Saturday, April 16, 2016
25 Essential Videos by Spike Jonze
While being one of the finest filmmakers working today in cinema, Spike Jonze does still hold a special place for the world of music fans for the music videos he had created throughout the years. Especially as the videos defined not just the world of alternative rock in the 1990s but also for emerging artists or those who didn’t fit in with a particular genre. Even as they’re filled with dazzling videos and a sense of imagination that did more than just make the video a promotional tool for artist or for a song. This is a chronological list of 25 of his essential videos that he made from 1992 to 2004 as these are often regarded as some of his best work.
1. Sonic Youth-100%
Sharing duties with Tamra Davis in directing the film which also features future actor Jason Lee skateboarding in black-and-white clips. The video has the band playing in a house that is inter-cut with footage of skateboarders skating in the city. The song that is about the shooting death of a skateboarder isn’t about that person but rather the friendship of skateboarders. For those that is aware of Jonze’s work in skateboard videos will definitely see that the skateboarding footage in the video is definitely him with Davis shooting the scenes shot in color.
2. The Breeders-Cannonball
In a video shot with Sonic Youth bassist/vocalist Kim Gordon, the Breeders’ clip from their second album is considered one of the definitive videos of the 1990s as it was unlike anything that was being played on MTV. With its lingering footage of a bowling ball rolling on a driveway and the band doing dress-up and Kim Deal singing underwater. It is a clip that is very strange but also has a lot of fun where it really has something that is quirky in an age of expensive concept videos while the video is the antithesis of those concept videos.
3. The Beastie Boys-Sabotage
This is easily one of the best videos ever made. Based on 70s TV-cop shows, the video has the Beastie Boys pretend to be cops in the 1970s with Adam Yauch playing the dual role as Cochese and the villain Sir Stewart Wallace as himself. It’s a video that is just absolutely nuts with everyone just having fun as it played into every cliché that appeared on 70s television. There’s car chases, fights, and some weird moments where it is a video that is full of thrills, chills, and all sorts of excitement. All of which was done in a small budget.
4. Weezer-Undone-The Sweater Song
Now this is a video with an unusual opening where it goes into a hallway for a tracking shot which shows the band about to play but they’re upside down and then the camera turns upside down where it is this good trick. The hallway is shot in black-and-white but then goes into full color as it was all done in one take. For a video for a new band in their debut single, it’s a great first impression as it shows the band not really bothering to lip sync or be in tune with the song they’re playing as all sorts of crazy things happen.
5. The Breeders-Divine Hammer
Helmed once again with Kim Gordon as well as Richard Kern, the video maintains a sense of fun like Cannonball where Kim and Kelley Deal would be seen on wires pretending to fly while there is footage of the band playing but also in activities when they’re not playing. Shot in different film and video stock, it has a sense of creativity that feels very free and fun no matter what kind of mayhem the band is doing.
6. Weezer-Buddy Holly
Jonze’s second collaboration with the band from their 1994 debut album is probably the best example of using computer technology and visual effects where the band is scene performing on the set of Happy Days. With Al Molinaro making an appearance reprising his role as Al, the video was cleverly edited with footage from the show as the band plays at the restaurant where they get Fonzie to dance. It is one of the most creative and imaginative videos ever made as well as one of the best music videos of all-time.
7. Dinosaur Jr.-Feel the Pain
From the band’s 1994 album Without a Sound is a single that is probably Dinosaur Jr.’s most famous song though it’s really more of a song created by vocalist/guitarist J. Mascis. Still, the song is given a funny presentation that has Mascis and then-bassist Mike Johnson playing golf all around New York City in a game that is dangerous but fun while beating yuppies in the process while Jonze makes a cameo as a cab driver. It’s as if New York City is the golf course as it serves a strange take on a song that is quite dark.
8. The Beastie Boys-Sure Shot
The second of three videos Jonze made with the Beastie Boys is another example of Jonze’s collaboration with the group in making low-budget videos that didn’t need a lot of flash and big ideas. Instead, it had the band rapping in the song while in Las Vegas and do all sorts of things with montage-style cutting of pictures and such including one of fellow video director Tamra Davis who is married to Mike Diamond aka Mike D of the group. Shot in different formats, the video plays up that sense of fun as it is one of the band’s definitive videos.
9. MC 900 Ft. Jesus-If I Only Had a Brain
One of the few one-hit wonders that Jonze had made videos for, the one for this song by MC 900 Ft. Jesus (Mark Griffin) is definitely one of the more underrated videos of the 90s. It has a story about a guy who reads an ad for brains on sale as he puts himself in a box and hopes to go to the ride address for a brain. It’s a video that is very fun as it has MC 900 Ft. Jesus imagining himself in a box
10. Ween-Freedom of ‘76
If anyone here doesn’t think Ween is awesome, get the fuck out. Jonze definitely thinks they’re one of the best as he creates a hilarious video of the band trying to steal the Liberty Bell where they get caught yet some treat them as martyrs while they’re about to go to prison. It’s really a video that doesn’t get seen very much as it is one of the best that Jonze has ever made for a band that never gets the attention they deserve.
While Jonze has always been known for making videos that are quirky, lively, and odd depending on the artists/bands he worked with. This one is definitely his most controversial as it’s for the Californian punk rock band which is a simple slow-motion of a video of a man running while he is on fire. It’s a video that still has the power to shock as it’s one that is not for the faint of heart.
12. Bjork-It’s Oh So Quiet
This is truly one of the greatest videos ever made as who better to work with Jonze than Bjork. It starts off very grimy with Bjork in a bathroom that looks very dirty and then she walks out and it’s in a very sunny and clean street. It’s a song that starts off gentle and then becomes loud where the video captures that spirit as it has some amazing dance choreography and moments that are just off the wall. It’s a video that is just pure entertainment of the highest order as well as one of Jonze’s most definitive videos.
13. Elastica-The Car Song
From one of the definitive acts of Britpop comes a video that Jonze made that is quite unusual but also so engaging in its sense of style. Shot on location in Tokyo in a car that looks like it’s from the future, it’s a video that has the band trying to chase a ghost through the city and later confront a Godzilla-wannabe. It’s a video that is just so cool while it also indicates that maybe this is why Jonze’s then-wife Sofia Coppola wanted the video’s cinematographer Lance Acord to shoot Lost in Translation for her.
14. Sonic Youth-The Diamond Sea
In a shortened version of the band’s near-20 minute opus, Jonze’s video for the song would be shot from the band’s various performance in the year 1995 where they were headlining the Lollapalooza music festival. Shot in array of different film and video stock, the video plays into a look of the band on the road playing in different cities during that tour. Even in some of the chaotic moments that the band is often known for as they are often considered one of the premier acts of the alternative rock era.
15. The Pharcyde-Drop
This is definitely one of the most imaginative videos out there where it has a unique concept. Since Jonze would film everything and have the group lip-sync the song backwards. The presentation would be completely off the wall where the group are actually doing everything, except in the lip-sync, backwards. With cameo appearances from Mike D and Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys, it is a fun video from an act that never got a lot of attention as they were overshadowed by that whole East coast/West coast bullshit.
From what is definitely R.E.M.’s most underrated album New Adventures in Hi-Fi (from my point of view) is a video that is also one of band’s often overlooked singles. Sharing directing duties with longtime R.E.M. collaborator Peter Care, the video has band members set into different rooms where Michael Stipe and Bill Berry are shown upside down while Peter Buck is seen in a reverse shot. While it is obvious Care did much of the straightforward stuff, it’s Jonze that did much of the sequences involving visual effects and the band riding dune buggies as it’s one of their finest videos.
17. Daft Punk-Da Funk
There’s a lot of ways to introduce new artists who would shape the world of music but for a group as faceless as Daft Punk. There is a big challenge and Jonze was able to rise to that challenge with a video in which a man-dog is walking around in cast and a crutch on the streets of New York City with a ghetto blaster playing the song in the background as he meets various people. It’s an odd video but certainly one that really opens the door for a new form of music that would later become mainstream.
18. The Chemical Brothers-Elektrobank
Featuring Jonze’s then-wife/future filmmaker Sofia Coppola is a video that has Coppola playing a gymnast. The video features a coach who is a parody of sorts of Bela Karolyi as Jonze definitely goes for something a little simpler in this video as opposed to emphasizing highly on style and quirks. While the wide shots do show an actual gymnast pretending to be Coppola in the more dangerous stunts, the video does play into the intensity of the song as it also include some amazing edits. Yet, the video does have one final quirky bit which shows the Chemical Brothers as athletes in a trophy room picture.
19. The Notorious B.I.G.-Sky’s The Limit
As the second posthumous single for the Notorious B.I.G. comes one of the most creative and touching videos that Jonze has ever made. Most notably for the fact that he had children in the video playing not just Biggie Smalls but also Sean Combs, Lil’ Kim, and other luminaries from the Bad Boy label. While the video does feature a lot of visual touches that was common with much of the hip-hop videos of the mid-90s, Jonze would inject a sense of innocence while having a kid lip-syncing Biggie’s rhymes with such charisma as it feels very special as it adds a lot to the song.
20. Fatboy Slim-Praise You
Directed with his then brother-in-law Roman Coppola on grainy video, Jonze plays the role of choreographer Richard Koufey who acts as a dance troupe leader trying to dance to a song by Fatboy Slim in front of a movie theater. Shot on guerilla style on a budget of $800, the video is the antithesis of the flashy, high-concept videos that were being made in the late 90s as it also had a sense of realism. Notably in a brief moment where someone stopped the music player and the dancers are still frozen only to move when the music is played. It’s one of the best videos ever made as it deservedly won MTV awards for its direction, choreography, and breakthrough video.
21. Fatboy Slim-Weapon of Choice
Jonze’s second collaboration with Fatboy Slim comes another classic video that really defies description in every shape and form. The premise is simple. What happens when Christopher Walken is waiting in a hotel and he hears a Fatboy Slim song? The fact that Walken does some of his own choreography for the video and the fact that he is at the center of it makes it even more amazing as it’s easy to forget that a man who is known for playing psychos, weirdos, and other funny characters is actually the embodiment of entertainment. He flies and he dances as it’s just fun as the video would win a Grammy for Best Short Form video and 6 MTV awards for its direction, choreography, art direction, cinematography, editing, and for breakthrough video.
22. Tenacious D-Wonderboy
Made under the alias Marcus von Bueler, the video for the comedy-rock duo Tenacious D is probably one of Jonze’s most ambitious videos to date. Yet, the video is sort of a parody of the big concept videos where it has Jack Black and Kyle Gass in medieval clothing in a quest through the treacherous winter storm. It is a very funny video that plays into the fallacies of these big and epic videos where everyone tries to be so cool and so epic as Jonze manages to play into those silly ambitions.
23. Bjork-It’s In Our Hands
The second of three collaborations Jonze made with Bjork is probably one of their more obscure work as it was made for a greatest hits collection Bjork would release in 2002. Shot entirely in night vision with a visibly-pregnant Bjork walking around grass as if she had shrunk herself to the size of insects. The video is obviously an experimental piece that has Bjork and Jonze just go for something that is simple and to the point while playing around with visual effects and set design.
24. Phantom Planet-Big Brat
Another low-budget video that Jonze would make as it would be for the California band that once featured actor Jason Schwartzman on drums. The video concept is simple as it has the band playing the song in a house while they’re also making costumes and such with other people for what would be a zombie movie. It is a video that shows a band having fun and being very creative with other people as the zombie movie itself would come towards the end as it owes so much to the work of George Romero.
25. Yeah Yeah Yeahs-Y Control
Made for the NYC post-punk band, the video is definitely one of Jonze’s most controversial work as it relates to children doing graphic things such as carrying the body of a dead dog (it’s fake) or discussions of mutilation. With the band playing while the children do all sorts of things, it is a video shot in a low-budget as it is one that definitely will make any feel uncomfortable but that is the power of what a good music video does.
Spike Jonze Films: Being John Malkovich - Adaptation - Where the Wild Things Are - Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak - Her - My Mutant Brain - The Auteurs #54: Spike Jonze
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