Michel Gondry's humour is often overshadowed by his veritable ingenuity and finesse behind the camera. His lo-fi aesthetic and technical wizardry have made him the most well-respected and influential director in the history of music video. Even when we applaud the playful absurdity of his images, we tend to dissect their meaning on an emotional level before we discuss the importance of comedy in his work.
Of course Gondry wouldn't have it any other way, as the power of his drama is indebted to the laughs that accompany it (though not always vice versa). In his video for Paul McCartney's "Dance Tonight," he hires Mackenzie Crook of BBC's legendary comedy The Office to inject a distinctly British sensibility into the set-up (afternoon tea and all). As the piece grows increasingly chaotic and visually arresting, we are whisked away into a fantasy that seems as lightweight as the lyrics of the song.
Yet if we peel back the layers of pop shine, McCartney's insistence on making "everybody dance" in the current climate may be aimed at defusing conflict rather than simply having a good time. He's in a recollective mood, enjoying the company of spirits on a secluded farm in the English countryside - rather than the high-speed city from which the postman has arrived.
The postman's is the first voice we hear though, and he is in fact the protagonist of the story. As the final shot suggests, he may have taken a fatal turn on route to delivering mail down that country road. But when the soul of McCartney's mandolin rises up from its empty box, it's no coincedence she momentarily appears to have wings (it also helps that she is played rather angelically by Natalie Portman). Just as obsessive Beatles fans dream every night, McCartney seems to open the door to the after life (though apparently the real party is down in the basement). More than anything it's an introduction to a world that inverts stale expectations - where music can carry you wherever you like.
We've strayed from our focus on humour, though not as far as you'd think. It's impossible to define, but comedy - in both the classical and popular sense - has much to do with misunderstanding. The climax of this video, in which many the personified objects return to the "wrong" place in the house, is both silly and enlightening. In many ways Gondry has an affinity with Kafka or Camus (as does frequent screenwriting buddy Charlie Kaufman) - a love for all things absurd. Life doesn't fall perfectly into place like knives in a kitchen drawer or books on a shelf, it's a jumbled house of mirrors* where anything goes. Through this dance at Macca's house the postal worker finally expresses himself and escapes the sterility of his previous life - perhaps too late for him, but not for us.
* technique used to create ghostly aura in house