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Ranked: Jonathan Glazer's Music Videos

Features
by Jessica Kiang
April 3, 2014 1:09 PM
4 Comments
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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.

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4 Comments

  • cirkusfolk | April 3, 2014 6:06 PMReply

    I find it funny that you bash the first 4 videos you include in your top 10. Wouldn't a top 10 by it's very nature mean you love them all? And as far as the video for Karma Police is concerned, the idea was first offered to Marilyn Manson who turned it down. So I guess it doesn't matter what song plays over these which to me feels a little in genuine.

  • Glass | April 3, 2014 7:52 PM

    "the idea was first offered to Marilyn Manson who turned it down. So I guess it doesn't matter what song plays over these which to me feels a little in genuine."

    You should know that this is the case for most music videos. Directors always keep a cache of video ideas in their heads (or notebooks) so they can have one ready to go the minute they hear a song. It's not "ingenuine" - a song and a pre-existing idea can marry together so perfectly that it doesn't matter which came first. It's not the viewer's concern.

  • Ryan O. | April 3, 2014 6:31 PM

    It's a ranking of worst to best, so it doesn't mean that they like those four. It just so happens that he has exactly ten videos under his belt.

  • owdl114 | April 3, 2014 1:55 PMReply

    Weird to think that when that 'Universal' video was first released, 'A Clockwork Orange' was still withdrawn from British distribution.

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