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Ranked: Jonathan Glazer's Music Videos

Photo of Jessica Kiang 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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3. Jamiroquai Virtual Insanity
Perhaps the most overplayed music video of all time (seriously, there was a while when it felt literally omnipresent) even that degree of repetition can’t detract from what a terrific piece this is. Again delivering an effect that looks like simplicity itself but also feels impossible, weightless and physics-defying, it may not have the story resonance that some others on this list do, but the visual wit and flair Glazer brings to Jay Kay dancing around a room in which the walls, floors and furniture can move seemingly independently of each other with totally invisible joints, definitely sits it in the pantheon of the “style is content” category. Of course you can track down plenty of parodies, dissections and making-ofs nowadays to find out how they did it, but really, who cares—it’s supposed to look like magic, and it does.

2. UNKLE feat Thom Yorke Rabbit in Your Headlights
Almost a companion piece to the “Karma Police” promo above, and obviously also featuring Thom Yorke vocals, this UNKLE track also sees Glazer work with another frequent collaborator in Denis Lavant (we can’t wait till they actually make a movie together). In this prime example of the banal meeting the sublime, Lavant here is the the crazy tramp-like figure stumbling through a traffic tunnel and being hit with impunity by passing cars. But every time he gets knocked down, he gets up again, muttering to himself under his breath about who knows what, until, suddenly transcendent, he’s strong enough to withstand the impact of an oncoming car, and it crumples around his Christlike figure instead. It’s a terrific little film, augmented by well-used CG around the impacts that makes for some bruising watching, and it manages that trick that Glazer can pull off so well time and again: it is totally clear and deceptively simple in terms of what is going on, but its meaning is highly enigmatic and intriguing.

1. RadioheadStreet Spirit
Nope, no surprises here (note: Glazer did not direct the video for “No Surprises”). With a black-and-white spot sitting atop the commercials list, and this one at number 1 here, you could be forgiven for accusing us of B/W bias. But here, as with Guinness ”Surfer” it’s less about the palette he employs (even though it’s particularly lovely) and more about how Glazer communicates the grace and fluidity of movement that really takes our breath away. Here toying with time so that within the same frame things happens in extreme slow motion at the same time as elsewhere they’re happening in real time, again this is an example of post-production manipulation that Glazer does so well—even when it’s the point of the exercise, as here, the technique is never foregrounded over the imagery and the emotional response it can evoke. It’s just one of the loveliest things we’ve ever seen, set to one of the saddest songs by one of our greatest bands, at exactly the point at which, according to Glazer “[Radiohead] found their own voices as an artist…[and] I felt like I got close to whatever mine was.” A turning point for both band and director then, it’s kind of perfection.

For more tales of music video directors who've turned their hand to features, go here, and for more Glazer, go watch Scarlett Johansson play an alien in Glasgow this weekend, and report back. 

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


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