Tag Archives: music videos

The Music Videos of Marc Webb

I’ve been watching a few old My Chemical Romance videos on YouTube (don’t ask why), and I noticed that Marc Webb was their go-to guy for direction.

Webb, of course, directed one of my favourite movies of last year, (500) Days of Summer, and is slated to helm the new Spider-man reboot (which I’m feeling more optimistic about. Andrew Garfield! Emma Stone! Dennis Leary!). But, like a lot of contemporary directors, he got his start directing music videos. And since this all happened in the early-to-mid 2000’s, he inevitably ended up directing videos for a lot of post-grunge and “emo” bands that were popular at the time.

Being in middle school around this time, I was greatly influenced by what my peers were listening to. And I actually watched Much Music back then. So, without knowing it, I’m pretty familiar with this guy’s back catalogue. Looking at the list of videos that he’s directed, I can immediately and vividly remember the following videos (in chronological order):

And that’s not even close to half the videos that he’s done. There are a few others that I don’t remember, and a bunch that I never saw, including some with Green Day (first in 2001, and then for their 21st Century Breakdown album), Good Charlotte, Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want to Be”, Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day”, and Maroon 5’s “Harder to Breathe”.

This might not be a shining era in music history, but you have to admit that Webb directed videos for some pretty prominent songs of the time. And the fact that I can actually remember so many of his videos means that they’re at least somewhat interesting (either that, or I just watched them so many times that they’re permanently engrained in my memory).

In fact, I think that a few of those videos are actually quite good. My Chemical Romance’s “The Ghost of You” is probably one of the best directed videos I’ve seen in a while. And even though it’s melodramatic and over-the-top, the theatrical tone is spot on for their fanbase. Same goes for their gothed-out “Helena” video, and the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” rip-off that is “Teenagers”. I’m not surprised that the band worked with Webb so often, because it seems to me that he deserves a lot of credit for helping them to cultivate a very specific and successful image.

And videos like “Start All Over” and “Move Along” are surprisingly memorable, too. Their concepts are simple and certainly not groundbreaking, but whenever I think of those songs (which, admittedly, is not very often), the music video immediately comes to mind.

Despite working with such a wide array of artists, I’m surprised by what a unique, recognizable style Webb has. I can’t really pinpoint it, but most of those videos have a signature Marc Webb look to them. I had no idea going into (500) Days of Summer that this guy had defined my middle school years, to an extent.

Not to get too sentimental, but I think that time period was the twilight for the music video. Sure, you can find some really innovative videos online by smaller artists, but mainstream videos are largely dead, as far as I can tell. With the exception of Lady Gaga, it seems like the big artists today and their labels are barely putting any thought into music videos. Of course, it doesn’t help that television stations barely play videos anymore, but there’s still the while “viral” market for them online that they could try to tap into. I’m not saying that music videos from the mid-2000’s were great, because most of them weren’t. And maybe I’m just fond of them because that’s when I came of age. But artists like Green Day, My Chemical Romance, and Billy Talent at least attempted some kind of visual style (no, I don’t count Katy Perry’s penchant for sepia tone as a “style”).

So there’s a look at some of the highlights from Marc Webb’s video career (you can see a more complete list on his Wikipedia page here). You can also watch a few of the videos below. I’m hoping to write up some future segments on the music videos of Mark Romanek, Samuel Bayer, and Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.

I Don’t Want to Make Any Premature Pronouncements, but…

(You can watch “The Suburbs” video embedded above, or head over to Arcade Fire’s website to watch a better quality version.)

…I think that the music video for Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” will become a classic.

I know that it’s hard for music videos to achieve the ubiquity that they used to. MTV doesn’t play music anymore, and I recently discovered that Much Music is now playing videos in ADD-friendly one minute snippets (seriously!). But this thing is just too good.

It’s directed by my boy Spike Jonze, and it’s a fantastic addition to his catalogue. Throughout the 90’s Jonze was a prominent music video director, most famous for clips such as the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” and Weezers “Buddy Holly“. He broke into feature films with 1999’s Being John Malkovich (which earned him a Best Director Oscar nomination) and has since directed 2002’s Adaptation. and 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are.

Although he’s still been directing music videos, his output decreased in the past decade. Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice“, Phantom Planet’s “Big Brat“, and Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights” all serve as highlights of his post-Malkovich career. However, I think he’s outdone himself here.

It’s crazy to me that such a cryptic video can make me feel so many things. There are so many unanswered questions. There were rumours earlier this year that Jonze was working with the band on a sci-fi short film, which could potentially expand on this video (or could BE this video). But in a way, I think I’d prefer to let it stand on its own.

It starts off with your standard directionless youth getting into hijinks. It’s a music video staple, but it works so much more effectively when Jonze is behind the camera. He always imbues his films with an airy tinge of nostalgia. The images of faceless suburbs and bored kids immediately took me back to my own childhood.

But then things start to get strange. The military is in town, one of the kids gets a haircut, and the whole friendship crumbles. Even though it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, I felt the urgency, and I held my breath for much of the video’s second half. I think it says a lot about our current society, and everything that it means to grow up. I’ve heard others make the comparison, but “The Suburbs” feels like this fucked up generation’s version of the “1979” music video from fourteen years ago.

Combined with Where the Wild Things Are and Jonze’s excellent short film from earlier this year, I’m Here, Jonze seems to be taking a more melancholic approach to his filmmaking recently. All three pieces explore the loss of innocence and the desire to connect, and he does it with a fine balance of optimism and restlessness. I’d even go as far to say that Jonze is putting out his best work yet.

Spike Jonze: A Closer Look

It’s time to get excited, because the release of the highly anticipated Where the Wild Things Are is just around the corner. As if the captivating trailer and heart-warming childhood nostalgia weren’t enough to get me there, it’s directed by one of my absolute favourite directors, Spike Jonze. For someone who’s only previously directed two full-length films, Jonze has quite an impressive body of work. One could not make a proper list of groundbreaking music videos without multiple Jonze entries, if you ask me. He’s also behind some of the few truly inventive TV commercials out there, and he gave the amazing Charlie Kaufman a forum to share his writing skills with the world.

In anticipation of Where the Wild Things Are, I’ve decided to take a look at Spike Jonze’s already impressive career. This isn’t a comprehensive guide – it’s just some of my favourite work he’s done. And hopefully I’ll be able to give a little insight into why his work has inspired me so much.

 

The Movies

Being John Malkovich

1999

Written by: Charlie Kaufman

Starring: John Cusak, Catherine Keener, Cameron Diaz, and John Malkovich

After directing many seminal 90’s music videos (his sheer output alone in 1994 is impressive), Jonze got his first chance to try his hand at a full-length feature with Being John Malkovich. The movie has a bizarre premise about a portal that allows civilians to crawl into the mind of actor John Malkovich (playing himself in a brilliantly twisted performance). Of course, everything goes haywire. John Cusak plays a struggling puppeteer married to a considerably less glamorous Cameron Diaz. Everything about this film is inventive and a marvel to watch. Kaufman’s script is brilliant, and unexpectedly accessible (a trait that he would later dismiss with 2008’s Synecdoche, New York, his directorial debut. But that’s a different discussion.) Jonze’s vision is so clear, and he executes the concept flawlessly. Even though the movie is kooky and unconventional, it’s told in a disarmingly honest way. Both Jonze and Kaufman earned Academy Award nominations for their work here (as did Catherine Keener, for a supporting role), and what better way to start your film career than with a Best Director nomination?

 

Adaptation.

2002

Written by: Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman

Starring: Nicholas Cage, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper

Jonze and Kaufman’s second project together was 2002’s Adaptation. Once again showing his love of blurring fiction and reality, Jonze’s film is about a writer named Charlie Kaufman, and his struggle to adapt a non-fiction book about orchids into a dynamic screenplay. Susan Orlean and her book exist in real life. Charlie Kaufman exists. His twin brother, Donald, does not. Nicholas Cage plays dual roles as Charlie and Donald, and I love how the film takes that concept of the twins all the way (I believe Donald Kaufman was the first fictional person to be nominated for an Academy Award.) Being John Malkovich is a cinematic feat, because of its inventive concept, and the world that Jonze created. But I think that I actually enjoyed Adaptation. more. It’s incredibly funny. Kaufman’s script is so sharp, and Jonze’s direction matches the tone perfectly. It’s a much more understated film (well, until it hits its wonderfully ironic third act), but it still has so much of Jonze’s signature off-kilter charm. In a film dominated by fantastic performances (all three leads were nominated for an Oscar, with Cooper winning Best Supporting Actor), it could be easy to coast on their charisma alone. But Jonze is just as much a part of this film as they are. Every scene is infused with his voice, without it dominating. His films are stylish, but the direction doesn’t take over. It’s sarcastic and biting, just like much of Jonze’s work, but still so much fun.

 

Where the Wild Things Are

2009

Written by: Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers

Starring: Max Records, Catherine Keener, and voices of James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara, Paul Dano, Forrest Whitaker, and Paul Dano

To be honest, I don’t actually know a whole lot about this film. I’ve watched the trailer a few times, and I know basically what it’s about. But I’m trying not to build my expectations too ridiculously high. The fact that it’s co-written by Dave Eggers is reason enough to be excited. His beloved 2000 memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, was inventive, and much more enjoyable than one might expect, given the potentially grim subject matter (Eggers parents both died within months of each other, and as a young adult, he was left to essentially raise his considerably younger brother). I hope that this movie won’t suffer from the hype surrounding it, and hopefully audiences and their very high expectations won’t be let down.

 

The Music Videos

I am by no means an expert on Jonze’s music video career. There are still plenty that I haven’t seen, but these are just a few of his works that have really caught my attention. I tried to give an overview of the span of his career, somewhat chronologically.

Weezer – “Buddy Holly” (1994)

This is perhaps one of Spike Jonze’s best known and most beloved works. The members of Weezer perform at choice Happy Days hangout, Arnold’s, and they’ve been seamlessly inserted into old footage from the show. They interact with Joanie and Fonzie, and flirt with the girls – pissing Ritchie Cunningham off in the process. The concept is foolproof, and Jonze executes the video perfectly to give it the right look and feel. The Weezer guys have a lot of fun hamming it up. But in a song about Buddy Holly, why isn’t Rivers wearing his own famous, Holly-esque specs?

 

Beastie Boys – “Sabotage” (1994)

Another one of Jonze’s classic videos came from 1994. This time, it’s an ode to old cop TV shows. The results are hilarious, and pretty epic, too. If any band knows how to not take themselves too seriously, it’s the Beastie Boys. They look like they’re having so much fun here. The editing is really quite amazing, and Jonze’s direction keeps the video fast-paced and fun. Some might say that Jonze’s work is respected in spite of its goofiness, but I think his light-hearted touch is exactly why he succeeds.

 

Wax – “California” (1995)

This is definitely more conceptual than Jonze’s more popular works (it’s also the image on the cover of the DVD boxed set of his work…it’s on my Christmas list.) Not a lot happens, but the whole video is weirdly captivating. The visual is so simple, but beautiful, in a stark kind of way.

 

Bjork – “It’s Oh So Quiet” (1995)

Here, Spike Jonze takes a rather inaccessible artist, and creates a video that’s lovely and fun, but still very artistic. I think the video captures the general whimsy that seems so come along with Bjork’s persona. And I’ve recently realized that no one does a seemingly impromptu dance number quite like Spike Jonze (“Praise You” music video features a similar theme). That seems a little odd, but considering that he got his start with skateboarding videos, I guess it makes sense that he is so naturally drawn to movement. Perhaps Feist’s famous “1234” video took a cue from Jonze’s work here?

 

Fatboy Slim – “Weapon of Choice” (2000)

It’s three minutes of Christopher Walken dancing and flying around. If this doesn’t make you smile, you don’t deserve to be watching a Spike Jonze video. I especially like the scene with the mirrors. And the part where he gets in the elevator, and waits until it opens to resume dancing, is classic. It’s all so well done.

 

Weezer – “Island in the Sun” (Version 2) (2002)

Alright, maybe I can forgive you for not smiling at the Christopher Walken video. Maybe. But if this doesn’t make you feel all warm insdie, then I hate to break it to you, but you have no soul. Just in case Bjork and Christopher Walken weren’t cuddly enough for you, why not take a moment to admire puppies chasing a baby chimpanzee? Even Rivers Cuomo’s occasionally curmudgeonly heart has been warmed, clearly. Oh, and I feel like an idiot saying this, considering the plethora of baby animals running around, but how adorable is Weezer’s guitar player?

 

Phantom Planet – Big Brat (2003)

Spike Jonze’s music video output has dropped off since 2000 (for obvious reasons), but clearly he hasn’t lost his touch. Phantom Planet is probably best known for their song “California” (aka the theme song to The O.C., just in case you’re over the age of 25), but this is actually a pretty cool song, and an even cooler video. It starts out as a laid-back hangout video, and then turns into a make-shift zombie production. Zombies always go over well, and it’s a blast watching them come up with creative, low-budget ways to make blood and organs.

 

 

Kanye West – “Flashing Lights” (2007)

I first saw this video just a few days ago. My first reaction was something along the lines of “…”, but as I thought about it more over the course of a few hours and days, I realised that it had a weird kind of impact on me. It’s deceptively simple, and the ending is really jarring (I know everyone hates Kanye now, because he – once again – confirmed that he was a dick during this year’s annual VMA water cooler moment, but I doubt Taylor Swift would wish that upon him). I think that this will probably hold up well over time, and be yet another entry in Jonze’s cannon of groundbreaking videos.

 

The Commercials

These are just a couple of ads that helped Jonze to receive a nomination for the “Outstanding Achievement in Commercials in 2005” award from the Directors Guild of America. They’ve definately got his signature style and humour.

Ikea Ad – Lamp

 

Gap Ad – “Pardon Our Dust”

 

Miscellaneous

The multi-talented Jonze has also worked as an actor in films like Three Kings. He was a creator and executive producer of the MTV hit show, Jackass, and helped to produce both of the movies. He was an executive producer for the documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad, and helped to produce Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York. He also has several short films to his name, and multiple alter egos (including “Spike Jonze”. Believe it or not, that was not, in fact, his birth name. Try Adam Spiegel).

With the upcoming release of Where The Whild Things Are, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City is hosting a 10-day event to honour his work. In a fascinating piece in the New York Times published last month, they note that the costume department for Wild Things was larger than the entire crew of Being John Malkovich. It’s obviously his biggest piece yet. At the age of 39, Jonze’s accomplishments are quite impressive, and it looks like Where The Wild Things Are is only going to bring him more recognition.

http://weloveyouso.com/