Migrating Forms remains the art-house event of the New York moviegoing calendar, even as institutions like the Museum of the Moving Image and Lincoln Center have gotten in on the act by spotlighting similar contemporary works with newer programs like First Look and Art of the Real, respectively. Programmed by Nellie Killian and Kevin McGarry, the 2014 festival peers into the 21st-century crisis of verisimilitude with playful aplomb, featuring works that don’t so much blur fact and fiction as they put quotation marks around every “fact” on screen and take their respective digressions from there. This love for the autopsy is a cinephile’s to be sure, and the program reflects concerns with both self-representation (to say nothing of representation of others) and the creeping interference of the digital world with what used to be dubbed “cinema.” That said, a measured appreciation for filmmaking’s material labors seems to imbue Killian and McGarry’s choices, which find grace in their own rigor—a kind that isn’t nearly often enough blown up on the big screen.
So while the inclusion of the late, pioneering documentarian William Greaves’s 1968 Still a Brother: Inside the Negro Middle Class might initially appear an act of due diligence, the doc actually makes a striking contrast with what Greaves would accomplish in the very same year with Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One. Squarely narrated by Ossie Davis, Brother’s tone can be mistaken for clinical at first blush, even dispassionate; it’s only once Greaves begins his sit-down interviews (with a handful of successful black men in some of America’s major cities) that his journalistic finesse comes to the fore. In the context of their careers, these interviewees are as prestigious as they are guarded before the camera; consider a moment when pioneering chemist Percy L. Julian offhandedly says of his “negro” brethren: “I’m not sure we can rest comfortably and think that the majority of white Americans have good will toward them……. I wish I could keep this dream, but…. I’m afraid that these experiences to which you refer made me doubt that I could have any such dream as that.” Most of these revelations – if that’s even the proper term – sound like tangents or afterthoughts; Greaves doesn’t fail to pick up on the strain between wanting to speak candidly without rocking the boat. In his own way, Greaves captures the sense of pained compromise inherent in “respectability politics” just long enough to make it linger, before breezing onward to another touchstone.
On the other hand, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, a compendium of footage both from and surrounding a “screen test” filmed by Greaves and a small crew over a summer day in Central Park, delights in its own narrative slowing down and sputtering back to life. Scenes from a hoary, anonymous melodrama between two actors are interrupted by Greaves, speaking suddenly as the director—upending whatever pretensions Symbiopsychotaxiplasm has heretofore feigned to realism. By the time all three of the production’s cameras are retrained on the scene, it’s abundantly clear—via seamlessly timed split-panel editing—that no angle will suffice to hide the crew. The film’s working title of Over the Cliff may well have been improvised by Greaves just to placate a crowd of curious women early in the day’s shoot—a “scene” which, like many others, feels a little too preconceived to be straight documentary. The crew grows increasingly opinionated about where the production is heading, resulting in a mélange made with scads of discipline even if making the film ipso facto to have fun; if we could document the making of all films, we wouldn’t have films anymore, just footage. (Greaves’s Ali-Frazier documentary, The Fight, sometimes listed as The Fighters, is reputed for a similar razor-sharp acuity in capturing live moments, and this will be its first New York screening this century.)
Built from a sturdier postmodern proposition is Gina Telaroli’s Here’s to the Future!, chronicling a single day in the fall of 2011 wherein the filmmaker rounded up friends and collaborators to light, stage, and shoot a scene from Michael Curtiz’s 1932 The Cabin in the Cotton. The film’s hushed, luxurious opening carries the timbre of a 23-piece band warming up for a concert, regularly zeroing in on any one of many miniscule details of production (resetting of lights, grappling to get the perfect medium close-up) before the first “Action!” Even then, Telaroli will edit simultaneous phone footage from around the set in with snippets of her own input to the actors as they’re changed up, round-robin style, for each successive take. Starting repeatedly from the same exact shot, Telaroli pans left to unfurl longer and shorter renditions, a kind of repeat jab at cinema’s infinite divisibility. (The scene itself suggests Telaroli would be well suited to direct a feature, but that’s not the point.) A camera is left recording after shooting has wrapped, and a lengthy shot of a radio playing music from the dinner table follows, cloaking the jubilant sounds of the crew behind it—a self-indulgent flourish that nevertheless invites narrative voyeurism. As party promoters say: “If you were there, then you know…”
Given that two films have been made about Julian Assange, one barn-burning documentary about Edward Snowden with a new Oliver Stone rendering en route, it’s a surprise nobody had tried yet to put on screen Pvt. Chelsea Manning, the first great Obama-era whistleblower. Paradoxically, Lance Wakeling’s Field Visits for Chelsea Manning opens with the “Collateral Murder” video Manning shared with WikiLeaks in 2010, only to shift focus off the contents of her disclosures and limit her “appearance” on screen to drab, white-on-black text court transcripts. Wakeling retreads Manning’s journey—as, it should be noted, a prisoner—from Kuwait back to heartland America, an attempt to see the world as she saw it in transit, according to the filmmaker’s doleful voiceover. Wakeling imagines “a future in which road signs were torn down, and rusted into oblivion—leaving behind only their digital GPS coordinates,” but lets this bromide speak for itself while the rather mundane roadside driving footage does the same. The findings on display brilliantly bespeak the contradictions of the eternal, weird America; some, like a barbershop quartet of old men dressed as manacled jail inmates, can’t help but feel too perfect.
Faring better along video travel-diary lines is Soon-mi Yoo’s short feature about the two Koreas, Songs from the North. It’s no secret that the Kim regime adopted both a Hollywood vernacular (complete with snap zooms and musical swells) for its propaganda films, and a sense of pageantry comparable to that of the Third Reich for its public rallies. But as Yoo catalogues these mind-melting examples of state-directed spectacle, she plays them off of footage and interviews taken from her three separate trips to the hermit regime, ruminating on how both North and South Koreans have internalized their history (or not). Songs from the North is a work of sobriety, handily avoiding or exploding the rampant Western stereotypes (sure to be re-lit by Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen’s The Interview). Yoo’s father makes an observation I’ve never encountered in any literature or film about the hermit regime, as he recounts a bourgeois friend who moved North during the war: “At that time, smart friends like him really believed communism was the best system to create an equal society. You see, these were all the sons of landed gentry…While farmers were worked to the bone, the landowners collected farm rent and lived a life of luxury.”
The flat, cloud-era disposition of Field Visits may well be a lodestar of the festival’s shorter works, in which the narrative form is demolished from one to the next; the only word for it is “artisinal.” Celebrated visual artist Cory Arcangel’s Freshbuzz makes its world premiere, essentially an hour-long video screencap of a trip into the green, yellow, and white landscape of the official Subway website. While Arcangel’s fumbling cursor stalks sandwich and salad options, each item is revealed to have its own signature dolly shot, with the Flash image pulling backward (sometimes around and backward) from the head of the sandwich out to reveal a wide-angle portrait. (Arcangel vigilantly clicks on the tab for each and every single one.) The lonely sojourn is only interrupted by “diet tips” from faux nutritionists and auto-playing Subway commercials, but eventually Arcangel steps out into the fresh air of the company’s social-media platforms, YouTube and beyond. Rigidly anti-essayistic, Freshbuzz will make the modern moviegoer queasy with existential corporate boredom, but for its claustrophobia and depiction of the never-ending zone-spiral, Arcangel’s work will prove invaluable to future generations—or alien visitors.
Canadian filmmaker Barry Doupé’s Life and People is drawn from an exercise similar to Telaroli’s, but unhinged to one piece of text; instead, it turns an anonymous stage into the ultimate safe space, with eight rotating actors (some better than others) performing an array of day-to-day interactions. Doupé’s ensemble appears free to try out different things, with every interaction’s dramatic momentum up for grabs the instant the players appear on screen. In one scene, a man blankly proposes to a woman from a profile angle, and the camera pans to her face for the response—only to find her staring, and responding, directly into the lens. Deadpan and hyper-lucid, the moment recedes as quietly as it appeared; the proliferating, empty connections between players become a therapeutic force for observation even. A moment as spare as somebody walking into a room and apologizing gets smothered in mystery.
Gabriel Abrantes’s Ennui Ennui is a brazen, abrasive sociopolitical burlesque on Obama’s drone wars and the clash between Eastern (goatherder, jihadist) and Western (divorced floozy, Foucault-clutching aid worker) character clichés. The production is massively slick, but in the service of such an enervating, literal-minded satire it becomes irreconcilable; instead of his command, you marvel at Abrantes’s budget. Meanwhile, the churning, lightweight digital images strung together to make Sarah Abu Abdallah and Joey L. DeFrancesco’s Delighted to Serve brings the manic-refracting intensity of digitally mediated day-to-day life—what they call “augmented reality”—to a boil. The narration is comprised of bogus, robo-voiced passages as if read from a user’s manual for the extinguishing of the human spirit, and indeed the short grows to feel like it might have been, for its makers, a Chris Burden-level extreme haul. Abdallah and DeFrancesco’s crowning image is a ceaselessly multiplying shot of a hotel corridor, the camera stumbling ever forward, giving us mere flickers before an imminent crash (or meltdown) that, however deeply felt, never arrives.
Tackled above is a mere sliver of what’s showing during this year’s program. There’s also a spotlight on artist Rachel Rose, whose short A Minute Ago rivals the best set piece in your favorite disaster epic for its sustained dread and screeching collision of layers of optical confusion. Swedish-American filmmaker Rolf Forsberg receives a mini-retrospective as well, and his post-apocalyptic nature poem Ark perfectly straddles the divide between lush ’60s ambience and garish, acrylic ’70s maximalism. Electronic Arts Intermix will be presenting The Irish Tapes, a 1974 documentary taken wholly from Portapak footage shot in Troubles-era Belfast, with a far more direct-cinema approach than Alexander McCaig’s essayistic The Patriot Game. But compared to these (slightly stale) repertory curios, no disrespect is intended in suggesting the contemporary forms are less migrating than they are evacuating.
BAMcinématek’ “Migrating Forms” program runs from December 10–18. For more information, click here.
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