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10 Music Video Directors Turned Feature Filmmakers

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist November 13, 2013 at 3:06PM

Many years ago, The Playlist started off as a blog dedicated to soundtracks, scores, music movies and the rest of the middle part of the Venn diagram where the worlds of music and film collided. Though we’ve evolved since then, that overlap is still something close to our hearts. One way those worlds are inextricably interlinked is in the number of directors who come from a music video background to work in features, and with most of us being that precise age that we can still remember the first heyday of the music video, it never ceases to surprise us how many of the promos we remember best were shot by filmmakers we now associate primarily with features. Arguably the form is experiencing something of a renaissance in relevance these days, not just via YouTube, but also with high-profile bands like Arcade Fire embracing and expanding their music videos’ artistic potential, even while the Robin Thickes of the world grab some extra headlines with risque or provocative content.
2
Romanek

Mark Romanek
Selected Videography: Romanek in fact has three Grammys for music video direction--more than anyone else, which should give you a good idea of how hard it will be to give a summary of his video output. Over the 27 years he’s worked in the music video biz, he has worked with huge stars (Madonna, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, REM) and smaller bands, but even early on found himself frequently turning in awarded promos, like k.d. lang’s “Constant Craving,” En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind,” Lenny Kravitz’ “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” and the massive “Scream” for Michael Jackson. More recently he made the unforgettable video for Johnny Cash’s “Hurt,” along with the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ “Can’t Stop,” Jay-Z’s “99 Problems” and Coldplay’s “Speed of Sound.”

Debut Feature: “Static” (1985)/“One Hour Photo” (2002)
Well, whether Romanek actually belongs on this list at all is debatable, as he actually directed a feature film in 1985, the year before his first music video. This film “Static” is a quirky comedy about a man forced to desperate measures when no one else seems to believe in his invention which can show pictures of heaven, and stars Amanda Plummer and Keith Gordon, but Romanek has publicly distanced himself from the film in the years since, actively declaring that he considers 2002’s “One Hour Photo” to be his real feature debut. Knowing what we know now of Romanek’s style, “Static” does seem anomalous, so who are we to argue? “One Hour Photo” by contrast, is a low-key layering-on of dread on top of dread as Robin Williams, in a startling career about-turn that was echoed in his other 2002 film “Insomnia,” plays a slowly-unraveling photo technician driven to violence by loneliness, isolation and an obsession with a family whose photos he develops. But if the film does fray slightly around the edges by the end, in the main it is memorable, aside from Williams’ creepy but somehow tragic portrayal, for Romanek’s pristine control over its look, and over the heightened tone of alienation and outsiderness.

Film Career Since Then: Romanek was kept busy with life stuff (as he told us) and with commercials (that pay better than music videos) in the years between “One Hour Photo” and his next feature, 2011’s “Never Let Me Go,” an adaptation of the celebrated Kazuo Ishiguro novel of the same name. Romanek brought his trademark beautiful, cool visual style to the story, which was appropriate for the slightly otherwordly tone, but while the film looked amazing it felt slightly empty, and underperformed at the box office. Since that, Romanek has been linked to several high-profile projects, but after he left “The Wolf Man,” and the live-action version of “Cinderella,” and TV pilot “Locke and Key” didn’t get picked up, his most recent credit was on “Picasso Baby” the performance art video made with Jay-Z. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that one of his gestating projects gets the go ahead soon.


Jonathan Glazer

Jonathan Glazer
Selected Videography: So if you were in a successful indie band in the mid-90s, you went to Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry for whimsy, but if you wanted a slicker, harder and more unsettling edge to your promos (if, for example, you were pre-2000 Radiohead), you may have sought out Jonathan Glazer. From the ‘Clockwork Orange’-inspired “The Universal” for Blur, through Radiohead’s beloved and still beautiful slo-mo “Street Spirit,” Jamiroquai’s ubiquitous “Virtual Insanity,” Radiohead’s “Karma Police,” UNKLE’s “Rabbit in your headlights” and Richard Ashcroft’s “Song for the Lovers,” Glazer, who also made some pretty sublime commercials during this period (Guinness ad “Surfer” especially), really defined his approach: a cool, detached elegance to the imagery and a slightly alienated, dispassionate tone.

Debut Feature: “Sexy Beast” (2000)
Glazer’s first film, when it came, though, felt like a bit of a surprise to those who’d been following his advertising and music video career. A darkly comic, highly ironic crime caper film set largely in an expat community in Spain, it was a lot more oily, fleshy and brightly colored than we might have expected from a director who was most associated with a kind of cool, muted cerebrality. But it is still a terrific film, boasting the great bait-and-switch casting of Ben “Gandhi” Kingsley as the sociopathic, profane ex-associate (Kingsley reportedly based the character on his grandmother) who menaces unassuming, jovial, deeply tanned Ray Winstone. But Glazer’s inherent eye for composition and unusual shotmaking also elevate the film above the standard cockney crime drama, making “Sexy Beast” both one of the more surprising but also most assured debuts on this list.

Film Career Since Then: Glazer has continued working steadily in commercials, racking up some of the more memorable recent spots for Levis, Wrangler, Guinness, Barclays, Stella Artois and Sony Bravia, as well as a couple more music videos, but has returned to the big screen twice since his first film. In 2004 he released “Birth” with Nicole Kidman, one of the most widely misunderstood and unfairly overlooked films of the last decade, but one whose chilly brilliance we champion every chance we get. And this year he returned, after nine long years, with “Under the Skin” which premiered at Telluride and Venice, to reviews that were mostly ecstatic, and the few that weren’t were so dramatically opposite in opinion that it seems clear we can guarantee no one will be left unmoved, one way or the other. We loved it (see five reasons “Under The Skin” is one of the best films of the year here), and it has firmly established Glazer as one of our very favorite working directors, one who we deeply hope we won’t lose to the word of commercials for another nine years before his next feature.

Michel Gondry

Michel Gondry
Selected Videography: Though he's mostly stepped away from the world now, French filmmaker Michel Gondry was one of the most influential music video directors of the last few decades; like Spike Jonze, who emerged around the same time, he often rejected glitz and big-budget effects for a lo-fi feel and ingenious trickery. Gondry started out making videos for his own band, Oui Oui, before coming to the attention of Bjork, with whom he's collaborated many times, most notably on "Human Behavior," "Army Of Me" and "Hyperballad." Since then, he became one of the hottest video directors around, with multiple clips for The White Stripes, Beck and Daft Punk, as well as one-offs like Foo Fighters' "Everlong," Kanye West's "Heard "Em Say" and Radiohead's "Knives Out." His early clips are collected on an excellent Directors' Label DVD.

Debut Feature: “Human Nature” (2001)
Like Jonze (who actually produced the French director's debut), Gondry moved into features with a script by Charlie Kaufman. Unfortunately, "Human Nature," a one-time Steven Soderbergh project, did not prove as successful. A curious satire/screwball comedy, following Patricia Arquette's hirsute sexual pioneer, Tim Robbins' mice-training psychologist and Rhys Ifans' ape-man, it's bursting with ideas, and has some smart things to say about sexuality and civilization, but it's an undoubted mess, despite game work from the cast. Gondry's visual flourishes are occasionally in effect, but this feels a little faltering and lacking in confidence in places, though it's hard to completely dislike the whole.

Film Career Since Then: Fortunately, Gondry and Kaufman stuck together, and knocked it right out of the park the next time around, with mind-bending romantic-comedy-drama "Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind." Featuring performances from Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet that are still arguably the actor's best, with a profound, deeply sad take on the relationship movie, and with Gondry's lo-fi style perfectly matching the material, it was one of the best films of the last decade. Since then, Gondry's output has been more uneven, and closer to the divisiveness of "Human Nature." "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" is an excellent concert movie, and "Science Of Sleep" and "Be Kind Rewind" both have their charms, while being uneven, but ill-conceived blockbuster "The Green Hornet" was a total disaster (as Gondry himself has admitted). Last year's "The We & The I" wasn't much better received, and his latest, the French-language "Mood Indigo" doesn't seem to have made much of an impression either, and is still awaiting a U.S. release.

This article is related to: Features, Charlie Countryman, Fredrik Bond, Spike Jonze, David Fincher, Anton Corbijn, Mark Romanek, Jonathan Glazer, Tarsem, Michel Gondry, Francis Lawrence, Antoine Fuqua, Marc Webb, Feature


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