There was a time, long ago, when a single, solitary television channel was dedicated to the world of music. On said channel, before the citizenswent wild for "reality" and killed all that was right in the world, short films showcased every song that was played. Some were simply grainy concert footage or quick studio performances, while others stretched the boundaries of moviemaking, showcasing whole narrative stories for a simple, short collection of notes.
Unsurprisingly, these same directors then set their sights on the big screen, itching to stretch their talents from short, three-minute intervals to hours of material. They've given us everything, from men who like to destroy pretty things, to the warped creativity of the mind, to a woman who finds her late husband inside a little boy. They've offered mainstream hits, critical successes, and cult films we all love, and they symbolize that time when music meant videos, and the two went hand in hand.
Things have changed so much that we probably won't see a continuing influx of this sort of talent, but we can savor what the '80s and '90s brought us, and how some small screen vision led to big screen success.
Yes, this a big cheat, but to talk about the world of music videos and not mention Landis would be tantamount to discussing religion without mention of a god. Along with Michael Jackson, he made the music video to end all videos, taking a simple, creepy "Thriller" and turning into a short film phenomenon of zombies, dance, and werewolves. It's the project where even the behind-the-scenes Making Of was an event.
For the most part, his films are nothing like his zombie dalliance -- Animal House would've been a much different movie if they were -- but "Thriller" does come right on the heels of one of Landis' classics, An American Werewolf in London, and Landis jumped quickly from werewolves in the UK, to a rather toothy and creepy Jackson in Thriller's movie within a movie.
Long before fight clubs, serial killers, and backwardly aging dudes, David Fincher was entrenched in music, amassing a collection of stylish videos. Unlike some directors who stuck within certain genres and methods, Fincher ran the musical gamut. He's the man behind Madonna's "Vogue," as well as videos for the likes of Rick Springfield, Loverboy, Paula Abdul, and Nine Inch Nails.
While it's easy to see how his small-screen sensibilities translated to the big screen, with his use of shadows, angles, and rich color, Se7en is one of the best examples. The opening, which you can see below, is like a music video itself. A collection of quick cuts fueled by music, the sequence plays out like a brief, introductory video before the story dives into Monday.
Rather than move beyond his music roots, Michel Gondry has stuck to them, using the same zany imagination for both formats. On the small and large screen, Gondry intermingles strange, imaginative worlds with careful plotting, resulting in worlds that are wacky, but well-structured. His creativity might skyrocket, but there's a path to it -- sometimes literally, like the backwards-forwards structure of Cibo Matto's "Sugar Water."
And some of Gondry's ideas morphed quite literally from one format to another. The Science of Sleep wasn't the first film to use growing appendages. It's an idea that popped up in his treatment of Foo Fighters' "Everlong" as the old cabin in the woods theme makes use of a non-chainsaw sort of helping hand.
Spike Jonze's trip from small to big screen is certainly successful, bringing us wonders like the insanely brilliant Being John Malkovich, but he's an auteur still better known for his musical creations. He reinvigorated the Beastie Boys with "Sabotage," showed life as a real dawg for Daft Punk, and let Weezer head back in time to Happy Days.
Jonze's specialty, however, is finding that beloved icon, and placing them in the perfect scenario that shows the actor in a whole new light. He did it for John Malkovich on the big screen, and Christopher Walken on the small screen -- reminding the world that Walken is much more than just creepy or strange -- he's a dancer, and Jonze let him fly. (Thus reminding the world of dancing Walken and the man to gigs like Romance and Cigarettes.)
Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
This pair might have yet to prove their staying power, but Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris made a heck of a jump from memorable music videos to Little Miss Sunshine. The film brings to mind the quirk they threw into Perry Farrel-led songs like "Been Caught Stealin'" and "Pets," but there are still aspects of their talents that we've yet to see.
Basically, they need to go retro. It'd be nice to see them make a great film done with simple, classic animation like The Ramones' "Spider-Man," but even more than that -- whimsical retro. The same people who brought us Olive's jaw-dropping dance are the people who directed "Tonight, Tonight" by The Smashing Pumpkins.
The bulk of Jonathan Glazer's work is commercials, but he has also helmed a handful of memorable music videos and a few features films. However, there are directors like Michel Gondry who employ similar styles in both videos and features, Glazer has run the gamut. His big-screen work details con men and reincarnated husbands with Sexy Beast and Birth, while his music-themed work varies from the mellow "Live with Me" by Massive Attack, and the oh-so-different "Virtual Insanity" of Jamiroquai.
Pretty Fly For a White Guy - The Offspring
And finally, there's McG. He might be entrenched in huge sequels of apocalyptic proportions right now, but before all that, McG was making music videos for the small screen. Just like his early, goofy films, and his misleadingly goofy name, his shorts are quirky and upbeat.
From "Pretty Fly for a White Guy" (above), to "Santeria," McG has always focused on the mirth. I can't help but wonder if he'll find a way to add a little bit into his Terminator Salvation.