The first volume of Palm Pictures’s new Directors Label DVD series compiles the shorter works of director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich), from his breakthrough video clips to rare short films and documentaries. For Wax’s “California” clip, Jonze’s mesmerizing long take observes a man running on fire through a city street. For anyone new to the Golden State or anyone without a car, the message is clear: keep out! Jonze challenges the way music is incorporated and represented in music videos with his bizarre, ’80s-style clip for Daft Punk’s “Da Funk.” Charlie the dog-boy moves to the East Village with a pocketful of dreams and a ghetto blaster by his side (“Da Funk” is his battlecry). Coping with a broken leg and lack of friends, this anthropomorphic creature is rejected by one New Yorker after another. Though a chance meeting with a childhood friend suggests things will get better, the video’s devastating finale implies that Charlie will never learn. The video for Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” initially appears as self-conscious and superfluous as the director’s overrated video for the Beastie Boys’s “Sabotage” (also included on this DVD). The marriage of old-school and new-school footage is ultimately less remarkable than Jonze’s suggestion that it’s all about the Fonz. In the end, “Buddy Holly” becomes a riveting paean to nostalgia itself. “Richard Koufey” (Jonze) and the Torrence Community Dance troupe put on an observe spectator curiosity and rage outside a movie theater for the director’s memorable home video clip for Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You,” a funny and exhilarating paean to street art. Drawing its inspiration from Busby Berkeley song-and-dance numbers and Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Jonze’s clip for Björk’s “It’s Oh So Quiet” is a joyous homage to Hollywood’s Technicolor musicals. This lark is noticeably weightless but it’s this very simplicity that makes it so delightful to watch. The Chemical Brothers’s “Elektrobank” is that rare Jonze clip that transcends both concept and irony, and it is arguably his greatest music video. The subtext-rich clip pits a shy gymnast played by Jonze’s director-wife Sofia Coppola against a competitor whose confident yet antagonizing gaze screams Mother Russia. Though there’s no apparent conflict between the gymnast and her very Bela Karolyi coach, Jonze heightens performance pressure via a series of calculated cutaways that just barely suggests the girl’s sordid family life. Also featured here: “Sure Shot” (Beastie Boys), “Drop” (The Pharcyde), “Cannonball” (The Breeders), “What’s Up Fatlip?” (Fatlip), “Undone (The Sweater Song)” (Weezer), “Feel the Pain” (Dinosaur Jr.), “If I Only Had A Brain” (MC 900ft Jesus), “Sky’s the Limit” (The Notorious B.I.G.) and “Weapon of Choice” (Fatboy Slim).
Not as good as the sound and video quality on the Criterion Collection’s Beastie Boys two-disc DVD anthology but certainly better than the crummy transfers collected for Björk’s "Volumen" music video collection.
Every artist whose video appears on this DVD anthology contributes a commentary track, with the exception of The Breeders and MC 900ft Jesus. (Björk I can understand not making a DVD commentary recording session, but The Breeders?) "Cannonball" and "If I Only Had A Brain" are "info only" and "Da Funk" gets two commentaries: one from the band and one from the actor that played the dog in the video. It appears as if all the artists didn’t get to watch their respective video(s) while they were being recorded. And because their "commentary" (they’re really interviews) sometimes runs longer than the actual video, shots of the artists often precede and/or follow the video. These tracks are all fascinating but no tidbit is more interesting than Björk’s revelation that Ernie (from PBS’s "Sesame Street") was the guy inside the mailbox in "It’s Oh So Quiet." Also on side one is a lively behind-the-scenes peek at the making of Pharcyde’s "Drop."
Flip the disc over and behold no less than five of Jonze’s short films: "How They Get There" and "Mark Paints" (both co-directed by Mark Gonzales), the fascinating "Oasis Video That Never Happened" (it’s okay Spike, just keep asking yourself: "Where is Oasis now?"), "The Woods" (produced for Girl Skateboards), and "Richard Koufey"’s audition tape for Fatboy Slim, "Rockafella Skank." Three impressive if slightly over-long documentaries follow suit: "What’s Up Fatlip?" started out as a behind-the-scenes documentary on the ex-Pharcyde rapper’s video but became something entirely larger when Jonze began to observe the particulars of Fatlip’s daily life and his thoughts on the music industry; two suburban teenagers-cum-cowboys from Houston share their bully stories on "Amarillo By Morning"; and "Torrance Rises" is an on-the-road look at the Torrance Community Dance Group’s road to the MTV Video Music Awards. Rounding out the features are previews for Adaptation., the "Yeah Right!" Girl Skateboards video, and Volumes 2 and 3 of the Directors Label (collections of Chris Cunningham and Michel Gondry’s work). Also included is a nifty 52-page book that includes photographs and drawings and interviews with Jonze.
Not only for Spike Jonze fans but for anyone that wants to see Fatboy Slim taking a bath or anyone that wants to freeze-frame Madonna’s perpetual sour-puss.