Jonathan Glazer’s music videos and commercial work feel like test runs for the feature films he really wanted to make, and in the wake of the success of Sexy Beast and Birth, I’m not exactly sure he cares to return to his roots. He’s only made nine videos, all of which except for Jamiroquai’s “Cosmic Girl” are included in this sixth volume of Palm Pictures’s Directors Label DVD series, in addition to some of his famous commercial work for Guinness, Levis, Stella Artois, Wrangler, Volkswagen, and Barclays. His entire oeuvre demands suspension of disbelief, but there’s an unmistakable poetry in their implausibility: Like Birth, his two best videos (“Karma Police” by Radiohead and “Rabbit In Your Headlights” by U.N.K.L.E.) are predicated on an unnerving sense of circular logic—which is to say, what comes around goes around. Massive Attack’s “Karmacoma” doesn’t really transcend its homage to the hotel rooms of The Shining, Barton Fink, and Madonna’s “Justify My Love” video, but the claustrophobic formalism, not to mention 3D’s sweaty paranoia, is discomfiting. (Glazer obviously loves Kubrick, whose inspiration is also felt in Birth and Blur’s “The Universal.”) Glazer enjoys looking at the musculature of the male body, and as such it’s tempting to say that a certain level of homoeroticism underpins his work, from “Rabbit In Your Headlight” and Richard Ashcroft’s superfluous “A Song For The Lovers” to Sexy Beast. But while it seems as if Ben Kinglsey, Ray Winstone, Ashcroft, and Denis Lavant enjoy taking off their shirts in these films and videos, they also seem as if they want to take off their skins. In the end, then, what really captures the mind and senses isn’t their glistening bodies but the way their panic resonates as a profound discomfort with their masculinity. The human body, to Glazer, is more like a machine or car, and his characters are uncannily plugged in to their sensory experience of their surroundings, refusing to obey the physics of time and space and the limitations of nature. It’s an idea that also sees its exhilarating expression in Radiohead’s “Street Spirit” and promos for Guinness’s “Swim Black,” Levis’s “Odyssey,” and a gorgeous black-and-white commercial for Volkswagen titled “Protection,” in which the shell of a car becomes synonymous with the human skin. His “Surfer” promo is a curiosity; considering it likens the energy in our body to horsepower, you almost expect the ad to be hawking a car and not a pint of Guinness. Then again, the body needs fuel, right?
Jonathan Glazer is a new kid on the block compared to Anton Corbijn and he likes to keep his images as clean and crisp as humanly possible. I suppose, then, that it’s a testament to the good work done by Palm Pictures that I didn’t notice a single smudge, fleck, or inconsistency throughout any of these videos that wasn’t deliberately planned by Glazer.
The interactive menus featured on this second wave of Directors Label releases are triumphs of sound and design if not functionality. Well, to be fair, only this disc proves to be the real chore, from choosing the content you want to play to returning to the main menu (it’s probably best to "play all" and call it a day). (The back cover indicates some kind of feature called "Tramp" starring It’s All Gone Pete Tong’s Paul Kaye can be found on the disc, but I couldn’t find it for the life of me.)
Save for the two Radiohead clips, someone is on hand to provide commentary for all the videos on the disc. (Most startling is Nick Cave’s very frank words about actively disliking Glazer’s images.) The people at Fox Searchlight and New Line were also nice enough to lend Palm Pictures some clips from Sexy Beast and Birth. Ray Winstone, Ben Kingsley, Nicole Kidman, Danny Huston, Harris Savides, Milo Addica, and Jean-Claude Carrière also appear to talk about their experiences working with Glazer, who doesn’t seem to have wanted to lend his face to this project. Also included inside the DVD case is a 56-page booklet with photographs, sketches, storyboards, and an interview with the director.
Jonathan Glazer’s obsession with the human body is what you get when you mess with us.