The old saw about how many words an image speaks—do you add or multiply when there’s a few of them in a row?
Keith has been gracious enough to invite me to crash the party every two weeks and talk about the comic medium. I don’t know, I guess maybe it’s come up here once or twice lately. In the last few years, the relationship between movies and comics—graphic novels, sequential art, choose your buzzwords and tap gloves—has gotten pretty complicated, at least in comparison to what it had been. And while I’ve been for many years a vocal advocate for the argument that comics have won the “fight” that many fans seem to think they’re having with the rest of polite society, there’s still some critical discussion regarding what is and is not possible with comics, and its nature as an occasional (or, as it seems these days, very frequent) source material for other media.
I study comics, and I have for over ten years. This is not the same as being a comic fan, although I most certainly am that as well—I’ve been reading comics since before I could walk; I study comics, or at least I try to, the way that many people here at The House Next Door study film (something that, obviously, I also do, though I’m still more of an exuberant freshman in that particular curriculum). This is an ongoing column about comics of all kinds, how they work, their relationship to their audiences, and other subjects. In keeping with the primary nature of this site, oftentimes it will be about comics and their relationship to film, though the link will wax and wane as the subject dictates. But I hope I’ll keep things interesting.
I. “Who Are These People? Where Do They Come From? What Do They Do?”
For my money, the greatest film adaptation of a comic book is not only not a superhero film, it’s not even really a work of fiction. American Splendor, the story of underground comic writer and pioneering autobiographical cartoonist Harvey Pekar, captured everything that the original work was about, everything that it meant, its historical context, and its unique style—and yet it changed everything in terms of presentation; right down to the chronology, as the first story is moved to close to the end of the film, where it’s given a resonance that it didn’t once have.
There are a lot of sequences in the film that could be used to illustrate how the language of comics was adapted for the very different medium of cinema—the opening Halloween costume gag, or the scene when Joyce awaits her first meeting with Harvey and envisions him in the different styles of the underground cartoonists who had drawn his book—but perhaps the clearest is the one mentioned above: Harvey is on the edge of life and death, battling cancer, and we cut to his musings on the other “Harvey Pekars” that he’d seen in the phone book, the other lives they must have led. In actuality, this is the first “American Splendor” comic story, the Robert Crumb-drawn monologue that began his frustrating comics career. Here, it is used as a meditation both on Harvey’s life slipping away, but also the many forms that his story has taken over the course of the film. We’ve seen him as drawings, as portrayed by Paul Giamatti, as re-enacted on stage, and as Pekar himself, begrudgingly appearing in his own film. “Who is Harvey Pekar?” he asks, and he might as well be asking the film itself. As Giamatti delivers the monologue, transitioning back and forth from re-creations of Crumb’s linework and a real world exterior, he actually steps through a window towards the audience. A more potent metaphor would be difficult to find.
II. “The vanishing point moves in relation to the observer.”
There have been so many attempts to define the term “comics” that most of the creators who are innovating the medium have largely bowed out of the subject entirely. Visionaries like Eddie (“From Hell,” “Alec,” “Bacchus”) Campbell and Dylan (“Hicksville,” “Atlas”) Horrocks once rushed in with swords drawn and now largely rub at their brows and get back to work. Even independent of content entirely, there are as many frameworks for discussing the medium as there are people studying it. Comics as language, comics as history, comics as storyboard, comics as art object, comics as collectible, comics as map (a personal favorite line of inquiry), comics as illustrated prose, as pictorial poetry, as unmoving film. Of course, it’s all of these and none of them. Film can be viewed through its static images, its sound, its screenplay, its acting, etc, and each of these views can help expand the understanding of that medium and its works, but the final product is a synthesis, just as in comics it is not only the words and the images, but the sequence of those elements, how they relate to each other on the page (or on a screen), as well as the elements deliberately absent, working fully in conjunction with one another.
One lens through which both comics and film can be viewed is the concept of the “window.” Both the field of view of the camera and the framing of the comic panel are deliberate choices that the creators use to relate messages to their audiences.
I’m reminded, a little absurdly, of an obscure program from my youth: Joel Hodgson, creator of the cult classic Mystery Science Theatre 3000, briefly aired a pilot for a bizarre experimental program that he called The TV Wheel. It was a sketch comedy program, but the concept was that all of the sets were on a giant wheel that rotated around a motionless camera and was filmed live, providing a strangely fascinating look at what was largely an unremarkable group of sketches, lending it a carnival game atmosphere and evoking a vaudeville spirit rarely found in on-screen performance. It’s a strange animal to describe, really, but watching that pilot in the age when I was still very much a “comic fanboy” in the traditional sense changed a bit of how I watched film and read comics both…
As regards the concept of the “window,” the best example is a very literal one. In the first volume of Jason Lutes’s monumental “Berlin” trilogy, an art professor is explaining perspective to his students and motions to three windows, each captured in a separate comic panel. The windows are individually different views of the same subject. It’s easy to compare this to separate frames of film, but film is not to be viewed frame by frame, but rather in motion, so fast that only a single image exists at a time. This one window pans over that subject and gives us a typically “naturalistic” view—that is, how we would view this subject in person, moving ourselves around to see its sides. However, when the camera has panned right in film, you can no longer see what was to the left. In comics, all panels on a page exist simultaneously—while you may still focus on one window at a time, those moments before and after, those various views of the same subject, still exist.
III. “Less eloquent in my language of choice, however.”
This is a relevant difference, and the seemingly superfluous scene described above stands as the thesis statement for all of “Berlin,” the second volume of which was just released last month. “Berlin” is the story of the German city and its people in the time between the two world wars, an ambitious project with the goal of viewing the time period and a city trapped in the midst of change through every conceivable eye at once, through points of view in every culture and strata. As the art professor continues his lecture, he states:
“Perhaps the most interesting feature of perspectival drawing for the artist involves a sort of reverse vanishing point—an ’appearing point,’ if you will—which is fixed in the eye of the observer … a thread taut between various edge points of an object and a fixed point on the wall, which represents the artist’s eye. And the end result, when the intersection points are connected to one another, is a perfect perspectival representation of [the subject]!”
The professor is trying to convey his excitement at applying scientific principles to art in the modern era, but Lutes is laying out his plan, to take each individual he portrays in Berlin and add them together to make a full portrait of the city itself. The story captures not only dozens of major characters of various complexity, but also pauses to look into the ephemeral thoughts of people on the street, in the trains, and on the march. In an early sequence, the window pulls back one frame at a time from two major characters to listen to a lonely man operating the traffic lights, anxious for the lunch his wife packed for him.
Anticipating his critics, Lutes has the cynical art students argue over the lecture, with one student saying the technique “presumes a one-eyed view of the world” (Lutes’s own) and another stating that “you have to work within the limitations of the discipline to reproduce what you see”—only for a third to rebut that if faithful reproduction is the goal, perhaps a better medium might be in order. But Lutes clearly has no entrenched doubts about his chosen medium, as evidenced by his choice of protagonists—a writer (a journalist, no less!) and an artist (who draws in her notebooks and writes in her sketchbooks!) whose relationship waxes and wanes over the course of the story. They introduce themselves to each other on a moving train—behind them is a window, showing only the barest motion, because for these two people time has slowed to a near stop.
IV. “Confused?” “Blind!”
An individual comic panel is static only when viewed on its own—comics, by nature, are to be read panel to panel. It is what the reader’s mind creates between those panels, what creator and theorist Scott (“Zot!,” “Understanding Comics”) McCloud calls “Closure,” that provides the movement. Similarly, characterization in comics relies as much upon what isn’t shown as what is. While, as McCloud explains in his formative text on the medium, abstractions lend themselves to audience identification (and as he doesn’t say which follows as corollary, they lend themselves to archetypes), similarly, the decisions on what to show and not to show—not only in the window of the comic panel, but in the level of detail from image to image—can flesh out a character and make them real.
With a book like “Berlin,” which is designed to capture the varied attitudes of an entire city, a certain amount of abstraction and use of stereotypes and archetypes is to be expected. Some characters can be immediately identified in their design as “the traditionally-observant Jew” or “the proletariat worker,” and the protagonists, Kurt Severing (the journalist) and Marthe Muller (the artist), slip back and forth from their prescribed roles to complex portraits, based on context and based on their relationship to each other. Severing is at the height of his jaded journalist archetype when he gives the first volume the title, “City of Stones,” pondering the writer’s role in Berlin’s troubled present as the view pulls back to observe him from outside the window of his apartment, and further out to the city itself. But when Marthe drops by his apartment unexpectedly, his depiction shifts back and forth from the abstraction of a sparse few lines to a more detailed close-up and back as he flounders, as Marthe doesn’t represent something which fits into his then-limited worldview (earlier, the art students laugh about the perspective lecture and exclude him). In a later scene, Marthe removes his hat and glasses and tries them on, as a flirtation. Wearing the trappings of his archetype, Marthe fades to abstraction, and Severing is creased with age lines that had previously gone unseen, a sign of his vulnerability as well as a casting off of what he’s supposed to represent. Moments later, she confesses her love for him and the couple both fade to the abstract, taking new archetype roles—“the lovers”—even as the window separates them from the nature that they’d been enjoying, a setting rich in detail and atmosphere that they are no longer part of.
V. “Bad science, maybe, but personally gratifying.”
Some filmmakers have experimented with different uses of the camera as window in order to convey the feeling of reading a comic book. Two of them are fascinating in how they approach the idea so differently without full success.
In Unbreakable, M. Night Shyamalan frames nearly every shot with foreground obstructions in an intentional bid to evoke comic panels for his largely-ponderous take on the superhero story. It’s uncomfortable viewing, in this respect—everything feels claustrophobic, as though each image is captured through surveillance, and all of the action feels detached, at arm’s length. Without the surrounding panels, without the audience’s ability to interact with the work and provide that concept of “Closure,” as McCloud termed it, the visuals do seem static. One of the only exceptions is the train station sequence, when Bruce Willis’s character has accepted the hero mantle and the camera drops the pretenses and just follows him into the crowd, intercutting back and forth between his motion past the people and what sins he finds hiding within each of them. That technique of juxtaposition, with each flashback as a single instant of time with an unmoving camera, does feel like a reach toward the superhero books that served as the director’s inspiration and provides some desperately needed energy to the third act.
Ang Lee, in his deeply-flawed but still underrated Hulk, takes almost the complete opposite tack with the idea of panels—scene transitions occur with a computer-created visual of numerous actions occurring simultaneously in a grid, moving from one to another. During the film’s initial run, I heard some peculiar complaints that “Comics don’t really work that way”—I’d argue that it’s exactly how comics work, that all moments are happening simultaneously, a visual map of time’s passing (about which more another time). The problem is that in Ang Lee’s effect, each of these “panels” has the scenes in progress visually. Each of them has independent motion. It degenerates into noise—there is no feeling of focus, but more importantly, to show the panel grid as a unit implies that you can draw the connections between them, which is impossible with this device—there is no particular correlation from one image to the next, and no sequence is there to engage you. If cinema and television went through a period (often derided as “MTV cuts”) where number and speed of visuals dissolved the language of communication that film offers, then Ang Lee’s transitions are the “MTV cuts” of comics, a complete breakdown.
Considering the nature of film itself as separate cels that transition too fast to notice, and the tendency of most filmmakers adapting comics to view the source material as a storyboard to work from, I think it best to avoid the nature of panels altogether. Films like 300 and Sin City, while problematic as films on many levels, feel like more natural adaptations for eschewing techniques like these. And this bodes poorly for the upcoming adaptation of Watchmen, a book which in its original conception relied upon the use of panel transitions and framing for many of its complicated visual metaphors.
If the nature of the comic is important enough to capture in motion, it’s best not to use the tools at all, but to be rather like Paul Giamatti’s Harvey Pekar and step through the window entirely.
Michael Peterson is the publisher of the blog & portfolio site Patchwork Earth.
Reflections in a Quilt: John McPhee’s The Patch
There’s something uncommonly relaxing about many of McPhee’s patient elaborations of things known and unknown.
“But beyond the flaring headlines of the past year, few are aware of who Richard Burton really is, what he has done, and what he is throwing away by gulping down his past and then smashing the glass.” This is one of those quotes, which, through its sheer heft and style, threatens to turn any accompanying review into a redundancy. To find other lines that meet its towering standard, seek its source: The Patch by John McPhee. There’s no shortage of arresting remarks in this nicely heterogeneous collection of writing. One sinks into the book, riveted, but also races across it as its fascinations multiply.
The first section is called “The Sporting Scene.” Those typically uninterested in sports or sports writing, like myself, shouldn’t be deterred by the title. As I discovered through other recent encounters with McPhee’s ballyhooed writing, the author has a knack for inexorably moving readers beyond their biases. Two-part New Yorker articles like “Oranges,” “The Pine Barrens,” and “Basin and Range,” which were later turned into books, are studious and propulsive. Fine-grained matters of geology or citrus aren’t exactly simplified in these articles, but wading through the density becomes an irresistible prospect thanks to the author’s intelligibility, wit, enthusiasm, and atmospheric touches. For an example of the latter, consider McPhee’s focus on the “unnatural and all but unending silence” of the Floridian orange groves that he visited. What’s more, he often conveys a certain sense of respectful understanding, as when he mentions that he has “yet to meet anyone living in the Pine Barrens who has in any way indicated envy of people who live elsewhere.”
Similar virtues spruce up the “The Sporting Scene.” Its pieces include emphases on fishing, football, golf, and lacrosse. McPhee honors the athletic endeavor by carefully illuminating its particulars. He busily supplies facts, anecdotes, ideas, and biographical details. In “The Orange Trapper,” for instance, he discusses his hunt for errant golf balls. It’s an engaging topic. He has learned, among other things, what occurs when you take a saw to a golf ball. You find the world: “Core, mantle, crust—they are models of the very planet they are filling up at a rate worldwide approaching a billion a year.” Other jolts arrive through the often remarkable conclusions to his paragraphs and pieces. The ending of “The Orange Trapper” is an especial wonder—a thrilling mobilization of words that elicits laughter and awe.
There are also bears: “Direct Eye Contact” is a compact assortment of hopes and advisements concerning bears in New Jersey, and it concludes on a sweetly uxorious note. Indeed, one never knows where any of these pieces are going. In “Pioneer,” meanwhile, McPhee ponders Bill Tierney’s choice to begin coaching the University of Denver men’s lacrosse team. “How could he leave Princeton?” McPhee asks. “It can be done. And Tierney knew what he was doing.” Those lines showcase the occasionally pithy, pleasantly chiseled style of his prose. It’s a considered design that favors clarity, structures hairpin turns toward new discursive trails, and pairs well with punchlines. In “Phi Beta Football,” one of McPhee’s colleagues promises to deliver him “a nice piece of change” if he figures out a suitable title for his book. “I went away thinking,” McPhee tells us, and then adds, “mostly about the piece of change.”
The recounting of sporting events is likewise augmented by the author’s playfulness. “Pioneer” throws us this line: “But Syracuse exploded—one, two, three—and the game went into ‘sudden victory’ overtime, the politically uplifting form of sudden death.” So transporting and genial is McPhee’s writing that the specifics of any given match never weigh down the reading, nor do his more elaborate remarks. “It’s a Brueghelian scene against the North Sea,” he declares in “Linksland and Bottle,” his piece on the 2010 British Open, “with golfers everywhere across the canvas—putting here, driving there, chipping and blasting in syncopation.” What’s even better is his sensitivity, in the same paragraph, to the fine distinctions between the manner of Scottish and Californian galleries as they observe rounds of golf. Suddenly, his words become almost numinous, and no grace is lost.
The second section of The Patch is called “An Album Quilt” and it encompasses a dizzying mixture of short pieces. None are available in any of McPhee’s other books. In an introductory statement, the author compares these pieces to the dissimilar blocks of a quilt. He notes that he “didn’t aim to reprint the whole of anything”; he sought out “blocks to add to the quilt, and not without new touches, internal deletions, or changed tenses.” This section is quite distinct from “The Sporting Scene,” but no less extraordinary in its overall effect. A piece about Cary Grant starts things off. Boyhood encounters with Albert Einstein are up ahead.
There are more standouts than can be briefly mentioned here, including an evocative overview of the craftsmanship that McPhee discovered within the original Hershey’s Chocolate Factory. The author’s clipped expressions of wonder enliven that piece: “Gulfs of chocolate. Chocolate deeps. Mares’ tails on the deeps.” A little later, he mentions “granite millstones arranged in cascading tiers, from which flow falls of dark cordovan liquor.” One can imagine Don Draper reading through this with poignant interest. In another entry, a series of succinct blurbs about tennis luminaries, Rod Laver’s childhood is crisply set against his eventual stardom: “Had to wait his turn while his older brothers played. His turn would come.”
And so one just leaps from piece to piece, and, along the way, discovers scenes from different periods in McPhee’s life and career. An encounter with two New York City policemen—this likely occurred in the ‘60s or early ‘70s, given the “familiar green and black” on the cop car—is particularly memorable. It begins with the author’s recollection of locking his keys inside his car, which, he notes, had been parked “in a moted half-light that swiftly lost what little magic it had had, and turned to condensed gloom.” After that characteristically precise fusion of atmosphere and psychology, he describes scrounging around for wire so as to open the door. The sudden arrival of the policemen created a dilemma: Would they view McPhee, who had been wedging a coat hanger into the car, as a thief or the hapless owner? “The policemen got out of the patrol car,” McPhee tells us, “and one of them asked for the wire.” From there, the situation undulates a couple more times before concluding through a sparkling punchline that’s supplied by one of the officers. The story is over before you know it, but its brisk and detail-oriented pleasures are echoed throughout much of the book.
In the title piece, meanwhile, McPhee movingly writes about his father, but also about fishing a pickerel out of a patch of lily pads. Here and elsewhere, granular descriptions become byways into a range of enthusiasms, histories, and hearts. The author, of course, frequently registers himself through the infinitesimal details, and through the humor that he yokes to affection. “‘Fuck you, coach!’ Quote unquote” is a message that McPhee once emailed to Bill Tierney. Great warmth radiates below the mantle of those words.
This, among sundry other qualities, keeps one reading. There’s also something uncommonly relaxing about many of his patient elaborations of things known and unknown. And there is, both within the book’s individual pieces and across its varied totality, a sense of constant renewal and revelation. As McPhee notes down somewhere amid the blocks of his quilt, “I could suddenly see it, almost get into it—into another dimension of experience that I might otherwise have missed entirely.”
John McPhee’s The Patch is now available from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The 10 Most-Read Slant Articles of 2018
Our most-read articles of 2018 comprise pretty much everything we do best.
Like last year, it wasn’t the most highly praised or viciously excoriated film, album, or TV show that garnered the most attention among Slant readers in 2018. It was a so-called “average” star rating of a video game that led to our most-read—or, rather, looked at—article of the year. More predictably, lists proved to be increasingly popular, particularly among cinephiles. Aside from a few pieces that didn’t make the cut—like our career-spanning interview with Jodie Foster and our five-star review of Synapse Films’s Blu-ray restoration of the original Suspiria—this list comprises pretty much everything we do best. Alexa Camp
10. The 50 Greatest Horror Movies of the 21st Century
Into the new millennium, horror films have retained their power to shock and outrage by continuing to plumb our deepest primordial terrors, to incarnate our sickest, most socially unpalatable fantasies. They are, in what amounts to a particularly delicious irony, a “safe space” in which we can explore these otherwise unfathomable facets of our true selves, while yet consoling ourselves with the knowledge that “it’s only a movie.” Budd Wilkins
9. Album Review: Mariah Carey’s Caution
At a mere 10 tracks, Caution is Mariah’s leanest album in 25 years. With the exception of the formulaic “With You,” which sounds like an outtake from E=MC2, the R&B and adult contemporary-style ballads that launched (and re-launched) her career have been largely replaced here by textured, midtempo grooves. Caution feels like the album Mariah has wanted to make all along: one that throws caution to the wind and sees her embracing her inner weirdo. And, ironically, it took her ending up back at Sony Music to do it. Sal Cinquemani
8. Game Review: Far Cry 5
With this entry, the Far Cry series has suddenly decided to crib story ideas from real American nightmares: the Ammon Bundy standoff, Jonestown, the Heaven’s Gate cult, Waco, the Westboro Baptist Church. It indulges a certain level of ejaculatory N.R.A. fantasy about a day when the Second Amendment saves the world, when all those guns hoarded by frightened men, all those survivalist bunkers, all that cynical preparation for the collapse of society proves useful. A regular supply item in this game is called a Prepper Pack. Major secrets are hidden in bunkers filled with canned food and ammo. These little hat tips toward the gun-toting survivalist sect might’ve been worthy of an eye roll had the game come out, say, prior to 2016. But at this particular moment in American life, those tips of the hat feel downright sinister. Justin Clark
7. All 90 Best Picture Oscar Winners Ranked
It’s a rare type of cinephile who wasn’t introduced to the idea of film as more than just idle entertainment by the ritual of the Academy Awards. And it’s an even rarer type of cinephile who didn’t soon thereafter vehemently reject the Oscar as the ultimate barometer of a film’s artistic worth. Those of us who started off with The Godfather, Schindler’s List, All About Eve, or Casablanca all eventually got around to Out of Africa, Around the World in 80 Days, The Greatest Show on Earth, Cimarron, and Cavalcade. First loves being first loves, we still find ourselves regressing if for only one night a year, succumbing to the allure of instant canonization even as it comes in the form of repeated slap-in-the-face reminders of Oscar’s bracing wrongness: Gladiator, Braveheart, Chicago, Crash. In that sense, consider this project part cathartic exorcism and part sheepish capitulation to the role the Oscars have played in our lives. If we had to sit through every one of these movies, the least you can allow us is the chance to show you our scars. Eric Henderson
6. Film Review: Aquaman
The best point of comparison for Aquaman is Black Panther, another superhero movie about a king of a forgotten realm reclaiming his throne. But whereas Ryan Coogler’s surprisingly affecting superhero film restored weight to both the choreography and the drama of the genre, Aquaman remains adrift, so much fantasy flotsam and jetsam floating before our eyes. Pat Brown
5. The 100 Greatest Video Games of All Time
When compiling this list, my colleagues and I elected to consider more than historical context. Greatness, to the individual, isn’t just about impact on some nebulous past. It’s as much about feeling, about the way a video game can capture the imagination regardless of genre or release date or canonical status. The titles on this list come from every corner of the medium—represented for the precision of their control or the beauty of their visuals or the emotion of their story. We’ve chosen to cast a wide net, so as to best represent the individual passions incited by saving planets, stomping on goombas, or simply conversing with vivid characters. Steven Scaife
4. Film Review: Avengers: Infinity War
What is this, a crossover episode? After 18 films, the overlords at Marvel Studios have gathered almost all of their indentured servants, err, star-studded stable together into the ever-crashing, ever-booming, and ever-banging extravaganza Avengers: Infinity War. Whether you look at this whirling dervish and see a gleefully grandiose entertainment or a depressing exemplar of the culturally degraded present moment will depend on your investment—in all senses of that term—in Marvel’s carefully cultivated mythos. Keith Uhlich
3. TV Review: Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan
If Jack Ryan never gets around to offering its audience a definition of a swift transaction, that’s because all that matters to the series is that it’s a tool used by bad guys, whom only Jack Ryan can stop. Despite paying cursory service to humanizing its principal characters, Jack Ryan is mostly interested in a battle between broad notions of good and evil. It thrives on the tension of Jack’s chess match with bin Suleiman, reducing an entire nation’s efforts to combat terror to a personal beef between two archetypes. Michael Haigis
2. Every Pixar Movie Ranked from Worst to Best
If The Incredibles was essentially a superhero riff on male mid-life crisis, Incredibles 2 primarily concerns male anxiety about women taking over traditionally masculine roles. Brad Bird’s film also touches heavily on the uncertainty and doubt that many women feel about pursuing their dreams at the expense of spending time with their families. These are weighty topics to pursue in an animated action-comedy, and Bird, with a light tone and deft touch, manages to give them their due. This is a fleeter, funnier film than the original, and the director gets considerable comedic mileage out of Jack-Jack’s wild capriciousness, as evidenced by Incredibles 2‘s single most hilarious sequence, in which the baby uses its multifarious abilities—fire, lasers, multiplying, turning into a gremlin—to battle a feral raccoon just for the hell of it. On the occasion of the film’s release, join us in revisiting the Pixar canon, ranked from worst to best. Keith Watson
1. Game Review: Red Dead Redemption 2
For all of the significant improvements Red Dead Redemption 2 has made to an open-world template, however, it still maintains Rockstar’s bullish commitment to a clunky control scheme. Across what’s now four games and two console generations, the company’s characters have lumbered along in what’s meant to convey the weight of a real person in contrast to the light, effortless controls of so many other games. But the result is artificial rather than convincing. Studios like Naughty Dog have proven capable of giving characters a consequential sense of weight without making it a challenge to navigate around a table or requiring you to hold down buttons to move at acceptable speeds. Coupled with middling gunplay feedback and a few too many stealth segments, the chunky act of playing Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn’t feel good so much as it feels, eventually at least, tolerable. Scaife
Top 10 Radiohead Music Videos
To celebrate Radiohead’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we take a look back at the group’s best and most innovative music videos.
Twenty-five years ago, the world was introduced to Radiohead by way of their debut single, “Creep.” Thom Yorke and company may have soured to their very first modern rock hit, but as we said in our list of the Best Singles of the 1990s, for which the song ranked at #37, “Creep” is rivaled only by “Every Breath You Take” as the ultimate kind-of-obsessive/kind-of-romantic crush anthem, with guitarist Jonny Greenwood’s perfectly timed blasts of electricity turning it from slightly creepy to threatening. The track peaked on the Billboard pop chart in September of 1993, a full year after its initial release, and Radiohead would go on to become one of the most influential bands in rock history. To celebrate the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we take a look back at their best and most innovative music videos.
Editors’ Note: This article was originally published on July 24, 2013.
10. “Burn the Witch” (Dir: David Mould). “Stand in the shadows/To the gallows/This is a round-up,” Thom Yorke cautions at the start of “Burn the Witch,” with all the paranoia and politically shaded intrigue we’ve come to expect from the Radiohead frontman. Directed by Chris Hopewell, the music video for the track depicts a government official sent to inspect the strange goings-on in a small village, where he’s burned alive in a giant wooden statue in a scene reminiscent of the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man. The clip features stop-motion animation in the style of the 1960s-era U.K. children’s show Trumpton. Sal Cinquemani
9. “Paranoid Android” (Dir: Magnus Carlsson). Radiohead commissioned Swedish animator Magnus Carlsson for this bizarre and somewhat graphic video, which sees the titular protagonist of Carlsson’s series Robin encountering various unsavory or unearthly characters, including a prostitute in a tree, a deranged businessman, and an angel flying a helicopter. Cinquemani
8. “House of Cards” (Dir: James Frost). When the “House of Cards” video came out, it struck me as a tech geek’s gimmick, but in retrospect, its motion-capture technique is used for deeply human ends. First we see two faces in close-up, their physicality rendered as blue-ish data points. Then, indistinct bodies at a party and a whole suburban landscape being wiped away in Etch-A-Sketch fashion. It’s a kind of digitally envisioned nightmare: Every pixel of everything we know, instantly erased. Paul Rice
7. “No Surprises” (Dir: Grant Lee). Lo-fi simplicity tends to work best for Radiohead’s live-action videos. In “No Surprises,” we get to watch Thom Yorke gasp for breath as a water chamber fills and releases around his head. It’s a sly sadomasochistic dream that could be his, or that of plenty of Radiohead haters everywhere. Rice
6. “Daydreaming” (Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson). In this video for 2016’s “Daydreaming,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s camera follows Thom Yorke through numerous locales, from hotel hallways to laundromats. The images, lucid and confrontational, exude an almost gestural quality as they cut from interior and exterior spaces, with Yorke waltzing in a sleep-like torpor toward a hole—or spacious studio igloo?—somewhere on a snow-capped mountain. The world here appears at once real and imagined, and by the time the fire within the hole lights Yorke’s face and the song grinds to a halt, Anderson dramatically reaffirms most of our beliefs about Radiohead’s music as, above all else, the prettiest soundtrack in the world to one man’s devotion to his own alienation. Ed Gonzalez
5. “Just” (Dir: Jamie Thraves). There’s a Kafkaesque absurdity to the simple concept of “Just” that gets and stays under the skin. A man lies down in the middle of a monochromatic city sidewalk. People trip on him and ask how he is and why he’s there. Finally, he tells the crowd (though we never know, since the subtitles cut out), and they all lie with him, presumably in conjoined doom. Rice
4. “Knives Out” (Dir: Michel Gondry). Thematically evocative of the director’s 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the elaborate, seemingly single-take “Knives Out” juxtaposes emotional and physical hardship via Michel Gondry’s signature surreal imagery, including singer Thom Yorke’s head replaced by a giant heart in which he stores a Polaroid photograph of his fiancée, whose critical condition he may very well have been responsible for. Cinquemani
3. “Pyramid Song” (Dir: Shynola). Thom Yorke and company have long been champions of animation, and “Pyramid Song” is their best, most heartfelt work in the form. A man—or a thing (the figure could be human or beast)—dives into a lost civilization, wading through bones to a home where he watches TV. CG allows for meticulous detail, but the gorgeous design by artist collective Shynola is purposely murky, full of unknown layers, and like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, released the same year, it suggests a ruined past we can never get back. Rice
2. “Fake Plastic Trees” (Dir: Jake Scott). Jake Scott, noted music video director and son of Sir Ridley, has said that his striking clip for Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees,” filmed in an aircraft hangar in Van Nuys, California, is an allegory on death and reincarnation. His claim is borne out by images of colorful characters, old and young, strolling the aisles of a neon-lit supermarket, being watched on surveillance cameras, and eventually carted off to a heavenly looking “exit.” Cinquemani
1. “Karma Police” (Dir: Jonathan Glazer). Director Jonathan Glazer claims that this creepy revenge clip, in which a car slowly follows a man running down a desolate road only to have the tables turned thanks to a chance gasoline leak, was inspired by a bad dream. His remarkable use of point of view implicates the spectator in the video’s action, but it’s the spooky way with which he fashions a Möbius strip from karmic irony that makes “Karma Police” Radiohead’s finest contribution to the music-video medium. Cinquemani