Other people direct movies. Terrence Malick builds cathedrals. The New World is my new religion, easily the most pictorially innovative and moving American studio release I’ve seen in the 15 years I’ve been a professional movie critic. To appreciate it requires viewers to abandon narrative filmmaking conventions they’re comfortable with (perhaps even spoiled by) and learn a new language, a primordial language of pictures that largely bypasses narrative cinema’s persistent theatrical influence and plugs into the rhythms of thought.
Where even the greatest of Malick’s American contemporaries (Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese) are content to wring minute variations on established strutures and techniques—mainstream filmmaking techniques—Malick has devoted himself since 1973 to creating a new language, one that fuses nonlinear, overtly omniscent filmmaking techniques favored by silent masters (D.W. Griffith, Abel Gance), Hiroshima Mon Amour, the French New Wave and 1960s Italian art cinema and experimental filmmakers like Stan Brakhage.
With rare exceptions—notably Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, easily the most abstract film he’s ever made, a work that is to his filmography as The Birds is to Alfred Hitchcock’s—even the directors we think of as unique and innovative tend to stick with established genres and play by (or with) established rules. Malick, in contrast, has dedicated himself to discovering and perfecting a new genre, practically a one-man genre, the epic naturalist fable. In the service of that new genre, he’s created his own syntax, indeed his own language, one that must be engaged with, decoded and learned. It truly does represent an attempt to see the past through contemporary eyes, to identify and even honor timeless, universal drives, without pretending that people from other decades and centuries were just like us.
Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line and The New World are not strictly narrative. They are musical and mathematical. They are symphonies in pictures. One can no more judge them by the standards of mainstream commercial narrative—basically, Syd Field’s three act structure—than one can judge Cubism by standards of perspective laid out during the Renaissance.
Hiroshima Mon Amour director Alain Resnais’ defense of French New Wave techniques also describes Malick’s modernist version of history and personal remembrance. “A classic film,” Resnais said, “…cannot translate the real rhythm of modern life. Modern life is fragmented, everyone feels that. Painting, as well as literature, bears witness to it, so why should the cinema not do so as well, instead of clinging to the traditional linear narrative?”
Which is not to say Malick’s films exist mainly to subvert commercial storytelling norms. They’re too (deliberately) cosmic and willfully naïve for that. Besides, I don’t think Malick gives a damn about what anybody else is doing. His films don’t so much break rules as fail to recognize their supposed importance. But that’s not to say that Malick is just fooling around, that there’s no rhyme or reason to what he does. Even a cursory examination of Malick’s four films puts the lie to the notion that they’re messy, that Malick is just glomming a succession of pretty pictures together and papering the seams with narration. The interplay of word and image is more complex, more deliberate, more tense than any in the history of English language cinema; Malick’s startling, at times confounding vocabulary represents the full flowering of a cinema grammar experiment that has been going on since Hiroshima gave movies permission to jump from past to present, from an event to its recollection, as fast as the mind itself.
Released 32 years apart, and separated by long period of rumination that caused successive generations of critics to mock Malick as a hippie-dippy recluse, a dilettante, a potsmoking slacker, all four films are tightly packed and intricately assembled. And they are astonishingly consistent in rhythm, tone and color. They flow into each other as one dream flows into another. All four deliberately, provocatively and playfully blur the line between present-tense narrative and retrospective remembrance. They remind us of the difference between life and a story, between personal experience and history, between our presumption of centrality and the cold hard truth that the earth doesn’t give a damn about us, that it would, to paraphrase George Carlin, have no compunction about sloughing us off like fleas. If there is, in fact, a God, He probably views us as Malick does, with a mix of empathy and distance.
Here is my review of The New World, originally published in New York Press Dec. 22, 2005. In a future post, I will attempt to defend this masterpiece against its growing legion of detractors, many of whom try to pass off their own obstinance and aesthetic timidity as common sense, and demand prose in place of poetry.
A GENIUS VIEW OF JAMESTOWN
Malick’s triumphant new film.
The title of Terrence Malick’s The New World discloses the secret of its greatness. From start to finish, in dialogue and music, in every shot and cut, Malick’s masterpiece dedicates itself to discovering, exploring and cherishing all that is new: new lands, new loves, new battles; new feelings, new thoughts, new rhythms; new ways of thinking about history and culture, experience and memory; new ways of seeing and feeling. Refining and perfecting techniques Malick first explored in 1973’s Badlands, The New World fuses classical Hollywood production values (including CinemaScope photography and an eclectic symphonic score) with a documentary approach to narrative, characterization and editing. The result is a powerfully modern style that could be called epic naturalism, a style that appreciates the physicality of existence—the moment-to-moment visceral intensity cherished by Walt Whitman—while acknowledging human life’s impermanence, then further acknowledging that the life of a person, a nation or even a species is insignificant compared to the life of the earth.
In service of this unfashionably transcendental vision of life, Malick merges images and music with a silent filmmaker’s muscular grace. The immediacy of Malick’s shooting and editing style (he improvises entire scenes and subplots on the fly, and sends second unit cameramen to pop off shots of anything they deem beautiful, and finds the movie in the editing much as a reporter finds a story in his notes) pushes against the film’s lofty, contemplative elements: the swelling classical score (Wagner, Mozart, James Horner), the ruminative multiple voice-overs. The resultant aesthetic tension jostles us into new ways of seeing. Watching The New World, we are at once dislocated and free, experiencing the shock of the new while recollecting it in tranquility (or speculating on how we will remember it). Malick’s characters pore over their lives as if words will fix their feelings; sometimes a random, lonely word will puncture a reverie or a moment of intense violence (a word like “mother,” for instance, or “wonder”). But words, Malick realizes, fix nothing because nothing is fixed; there is no past or present, no differences or similarities, except those we choose to mark. In Malick’s films, memory becomes history (or anecdote); thoughts and feelings become images, and images become music, and everything becomes new.
The New World rediscovers cinema’s kinship to music by creating a symphony of images, an ambition made plain in the film’s astonishing opening section, which depicts the English explorers’ arrival at what would later become Jamestown. Malick, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and Malick’s squad of editors build up to the meeting by picking off individual documentary-like moments: the ship coming out of the distance and sighting land, the Native Americans spotting the ship and swarming toward the forested bluffs and the rocky shore to get a better look, the English wading onto the land and into the grassy meadows, the whites and the natives meeting each other for the first time, each speaking a foreign tongue to the other, touching garments and staring in fearful amazement.
Each culture has its audience surrogate. For the English, it’s disreputable soldier/explorer John Smith (sad-eyed Colin Farrell, finally delivering on his leading man promise), who arrives at the New World locked in a shipboard holding cell, and for the Powhatan tribe, it’s 15-year-old princess Pocahontas (newcomer Q’Orianka Kilcher, whose ray-of-sunshine naturalism is just right). There are other significant characters: the princess’ tough but decent father, Powhatan (August Schellenberg), and his brother Opechancanough (Wes Studi); the English have their visionary businessman leader, Capt. Christopher Newport (Christopher Plummer) and the irascible Edward Wingfield (David Thewlis). But in this ecstatic opening section—a set piece as staggeringly detailed yet intimate as the mass gatherings in The Leopard, The Godfather and The Deer Hunter—no man or woman’s mere existence is privileged over anyone else’s. In fact, the sequence—indeed the entire film—is not about individuals, nor exclusively cultures. It’s about disconnected fragments of the same species fusing like lovers to create something new.
In The New World, form mirrors function mirrors feeling: we watch the awful push-pull of the English and Powhatan cultures, the establishment of a fort and the planting of corn, the mingling and friendship that becomes violence, then war; we see John Smith and Pocahontas cling to each other, lying in the meadow, brushing each other’s skin, playing like kids, fleeing their cultures and hiding in a secret world. The Native Americans are more attuned to nature, but Malick doesn’t deem the English morally inferior because of it, he just finds their angry sense of entitlement mildly funny. This isn’t just a war between cultures; it’s a mating dance followed by an inevitable (arguably forced) wedding. Late in the film, when a now-assimilated Pocahontas visits England with her husband (Christian Bale, whose decency and expressiveness equal Farrell’s) and her uncle Opechancanough, the cultural positions are reversed, and the Native Americans wander an alien (but not necessarily more advanced) landscape. Here, too, Malick expresses cultural truths in understated shots: for instance, Opechancanough touching the skirts of huge shrubs trimmed into a bell shapes, while exploring a sculpted garden whose very existence testifies to the West’s need to conquer (rather than coexist with) nature.
Tellingly, both the opening and the equally powerful and even more moving, mirror-image finale are scored to the opening section of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, “Thus, We Begin in the Greenish Twilight of the Rhine,” a tide of brass and strings that rises and rises, then falls, then rises again. This declares Malick’s intent to tell a mythic or operatic story about John Smith and Pocahontas (who were never lovers in real life), and use that story as springboard for a poetic and musical exploration of how love does and does not transcend individual experience. Malick makes John Smith and Pocahontas—and their nations, and their lands, and their historical epoch—seem truly small, as exposed to the elements as the battered characters in Theo Angelopoulos’ brilliant, temperamentally similar The Weeping Meadow. Malick’s symphonic filmmaking bears them aloft and sweeps them along. Seattle Symphony conductor Gerard Schwarz’s description of Wagner’s Ring cycle could double as a description of Malick’s four masterpieces, The New World in particular: “…a huge symphonic poem to which singing and stage action had been added. The orchestra provides a stream of music that carries the words being sung and reflects the psychological states of the various characters.” Paradoxically and wonderfully, Malick’s approach bonds us to the characters even more deeply by stressing their fundamental kinship to every other person, and this underlines their fragility, their mortality, all the more. Smith’s aching tenderness and Pocahontas’ guileless affection are as pure as flowers and as easily crushed.
By presenting every character’s experience through the same cosmic, free-associative prism, Malick ascribes equal emotional significance to each individual’s life, a masterstroke that’s not just exciting but inspiring. Tributaries of individual experience merge to create a river of collective feeling that sweeps you along as Malick’s heroes are swept along, in rapture. It is as if Malick is dreaming for all of us—a presumption as recklessly innocent and beautiful as Stephen Daedalus’ promise in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: “Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.” Daedalus, like the rest of us, was never quite capable of realizing this ambition. Malick is on his way.
Matt Zoller Seitz is the creator of The House Next Door.
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