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Ranked: Jonathan Glazer's Music Videos

The Playlist By Jessica Kiang | The Playlist April 3, 2014 at 1:09PM

As part of our continuing efforts to make everyone in the world go see "Under the Skin," which opens this Friday, earlier in the week we featured a rundown of director Jonathan Glazer's top ten commercials. But, advertising is not the only string to his bow (though no doubt the most lucrative), Glazer is also a well-known music video director, who, while not quite as prolific in this area, still boasts more than a couple of touchstones in his short videography. What's also notable about his promos is that within them, like with his commercial work, you can trace the evolution of the stylistic elements that Glazer would bring to his features, from the crisp lines and bold colors of the poolside terrace in "Sexy Beast," to the somber, chilly palette of "Birth," to the imagery of "Under the Skin" that ranges from gritty to sleek to surreal. It's a treat to watch a director as visually confident as Glazer work in a longer format, but it's also a treat to look through his back catalogue to see that confidence grow and mature.
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7. BlurThe Universal
Just in case we were in any doubt who Glazer’s favorite director is, here’s a whole promo dedicated to Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange.” Tapping into the skewed Britishness of that film and linking it to the all-conquering Britpop movement of the '90s seems like an obvious choice in retrospect, but was actually quite a leap, and helped Blur be seen to be more than just the fresh-faced cheeky chappies of Parklife. Though the band’s collective photogenic-ness didn’t hurt either. How much Glazer and the band interpret Kubrick’s countercultural masterpiece and how much they shamelessly rip it off is up for debate, (this was still 1995, "Karmacoma"-era Glazer) though there are nods to David Lynch in there as well, but while it feels more like mimicry than many other clips on this list, it’s still fun and has enough attention to side details (the gay kiss that happens just before the cut, the hands-over-the-faces, the people in the elevator) to make it a rewarding watch anyway.

6. Massive Attack “Live With Me” 
For the second of his collaborations with Massive Attack, Glazer delivered a much more restrained, un-stylized promo which shows just how much he'd grown in the intervening decade as a storyteller. Featuring an unnerving, tragic portrait of willful alcoholic self-obliteration, the interesting thing here is that there doesn't seem to be any stylistic filter on, and instead this young woman's binge is presented in a much more realistic, and therefore effective, way, (before the tiny, well "well what does it matter" uplift of the very ending). It's the resolutely deglamorized, painful counterpoint to something like the Prodigy's "Smack my Bitch Up" video—all minor key sadness and ordinary, still-just-about-functioning fucked-upness. Also: amazing song.

5. Richard AshcroftSong for the Lovers
With ex-Verve frontman Ashcroft boasting the kind of cheekbones from which you could hang a whole video, Glazer wisely keeps the charismatic singer front and center of this promo, while also working in a undercurrent of uneasiness, so skillfully you don't really know where it's come from. It becomes almost subversive in effect. In fact this is one of those promos that, even having watched it a few times, it still feels like we may have missed some massive part of it, like a goblin in the background, or dead body lying partially out of frame. But no, the genius here is that, using perfectly composed, deliciously controlled shots, Glazer creates this sense of the uncanny when all that's actually happening is a guy is having breakfast in a hotel room. He even makes fun of the foreboding he's instilled in the moment when we're sure Ashcroft is staring at something terrible... and it turns out he's taking a leak.

4. RadioheadKarma Police
The most creatively fruitful collaboration of Glazer’s music video career has been with Radiohead, for whom he directed this promo from OK Computer, which was the album that really signaled their arrival as one of the most interesting bands on the planet. It’s only a few years on from the Blur track above, but already we can see Glazer’s style has evolved into something that’s much closer to what we’d associated with the director now—you could trace a line from the lush reds and velvety blacks of the palette and the air of otherworldly menace here straight to “Under the Skin.” Delivering a slightly Kafkaesque story of a man pursued relentlessly down a nighttime road by a malevolent car, it’s a terrific interpretation of a terrific song, and one that practically begs to be read on multiple allegorical levels as well as in terms of what’s actually going on.

This article is related to: Features, Feature, Jonathan Glazer, Under the Skin


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