes. At 2:08 it's just short enough to work.

Nas "Can't Forget About You"

dir. by Chris Robinson

This excellent video harbors on the Goodfellas vibe of the song's sample, as well as Nas's nostalgic lyrics. After a classic opening the work alternates between Nas rapping in different locales around New York (including places from his Illmatic past) and Chrisette Michele singing like a star and looking equally stunning. Beautiful shots of the rapper coasting through New York remind us that he can still ghost ride with the best of them. The appearance of Natalie Cole at the end is just gravy (the song samples Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable"), but it's welcome as the video eventually loses some steam in its repetition.

The Killers "Read My Mind"

dir. by Diane Martel

Martel goes for a Lost in Translation type feel while the band keeps a sense of humor about the thing. One imagines this is intended to lighten the image of the band and perhaps make them more accessible (hey look, even the Japanese like them!). The problem is Flowers looks ultra serious (and convulsive) as he delivers his lines, and as many have pointed out, he also looks an awful lot like Colonel Sanders in that outfit and 'stache.

Sharp Handle, Dull Blade: Grizzly Bear "The Knife"

Grizzly Bear "The Knife"

dir. by Isaiah Saxon and Sean Hellfritsch (Encyclopedia Pictura)

As far as rock music goes, Grizzly Bear made some of the best released in 2006. "Knife" was a highlight of their sophomore album Yellow House, which showcased a sensibility for intricate layering and good old-fashioned melody. The record was a rare find among the heaps of barren and uninspired rock-clones plaguing mainstream airwaves, as well as a reminder that the form isn't quite as dead as Jet might make it seem.

Isiah Saxon and Sean Hellfritsch's video for "Knife" is an attempt to convey this opinion, as well as the inherent transformative power of great music. A strange-looking (perhaps alien) "archaeologist" stumbles upon Grizzly Bear churning out their doo-wop inspired anthem. He is plucked by the force of their "rock" music, and thrown aback - eventually falling into a daze as the song literally expands his mind. While his veins pulsate with the energy of melody, a rock goddess visits him to rewire the basic composition of his body. Rock is now in his blood.

The Encyclopedia duo direct shots that are long and immersed in natural tones, while they frame everything in a style that recalls old documentaries and sci-fi films. In many ways good rock music is painted as something both "real" and very strange. An obscure sort of drug that can have hypnotic effects, but one that is quickly sinking among the deserts of modern culture. The look of the video could place it in the past, but the presence of a modern band and alien creatures means it could also be a present or future time. Then again the lo-fi aesthetic of the aliens resemble early Star Trek, and Grizzly Bear are a band that fits snuggly among their historic musical influences. Good rock music is perhaps never easy to find, and part of the joy is always in the digging (the last scene takes this idea to the literal extreme).

Our protagonist stumbles blindly through the emptiness after he wakes from his rock-induced trance, but he is forever followed by the experience he had. When he comes face to face with the essence of "rock" he is frozen in awe. But the moment passes and he is unable to capture his love immediately - instead he spends his time searching for that lost feeling. His consequent "search" for that truth "arouses" the dead or dormant god of "rock," and is maybe on par with the "creation" of life itself. Etc. Etc. Is anybody still awake at this point?

Though the directors are not without a sense of humor here (in addition to the final shot the entire thing is self-referentially cheesy), the emphasis on certain parts of the body reminds us that rock music isn't archeology or geology; it's supposed to be sexy. Unfortunately this video is anything but. There's no need for inordinate flash or overt stylization (some of the best have neither), but this doesn't really capture the power of the song and isn't funny enough to sustain itself otherwise. The metaphors are clever and relevant, but the imagery is perhaps too self-congratulatory in its "indieness." The extreme use of sandy browns nearly gives one the sensation of being immersed in the video - becoming part of the rock - but in the end it also lulls you to sleep. For such a great song, and a video that was 6 months in the making, one expects something a bit more affecting.

This isn't necessarily the type of video that will inspire large groups of people to go digging for more Grizzly Bear or any other kind of music either. The directors want you to sift through the layers, just like with the music, to find the nuggets of meaning and power. Which is an honorable idea and one that is uniquely tackled, but without inspiring visuals one can't expect many to actually take the time to look. After all, watching a hairy man struggle inside of a massive rock vagina is only really going to appeal to a select audience. And for a video lamenting the demise of great rock 'n roll, one just wishes it made a better argument for resuscitation. The song deserves as much.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Spinning in Circles: Justin Timberlake "What Goes Around Comes Around"

Justin Timberlake "What Goes Around Comes Around" (iTunes Director's Cut)

dir. by Samuel Bayer

This wildly hyped production features not only the dramatic presence of BAFTA award-winning actress Scarlett Johansson, veteran music video director Sam Bayer and a budget upwards of 1 million dollars, but strangely the writing credits of one Nick Cassavetes as well. What's strange is not that Cassavetes once wrote the screenplay for Blow or directed sobfest The Notebook, but the fact that this 9 minute extravaganza features a writing credit at all. Music videos rarely, if ever, have featured screenwriters so prominently.

So with such potential it's unfortunate that the video fails so badly, particularly in the department of writing. Not only are the few moments of dialogue uncomfortably poor, but the structure and plot of the semi-narrative is far from strong. The interludes feel quite unnecessary, and the story could have been easily told without any dialogue at all. Though this is merely a shorter version of a supposed 34-minute complete video, one can't really imagine things improving much with more time. If anything there is a lot of the same stuff over and over.

JT's stunning original track is over 7 minutes itself, and has been described by the singer as his best work to date. Though it seems to cover much of the same ground as the iconic "Cry Me a River," this Timbaland produced track was in fact written from the perspective of Timberlake's friend who was cheated on himself. Yet JT's performance of the new song at the Grammy's featured a home video camera which seemed to directly reference the video for 2004's smash hit (which was purportedly based on his breakup with Britney Spears).

Regardless, director Bayer and writer Cassavetes are well aware of the history of Justin Timberlake - and specifically the "Cry Me a River" saga. So their decision to focus on the line "should've known better when you came around/that you where gonna to make me cry," rather than the more obvious song title, gives the opening of the video a little bit more oomph. They seem to want to paint Ms. Johanssen as a femme fatale, and one that gives JT signs of trouble from the very beginning - if only he would pay attention.

When the climactic car crash occurs our immediate response is to scratch our heads at the illogical turn of events, is this video implying that Johanssen deserves to die for cheating on Justin? Probably not. Rather it seems to say that Justin himself should have been more aware of where things where headed, at least in terms of the infidelity, from the beginning. After all when he picked her up she said she was bored and with someone, and then suddenly decides to go off with him on wild adventures (including one where she pretends to die, just for kicks). The creators spice things up with the unexpected car chase - Justin trying to keep up with the out of control Scarlett - that ends tragically. A twist of fate that still fits with the themes of the song.

All this on paper almost looks half-way interesting, but the team fails to translate any real tension to the screen. The scenes are poorly conceived, and the pace is muddled by the random shots of fire-wielding dancers (more foreshadowing of danger) and a long section of plot stagnation in the middle. The eventual car crash is a little over-the-top, but would work if the rest of the video wasn't so dull. We know she will cheat on him, but it takes much too long to get to that point. One almost wishes they would have stuck to more shots of Scarlett and JT just looking hot together, but instead they basically insult the former's acting ability by feeding her some really nonsense lines. Of the two JT actually ends up fairing better as far as acting performance goes.

With a little more directorial patience and wit, this expensive video might have been something special. Instead we have yet another wasted opportunity in mainstream music video - and we didn't even talk about the inherent sexism of the thing. One wants to at the very least applaud JT and his crew for trying something new, but in many ways there is little risk taken here at all. Michael Jackson made at least two long-form videos that are superior and even Usher's "Caught Up" was more entertaining. Director Bayer uses a lot of his same old tricks from behind the camera, and there are few, if any, memorable shots. In the end, even though it includes the presence of the red-hot Johanssen and a bona fide hit song, a 1 million dollar "event" video should be so much more than this.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Notes From the Underground: M.I.A. "Bird Flu"

Hot new song from the Sri Lankan/British phenom gets a kinetic video treatment that speaks volumes on the depth of her creative vision...

M.I.A. "Bird Flu"

dir. by ?

"it takes immigration of millions to hold us back"

People fear the unknown. And that fear is often exploited by those in power. An active imagination and a good speech writer can also turn our hesitations into hatred. Thus rulers enforce racially based edicts and governments justify wars - all based on drawing out what is familiar and suppressing what is different.

M.I.A. (Maya Arulpragasam) is an artist that embraces difference as a tool for spreading knowledge. Everything from the clothes she wears to the literal sound of her music is engineered to stand out amongst an increasingly cookie-cut crowd. Her purpose is not merely to be a unique artist, but she is unique precisely because her artistry seems to have purpose. With the video for "Bird Flu," a new song from her upcoming sophomore album, she has a number of things of social and political consequence on her mind.

Bird Flu is a vein of the influenza virus that has been around for centuries, but has recently re-emerged as a global threat in a few countries around the world. The exact origins of this particular strain are not necessarily known but the possibility of outbreak in South East Asia is higher than in most places. But the real reason for this has little to do with biology or geography.

Not only are there large populations of poultry on farms in the area (bird droppings are a source of infection), but the conditions and safety precautions of these countries are thought to be less than desirable - which has much to do with poverty and unstable government. M.I.A. sings/raps, "bird flu gonna get you/made it in my stable/from the crap you drop/on my crop when they pay you." Which reminds us that very few problems in the world are completely independent phenomenon, and that those in luxurious power are complicit in the death of those who are simply fighting to get by.

So M.I.A., looking absolutely radiant, decides to film her entire video among the villagers and birds that we fear as possibly diseased. She embraces goats, chickens and random children while jubilantly dancing through the town. She puts her t-shirts on the people, choreographs large-scale movements, and throws one huge party in the streets. Yet from a seamstress closing up shop to some boat hands heading off to work, M.I.A. doesn't shy from celebrating the mundane, realistic and foreign (to most viewers) aspects of these people's daily lives. In interweaving these two themes she emphasizes the common underbelly of human expression that is often obscured by our focus on difference. So while the quick pace of the editing and bright colors of the shots can be hard to follow, the pure energy of the dance sequences and watching the child M.I.A. imitators is something anyone can see and understand.

As an artist she consistently looks to contradict and challenge our heavily invested assumptions about her, where she is from and all outcast groups of people in general. In the video she dons both the bandannas traditionally associated with criminals and the police officer hats (with feathers) which tend to represent justice. Here is a singer who actually believes in the power of her work to affect real change - especially on the younger generations. She speaks of one day raising legitimate leaders, rather than the unreliable men who seem to run things nowadays. In one particularly telling shot a boy holds his mother's hand while listening to a Walkmen. They may still use cassette players in this village, but they understand great music just the same. The kids that permeate this video represent the hope that M.I.A. spreads through her work.

Throughout the song she alludes to her status of being on the brink of super-stardom, as if she is hoarding rations for that leap to the next level. And while she rebukes the idea of simply becoming a "rocawear model," she doesn't deny wanting to jump to a global stage. Instead she suggests that every time someone attempts to hold her back or literally "drops" on her ability, they are simply planting the seeds for her infectious rebuttals.

By the same token the hard-looking kids on rooftops imply that cycles of violence and hatred breed entire communities of soldiers ready to fight. The ignorance and prejudice of certain people among powerful nations will eventually have its consequences. Contemporary society seems to be asking for a type of "bird flu" by continuing to demonize and ostracize those whom they don't understand. But thankfully M.I.A.'s movement is one virus we don't have to fear. She harnesses the rebellious spirit of the forgotten streets and channels it into music that burns with passion. The knowledge and self-confidence that she brings to her brand of fun, danceable music & video is something her more popular contemporaries could use a heavy dose of.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Depth of Focus: Bjork Pt. 2

In the post Post era, Bjork shows no signs of comprimising the free spirit and creative guts she first expressed in the early 90's. The videos are perhaps even stranger and more challenging than before as the artist gained more confidence and the music itself moved into further experimentation. Most significantly Bjork slowly tapers off her professional love affair with iconic MV director Michel Gondry, which defined her early video career. Yet the quality of these projects is by no means lessened since Bjork continues to recruit the top directors in the world and brings out the best in whomever she chooses to work with. What she ends up with are a collection of some of the most intriguing music videos ever made.

In case you missed it, you can check out Part 1 of Bjork's videogrpahy here.

NOTE: Some of these are what you might term "NSFW," though to participate in censoring this stuff is probably completely anti-Bjork.

"Yoga" Homogenic (1997)

dir. by Michel Gondry

Basically a composition of thousands of still photographs Gondry took while canvassing the Icelandic countryside, this was Bjork's tribute to her homeland and her friends there. But the jerky quality of the nature photographs spliced together also reflects the "emotional landscapes" of Bjork's lyrics. They break apart and skip beats, all while holding court with the rhythm of the song.

Though these are based on real photographs, the director and his crew have digitally altered most of the earthy images to add a surreal effect to the cinematography. Bjork laying out among the rocks is herself a landscape to be examined, and what we glide across is perhaps her own surfaces cracking open. The final shot finally reveals the "emergency" within; an island of loneliness.

"Bachelorette" Homogenic (1997)

dir. by Michel Gondry

A brilliant video that is one of Gondry's most influential and beloved works, it concludes the epic nature cycle that began with "Human Behavior" and continued through "Isobel." Some of the same stylistic ploys are retained just as the music holds something of a connection with both previous songs. This part finds Isobel preparing to leave her forest of safety and affect the modern world with her story.

But of course life is never the fairy-tale we imagine it to be, and the Bachelorette's story is fated to end in heartbreak. Though she finds love when her publisher reads her autobiography, she is soon troubled by the tug of nature. Perhaps this love, which seems to be based on the attention and pride the publisher places in Isobel, removes her from her roots and is thus inevitably doomed. Yet it is even more likely that the corruption and illogic of "human behavior" is too fake for a child of mother nature. The plays become increasingly smaller and meaningless until everything is literally consumed by forces emerging from Isobel's original forest. The imagery of trains and bright lights contrasts greatly with the black and white classicism of the early scenes and the entirety of "Isobel." Perhaps another comparison between modern culture and the natural world - two forces doomed to never peacefully coexist. Regardless I can't help thinking that Will Ferrel's recent Stranger Than Fiction was more than inspired by this video.

"Hunter" Homogenic (1998)

dir. by Paul White

It's hard to argue against a theory of self-referencing among Bjork's videos. The image of the bear has been directly tied to her since "Human Behavior" and appeared once more in the unused animated clip for "Army of Me." Here it is used to again represent the suppressed instincts of Bjork, who proves her mesmerizing charm is still more than enough to sustain a video. She is so convincing at times that I'll have to admit I am often more interested in what is going on, than the transformation that takes place on.

"Alarm Call" Homogenic (1998)

dir. by Alexander McQueen

Bjork is quite literally radiant here; a bonafide Amazonian queen who isn't scared of happiness at all. Joy is translated as pleasure as Bjork lays out in the open, in the dark heart of human wilderness, slaying beast after beast. But as the tune suggests, the singer is facing these fears to reveal the power and possibilities of humanity - there is no need to fear the unknown. Furthermore she challenges conceptions of traditional morality by embracing her sexuality quite explicitly. She is immersing herself in her natural form, and it does wonders for her skin.

"Unravel" Homogenic (Concert Video)

dir. by Lynnfox

This beautiful interpretation of Bjork's unraveling love pinpoints the clever and facetious nature of the song. In lamenting the slipping nature of her feelings the singer hopes to lure her lover back home, so that they might "make new love." The grin on Bjork's face as she weaves her poetry says it all.

"All is Full of Love" Homogenic (1999)

dir. by Chris Cunningham

This highly erotic robot romance is a testament to Bjork's belief in the overpowering presence of a certain force in every aspect of existence. She has said that the song came to her upon taking a walk one spring morning and being flooded with this feeling of hope - "The song, in essence, is actually about believing in love."

Cunningham's creations are not fully formed when they spy each other, instead they are beings who openly display parts of their incomplete insides. But as they embrace and share certain milky fluids, the camera pans out to reveal a silhouetted figure that is complete - almost heart-shaped . The lyrics are equally cheesy but the instrumentation and Cunningham's overall treatment prevent things from ever going over-the-top. The final pan downwards across the endless set of black wires, which culminate (or originate, depending on how you want to see it) in the robots embrace, implies that the entire point of this grand machinery was love itself, and that until the moment of that physical realization it had no real meaning. Which is undoubtedly a beautiful idea.

"I've Seen It All" Selmasongs (2000)

dir. by Lars Von Trier

Though not neccesarily a true music video, this clip made the rounds on music television and comes from Lars Von Trier's unforgettable musical, Dancer in the Dark. Not only establishing Bjork as a credible actress on the world stage, the film features some of her strongest tracks and vocal performances. It's also true that Von Trier chose Bjork as his star after seeing her sparkle in Spike Jonze's musical-inspired "It's Oh So Quiet" video.

This climactic scene finds the tragic heroine Selma coming to terms with her blindness and yet finding joy in merely being alive. Though you may not necessarily get it from this video, it's a really heavy and heart-wrenching affair.

"Hidden Place" Vespertine (2001)

dir. by Inez + Vinoodh & M/M (Paris)

If you scroll up a bit you will remember "Hunter," which features a seemingly nude and bald Bjork singing in front of a white background while weird stuff happens to her head. Here it's nude Bjork, with a full head of blowing hair, standing against a black backdrop while weird stuff happens to her face. And both are unsurprisingly about love and sex and all that jazz.

While the lyrics and these opening shots tread some familiar grounds, the directors take the rest of the video into some unfamiliar places. As tears roll down her cheeks and into her mouth, and then back up through her nose, there seems to be a sense of pleasure in the cycle. Bjork licks her tears repeatedly and finds some comfort in the reality of her feelings. But inside there is a "hidden" self which is projecting these images. The ability to keep this part separate, to have her very own enclave of feeling and happiness, seems worth risking the pain of holding back in the outside world.

"Pagan Poetry" Vespertine (2001)

dir. by Nick Knight

Bjork's most personal video to date uncovers all the implications of the past and reveals a raw and beautiful portrait of a woman in love. The actress herself does a wonderful job of expressing the hesitations and doubts that flood her mind as she finally admits to herself her feelings.

The strategic turn in the video from the water-colors of the first half to the blunt realism of the second is very powerful in elaborating the elation of the moment. Once again Bjork stands in front of the camera, but this time she intentionally avoids its gaze, and the songs invitation to sing along, for most of the video. When she finally does succumb to her emotions we see in her face how ingrained in love she already is. She has actually sewn a wedding dress into her body.

"Cocoon" Vespertine (2001)

dir. by Eiko Ishioka

Directors love working with Bjork because she is such an expressive performer. As we've seen, many of her best videos are minimalistic in both execution and design. Ishioka's attempt at uncovering Bjork is perhaps more playful than Knight's, but it still feels part of the same dialogue. Whereas "Pagan Poetry" attempts to reveal some deep unseen sides of the songstress, "Cocoon" slowly covers up what has been so abruptly shown.

The imagery in the song is palpable, and Ishioka picks up on the "magical" "boy" in her "bosom" and sets it free for Bjork to wrap herself in. Obviously these videos where too hot for MTV, but now seeing them in the context of her entire career we can appreciate the slow yet steady opening up of Bjork's artistic expressions over time.

"Nature is Ancient" Homogenic 'Japanese Release' (2002)

dir. by Lynnfox

Featured on the Bachelorette single as "My Snare," it was also recently released on Bjork's Family Tree project. This somewhat hidden track turns out to be a rather close-up view of the Adam and Eve fable. And while there is an element of retelling in this study, it's unclear as to whether or not anything new is being related - other than the neat visuals.

"It's in Our Hands" Greatest Hits (2002)

dir. by Spike Jonze

The scary beings of the night are yet again overcome by the confident light of Bjork. The decision to use nightvision to film her as she traverses a dreamland of creepy creatures and giant sunflowers produces some amazing images and suggestive tones, even if the overall experience can feel somewhat redundant by the end. It's a dark track with a bright center, and when Bjork begins "look no further" and Jonze finds her behind a tree - there is a moment of real electricity. I would also add that it works a lot better if you don't watch it in YouTube.

"Oceania" Medulla (2004)

dir. by Lynnfox

Lynnfox really like their jelly-like creatures. Bjork wrote this tune for the Olympics in Greece from the perspective of the sea looking over the country, and the directors here use the same concepts as a base. While Bjork here kind of reminds me of the evil creature from The Little Mermaid, she also symbolizes the point of origin for all of civilization. Whether the song is a reference to Orwell or simply a new term for the ancient depths of the sea, the video gorgeously orchestrates the evolution of humanity towards sunlight.

"Who Is It? (Carry My Joy)" Medulla (2004)

dir. by Dawn Shadforth

This reminds me a lot of Polanski's Macbeth, and with the references to "crowns" and the boys dressed in chainmail-like outfits that may be intentional.

With the huge bell-based outfit that Bjork adorns she turns her entire body into an instrument, which is precisely what Medulla the album was all about. The music becomes a "fortress" of protection just like the Kunmin guard dogs that Bjork holds by a leash. When she asks herself "who is it?" the answer could be god, a lover or some other vague force - but it could also very likely be our individual selves who never let us down.

"Triumph of a Heart" Medulla (2005)

dir. by Spike Jonze

In Being John Malkovich and Adaptation director Jonze fuses reality and fiction to create a sense of absurd possibility in the everyday. Here he does similar things with what is narrative and what is actually happening on the set of the shoot. The interweaving of the two settings are shown through suggestive cuts and costumes.

There are a number of different things going on in this story, including a deconstruction of the music itself. But everything from the nonsensical cat boyfriend to the drunken night on the town comes from the same source. The crazy fun that permeates this video is exactly the triumph of a heart that gives all.

"Where is the Line?" Medulla (2005)

dir. by Gabriela Fridriksdóttir

This disturbing and almost frightening video was the director's first, and it rightfully shows many signs of amateur skills. There are some creative ideas at the core which hinge on the song's dark theme of abuse and exploitation, but the treatment is less than adequate and ultimately fails to engage.


"Earth Intruders" Volta (2007)

dir. by Michel Ocelot

Bjork and first-time director Michel Ocelot invert our typical expectations of invasion by depicting a revolution that starts from within - these are soldiers digging themselves out of the very earth which they proceed to conquer. They are described as "intruders" only because they bring a "shower of goodness" to a world accustomed to turmoil, carnage and rambling.

The leader of this dance is Mother Bjork, calling on the spirits of her beloved land in the way only she can. The singer described the inspiration behind this track in a recent Pitchfork interview, "I mean, the human race, we are a tribe, let's face it, and let's stop all this religious bullshit...We're all fucking animals, so let's just make some universal tribal beat," and the video captures this particular sentiment of the song very well. The march here is not one of robotic acceptance, but a joyous and free-flowing rebellion. The shadowy figures take serious aim at the drudge of society, but have fun while doing so. After trudging through the muddy darkness of this "intrusion," Bjork stands content in the light of a new morning - the beautiful Earth resting clean behind her.

Back to Part 1 of the Bjork Depth of Focus...

Depth of Focus: Bjork

We continue our look at great artists and directors in the history of music videos, with the complete videography of Bjork...

In many ways Bjork is the most logical follow-up to Radiohead in our Depth of Focus series. Her growth as an artist nearly mirrors that of the band's, and as musicians they share some similar stylistic choices. But Bjork's videography, which includes many of the same legendary directors, is also on par with, if not better than what Thom Yorke and crew have put together over the last two decades.

Yet of course there is a distinctive element to these videos which completely separates them from what Radiohead or anyone else has ever done - the unmistakable charm of the Icelandic star herself. If anything, reviewing the following videos will make you fall in love with her all over again.

Pagan Poetry:

"Ooops" 808 State feat. Bjork

dir. by Óskar Jónasson

Though the Sugarcubes had some moderate success worldwide, Bjork was in no ways a household name at this point. But her guest appearance made this an MTV-worthy video, although it doesn't have much else going for it. We find the quirky singer here still tweaking the coquettish/crazy image that she would later develop into some better than average acting talent.

"Human Behavior" Debut (1993)

dir. by Michel Gondry

In his Charlie Kaufmann-penned feature debut, Human Nature, Michel Gondry lifts many colors from the palette established here. One of the main characters of the film says of existence, "I've been in jail all my life--a jail of flesh and bones and raging human hormones" - a sentiment that seems right at home with this video. In fact both the music and subject matter seem quintessentially Gondry in retrospect. The fascination with the silly and tragic qualities of "human behavior" are also something that Bjork has dissected throughout her career. Here she is oozing charisma as she wanders through Gondry's nighttime wonderland. Definitely, definitely an early pinnacle in 90's music videos.

"Play Dead" Debut (1993)

dir. by Danny Cannon

This one is hard to interpret since it is so heavily invested in film footage, but needless to say Bjork's voice is front and center throughout - especially after an early zoom-in on her open mouth. I haven't seen this film yet, but the minute I saw Harvey Keitel I was sold on it.

"Venus as a Boy" Debut (1993)

dir. by Sophie Muller

Based loosely around George Bataille's Story of the Eye, director Sophie Muller puts Bjork's sensual lyrics front and center by explicitly drawing out the subject matter. The director utilizes her somewhat trademark soft-lighting and bright colors, while Bjork fondles eggs. The metaphor works fairly well until the frying begins - something about those crackling egg whites just isn't very sexy.

Apparently Muller didn't get a chance to actually read Bataille's controversial classic until after shooting, and thus ignored Bjork's lament that the fried eggs wouldn't gel correctly with the themes. Or to quote her directly, "it's too hard. It's rough and it's greasy, It should be about being sort of liquidy and wet and soft and open..." Err, umm, agreed...

"Big Time Sensuality" Debut (1993)

dir. by Stéphane Sednaoui

What better space for Bjork's other-worldly voice and "big time sensuality" than the big city itself? There are few artists that could keep us entertained for an entire video simply by doing their thing in front of a basically stationary camera, but Bjork continues to make "weird" into something brilliantly seductive. This video must have been a blast to make.

"Violently Happy" Post (1994)

dir. by Jean-Baptiste Mondino

This very 90's video attempts to approximate exactly what the title of the song might look like. The use of scissors, straight-jackets and torn dolls underlines the self-destructive possibilities of love that Bjork addresses in her song. It's entertaining stuff but perhaps a bit too stagnant to be entirely compelling.

"Army of Me" Post (1995)

dir. by Michel Gondry

The genius of Gondry is his Kafka-esque ability to inject the creatively absurd into the everyday. The gorilla continues the themes of man as beast, and the gargantuan SUV imagines the thumping synthesizers of the song as motorized instruments of power.

This "power" that Bjork holds is inside of her, a diamond mine of individuality and voice which the world seems to lack. Even the museums, the last bastion for self-expression, seem decidedly silly and filled with mundane characters. Thus it's that much more important for our heroine to hold onto her increasing power (there's more than one Bjork tackling the dentist) and use it to "fuel" her quest to inspire others.

Army of Me (Animated Version)

dir. by Stéphane Sednaoui

From the director of "Big Time Sensuality," I'm not sure if this is an official release, but it's worth seeing nevertheless. Sednaoui takes the song as a very literal theme for her animated epic, which finds Bjork looking icier than ever and polar bears sneering very sinisterly. I don't think I'll ever look at those Coca-Cola commercials the same way again.

"Isobel" Post (1995)

dir. by Michel Gondry

YouTube does not, by any means, do this monumental video justice. Partially recalling the iconic cinema of Maya Deren, this is perhaps the jewel in Bjork's shimmering collection. Not surprisingly it is also among her densest videos. There are so many memorable shots, but it's the back and forth fading images of two Bjorks moving into each other that stands out most in my mind.

There is a soft texture as well as a horror-film like mood to the entire preceding, which delves into concepts of suppression which are by now commonplace for Bjork. The opening shots of sunlight reflecting off water, which then seep into scenes of Bjork playing piano, are connected with later views of the singer filled with holes of light herself. From these internal beams comes the seed of ingenuity which soon grow airplanes of ideas. One can see the music as a force which illuminates the possibilities of humanity, but there is perhaps something quite dark rolling with the drums under this video. It's something to be pondered, but the constant doubling throughout the work definitely suggests a struggle between inner and outer forces.

The consistent flow between human and natural forces also implies an almost spiritual connection between the two. One particularly interesting composition finds a man/woman (possibly Bjork) fishing in a pond that is filled with a giant Bjork. It's almost as if the character is looking for something which is already inherent within.

"It's Oh So Quiet" Post (1995)

dir. by Spike Jonze

These videos remind us of how truly versatile the range of Bjork's career has been; moving effortlessly between new genres and styles throughout, sometimes even within the same song. Here famed music video auteur Spike Jonze picks up on the big band explosions of the chorus and appropriately finds the basis for an all-out musical number.

The choreography is splendid and the off-kilter delivery of the vocals is mimicked with random objects bursting to life and dancing along to the omniscient music. Jonze finds humor in the cycle of love and heartbreak, and the unforgettable final shot of Bjork floating away seems to suggest a wholly optimistic take on the struggle.

"Hyperballad" Post (1996)

dir. by Michel Gondry

Gondry finds yet another hypnotically beautiful way of representing dreams. This time they are mostly modern lights, TV screens and video games - but fun, chaotic and scary as ever. Bjork's heartfelt admission of fear and dependency is brought to life through a repeated literal shattering of self.

"Possibly Maybe" Post (1996)

dir. by Stéphane Sednaoui

In many ways a sequel to Muller's "Venus as a Boy," the video begins looking more like Sednaoui's animated "Army of Me" production. Yet soon it develops into a highly erotic affair filled with black lights, mysterious fluids (they got it right this time!) and lots of tongue. Turns out her relationship was a hollow one, and now she is left with the worst part of the loneliness that follows any break-up - inordinate amounts of sexual frustration.

But the heavenly shots of Bjork on clouds is something of an ideal she holds in her head. Even as she wallows in her spell of longing, something inside of her still believes (possibly, maybe) in the existence of a "perfect" relationship - or at least a phone call.

"I Miss You" Post (1997)

dir. by John Kricfalusi

Yeah this is the Ren and Stimpy guy, but as hilariously strange as that show was, it rarely reached the heights of comic prodigality found here. But as with the cartoon and almost all of Bjork's videos, there is more to this than simple gross-out humor.

There is an obvious undercurrent of that same carnal frustration once again, but this is also a somewhat disturbing vision of what our fantasies are like. The images vary between the grotesque and the somewhat childish - playing on the randomness in matters of lust. Overwhelming desire may turn us all into puerile, dangerous and self-destructive beings, but there's also an element of joy in unabashed fantasy.

Continue to Part 2...

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