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The Best Commercials & Music Videos Of Michael Bay

Features
by The Playlist Staff
April 23, 2013 12:00 PM
3 Comments
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Michael Bay,  Pain and Gain
Michael Bay is an auteur. He's a director with a unique visual style all his own and a grasp of cinematic language (by the balls) unlike anyone else in the business. In fact, he may be the cinematic auteur who most accurately represents our day and age in the film industry. Notice the use of the word “may” in that last sentence-- all we’re sayin’ is, an argument could be made for the much maligned (in certain circles) director’s relevance within a current climate that prizes bombast and spectacle. And there’s no one else who does bombast and spectacle better than Michael Bay (no arguments there, thank you very much). And he does so with such a unique style there there is never any doubt that you’re watching a Michael Bay film. Sure, watching his films is more like shotgunning a light domestic brew straight to the brain rather than sipping a fine vintage wine, but isn’t there a time and place for shotgunning beers? For sheer orgasmic visuals, there is no equal to Bay in the business. Period. Did not a single shiver go up your spine when Scorponok spiraled out of the desert sand in the first “Transformers” trailer, clicking and whirling with the heft of real machinery? Or when Martin Lawrence intoned “shit just got real,” cameras spinning around him, in “Bad Boys II”? If not, you have no cinematic soul. Or cinematic boner, whatever.

Finally, Bay gets to take a break from Autobots and Decepticons and this week brings us his passion project, the American Dream on steroids (literally) flick “Pain and Gain,” a balls to the wall take on the rags to riches tale, based on a true story. It looks to be as ludicrously bombastic and shiny as one of The Rock’s pectoral muscles. So, in a word, awesome. We thought in honor of this film, we’d take a spin through the medium where Bay got his start, in the world of commercials and music videos. These short form takes allow Bay to be as unrestrained as possible in some ways, going completely over the top in terms of visual style and editing, almost every spot oozing with pure, testosterone-fueled id. But many of them also show what an intrepid visual storyteller Bay is, communicating complex ideas through his bonkers cinematography in 60 seconds or less. It’s pure distilled Bay, doing what he does best. Enjoy our favorite picks below, and let us know in the comments which of your favorite Michael Bay ads and videos make it onto your top 10 list.

Meat Loaf "I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)" 
The thing starts with a helicopter vs. motorcycle race. WHERE CAN WE GO FROM HERE? Oh, just to a spooky old castle where Meat Loaf is dressed as a Quasimodo type character and rocking some fierce acrylics. THIS IS IN THE FIRST MINUTE. OF EIGHT MINUTES. A motorcycle crashes through the wall, a chandelier crashes to the floor, and we are thrown into a flashback where Beast Meat Loaf meets his beauty by a pond (model Dana Patrick). There are literally hundreds of candles and a magical chair. An unexplained witchy lesbian sex scene. Outside, police cars and a manhunt in lens flare-y glory, light streaming through the forest. A levitating couch where Dana Patrick lip syncs the female part. Her song turns Beast Meat Loaf into Regular Meat Loaf and they drive away into a sunset, on a motorcycle, natch. Upon rewatching this, why hasn’t Bay been offered any period fantasy pieces?! Give the man “Snow White and the Huntsman 2” for God’s sake. A “Game of Thrones” episode, maybe? Not enough helicopters for his taste, probably. What is there to say about “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)”? The video is epic, ridiculous, and sublime.

Aerosmith, "Falling in Love is Hard on the Knees"
The cheekily titled debut single from Aerosmith's controversial Nine Lives album (yes, at one point Aerosmith was capable of things like "controversy") is either a testament to the towering brilliance of all things Bay or a criminal work of gaudy excessiveness that detractors can point to and say, "See, that's everything that's wrong with him as a filmmaker and a man, in less than four minutes." Personally, we lean towards the former – it's a kind of Michael Bay thesis project, full of cascading lights whose origin is never identified, supermodels (in this case a lithe young Angie Everhart), a bright neon sign (that reads, simply: "LOVE"), some weird bondage fetish stuff, implied fellatio (supplied by the aforementioned lithe young Angie Everhart) and more smoke than a nineteenth century coal factory. But somehow all of these disparate elements work, brilliantly, even within the course of the truncated running time, in which images flash from one to the next so quickly you’ll wonder if you’ve momentarily developed an epileptic condition. It's just as flashy as an average David Fincher video but without the soul and wicked playfulness. Bay is more garish but, sorry, he's just as good.  

Wilson Phillips, "You Won’t See Me Cry"
Michael Bay knows his film history, after all he’s a Wesleyan University alum, and favorite student of its Film Studies Department head Jeanine Basinger (she does a commentary track on the “Pearl Harbor” DVD). Which is why it makes sense that the video for Wilson Phillips’ “You Won’t See Me Cry” is a direct reference to German Expressionist classic vampire film “Nosferatu” (check out the shaky silent film effect in the first few shots). He seems to cast the three girls as three Frau Hutters mooning at the window for their husband to return (though we don’t remember Hutter wearing snug tank tops or playing jazzy sax solos in the original...). It’s one of his most successful videos because he sticks with a concept and style, with only a few random WTF moments of color photography, raining inside and billowing curtains. It’s restrained Bay, and it serves the song well.  

Lionel Richie, "Do It To Me"
So, we fully acknowledge that this song is so cheesy it is the musical equivalent of the plastic nacho cheese that comes on movie theater nachos, and its video is so ‘90s it practically parodies every ‘90s video trope. Bay throws everything he has at this video for Richie’s smooth jam: German Expressionist-esque set design, a parquet floor, black and white mixed with color photography, lace, candles, rippling water, lightning, blowing leaves, and a veritable textile factory’s worth of billowing sheets. One of his favorite visual devices, the sheets billow and heave around women in high-waisted lacy half-thongs (the 90s!) who slither and writhe about in ecstasy (or something). This is the “Cabin in the Woods” of billowing sheets -- both loving celebration and gleeful deconstruction. The video even opens with a shot of a woman’s face projected onto a billowing sheet, and then she dances around sexily in front of this projection. Honestly, if you can make it through the whole thing in one go, you are stronger than us, but if we’re celebrating visual excess here (and we are), no one does it better than Bay.  

Divinyls, "I Touch Myself"
While the recent death of Australian pop rock band The Divinyls’ lead singer Chrissy Amphlett from breast cancer does slightly put a damper on the celebration of this video, it's still wholly brilliant and an essential piece of Bay's videography. While amazingly simple, it also showcases a number of visual tics/fetishes that would come to define Bay's work – a constantly moving camera, a jagged cut to black-and-white (something he utilized as late as the last "Transformers" movie), checkered floors, supermodels strutting around for no good reason. If anything, "I Touch Myself" is notable for how long each shot is – even though they don't last longer than ten seconds or so each, in Bay time this is forever. Also, Bay's decision to do this video runs in stark opposition to criticisms that his work is overtly sexist. Sexy, maybe. But sexist? Nah.  

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3 Comments

  • JD | April 23, 2013 3:13 PMReply

    There's a rumor that while working on Micheal Bay video, Callie Khouri found the atmosphere so piggishly sexist and macho that she was inspired to write THELMA AND LOUISE. We can only hope that's true.

    Also, you forget his 1992 Kerri Kendell Playboy video. It's sort of a seminal (ahem) early work for Bay, like his Slacker or Mean Streets.

  • JD | April 24, 2013 9:13 PM

    No, she wrote it in 1989-1990. Micheal Bay graduated from college in 1986. (He was an English major at Wesleyan, amazingly.) And, correction, the Playboy video was actually released in 1990, so he was definitely working in the industry by then. Like I said, it's just a rumor. But it's a funny one.

  • Alan B | April 24, 2013 2:19 AM

    How can that be true? Sh originally wrote the film as a directing vehicle for herself in the early '80s, when Bay was a teenager.

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