DVD is a great medium: there’s a virtually limitless list of films available,
they look much better than they do on VHS, and you can do things like freeze-frame
much more effectively. But until now, the market has been dominated by the major
theatrical distributors. If you want to rent a movie which came out in theaters
for a couple of weeks and then bombed, that’s easy. Everything else, on the
other hand, is almost impossible to find.
There are three types of DVD I’ve long wished to be able to find, with very
little luck. The first is art films, ranging from short pieces by Bill Viola
or Bruce Nauman to feature-length films by Andy
Warhol or Rebecca Horn.
It’s understandable why these films would be difficult to find, however:
they’re sold at extremely high prices in very small editions through art galleries,
and a generally available perfect copy would severely dilute the edition.
The second is made-for-TV material, especially documentaries. There are amazing
documentaries out there, but most of them appeared once or twice on television
and have since become all but impossible to see. Much more effort goes into
making a good feature-length documentary than goes into writing a magazine article,
but future researchers on any subject are generally confined to the latter,
because the television material is stuck, inaccessible and unindexed, in a basement
The third is music videos. On a dollars-per-minute basis, these are probably
the most expensive films regularly made, and enormous amounts of effort and
creativity are put into them. Yet very few make it onto television, and even
fewer are available once the single in question is no longer in the shops. Real
classics, like Michael Jackson’s Thriller or Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer
(now there’s a song no one would remember if it wasn’t for the video)
exist largely in our memories these days: we can’t rummage around among old
DVDs for them in the same way that we can with our music collection.
(I could add a fourth category here, of television commercials, but while they
can be very clever and funny, I personally have no particular desire to watch
a whole DVD’s worth of them.)
I have friends in Los Angeles who are very plugged in to the music-video production
scene, and who collect pirate copies of such things in much the same way as
people in the art scene have illicit collections of art videos. But these copies
are invariably on VHS. It’s also possible to get DVDs featuring collections
of an individual recording artist’s work. The problem with going down that route,
of course, is that it’s the music which drives the video selection, and not
the other way around, meaning that a lot of the videos are very average in quality.
(One exception can be found here,
and another here).
But now, thanks to Spike Jonze, there’s a whole new company, The Director’s
Label, devoted to releasing the best work of the best music-video directors.
Better yet, the first three releases, coming out at the end of October, also
happen to be the best three music-video directors working today. The press release,
complete with trailers for each of the DVDs, can be found here.
subject of the first DVD, of course, is Jonze
himself. Jonze first appeared on the scene making skateboard videos, but
his unique visual imagination soon made him one of the most celebrated and accomplished
music-video directors ever. The Beastie Boys started hiring him on a regular
basis: they’re the kind of artists who really care about making their music
videos into self-standing artworks in their own right.
This DVD features all the Jonze classics. The Beastie Boys’ Sabotage
is a hilarious send-up of 70s cop shows, while Fatboy Slim’s Weapon of Choice
is probably the best place in cinematic history to see just how good a dancer
Christopher Walken really is. The cover features a still from Wax’s California,
a slow-motion sequence of a man on fire, running, which once seen is impossible
Jonze stands apart from the other directors in the series in that he isn’t
really known for his cutting-edge use of technology. That said, he spent a lot
of effort inserting Weezer into the Happy Days TV show for Buddy Holly,
and did their Undone video entirely in one take.
second DVD is Michel
Gondry. Gondry has come to fame more recently, largely thanks to Björk,
who has used him in half a dozen videos. Their first collaboration was on Human
Behaviour, a video which singlehandedly made Gondry’s name with a wonderfully
skewed fairy tale featuring Björk as a hunter who eventually winds up inside
a bear’s stomach.
Gondry also directed the wonderful Kylie Minogue video of Come Into My
World. Shot in a Parisian suburb, it shows Kylie dancing and skipping around
a crossroads again and again – and each time she circles, another Kylie
joins her, until there are four Kylies in all. And it’s not only Kylie who replicates,
it’s also the townsfolk, each of whom is a small little story unto themselves.
It’s the kind of video which can happily be watched over and over again for
the dozens of small things you miss the first few times.
But Gondry is more than just a high-tech wizard: consider probably his most
celebrated video, for the White Stripes’ aggressively low-tech Fell in Love
With a Girl. Done entirely in old-fashioned Lego, the very rawness of the
animation pefectly echoes the stripped-down nature of the song, and deservedly
makes it to the cover of the DVD.
Cunningham. The fact that he’s part of this series at all is particularly
impressive, because he’s considered an artist in his own right, and sells his
work through art galleries. His longest and most expensive piece of video art,
Flex, is actually featured on this DVD, which bodes well for the wider
availability of other artists’ work.
If the American Jonze is associated with the Beastie Boys and the Frenchman
Gondry is associated with Björk, then the Englishman Cunningham is very
much linked with Aphex Twin. There’s a problem here, in that Aphex Twin is not
particularly commercially successful, which means that Cunningham’s videos have
even less chance than most of being seen. What’s more, Cunningham’s vision in
his Aphex Twin videos is genuinely shocking, disconcerting, and scary: these
aren’t simply clever and imaginative works, they’re also the kind of thing which
can give you nightmares.
So it’s Björk who makes it onto the cover of this DVD, since Cunningham’s
video for her All is Full of Love is probably the most-watched thing
he’s ever made. It’s technically flawless, especially considering the technology
which went into it way back in 1999. It’s also stunningly beautiful, with a
white porcelain Björk robot building another one and falling in love with
I can’t wait for these DVDs to be released, and I’m very much looking forward
to seeing who Jonze will choose to be the next director tapped for a retrospective.
Still, between the three DVDs, there’s 20 hours of material here, so that should
be enough to keep me occupied for the time being.