Stéphane Sednaoui considers the individual personality of the modern pop star more generously than any other music video director, and his simulacra of the human body connects us in startling ways to that essence we find so attractive in these artists. The fabulous colors of his music videos are instantly recognizable, reflections of an internal visage of anxious emotion. His lens strips away the color of his subjects, allowing for energy to roam free, making human auras feel tactile and instigating an interminglement between the human body and its surroundings. Nineteen of the directors videos are included on this seventh volume of Palm Pictures’s Directors Label DVD series, including two of the best clips to ever dignify MTV airwaves: Björk’s “Big Time Sensuality” and U2’s “Mysterious Ways,” orgiastic explosions of individual and community synergy. Alanis Morrissette’s spirited “Ironic” clip is a more high-concept work than we’re used to getting from Sednaoui, but it still embodies that unhinged feeling of release the director loves to suss out of his subjects. Otherwise, the man could be considered somewhat of an avant-gardist. His videos often evoke the distortion of looking into a funhouse mirror, an alternate reality of sinister shapes, streaks, and colors brought to life using wave-like visual effects, double exposures, greenscreen compositing, oblique camera placements, and a radical use of film stock. Mirwais’s “Disco Science” reimagines In the Realm of the Senses for the digital age, with an entourage of kimono-clad women shooting digital rays of light from their breasts. Sednaoui has a tendency to repeat himself, and some of his work is monotonous (Tricky’s “For Real”) and starved for imagination (U2’s corny “Discotheque” and Mirwais’s “I Can’t Wait”)—which is probably why his clip for Madonna’s “Fever” (a retread of “Give It Away,” a watershed moment for both the director and the Red Hot Chili Peppers) didn’t make the cut—but even his most inconsistent videos resonate with a heightened awareness for the shape of all things, not least of which the human body: Massive Attack’s “Sky” is a fever dream of Fauvist and Warholian design (the garden scenes aren’t very interesting but the butterfly imagery scattered throughout is something out-of-this-world); the neon lightshow of “Possibly Maybe” is an apt representation of the coy, passive aggressive emotions of Björk’s lyrics; beneath-the-skin metabolism comes to life again as visible light in R.E.M.‘s “Lotus”; and in Tricky’s “Pumpkin” the body seems to be held captive under the constant watch of a barcode scanner. Where most directors work only on the surface, it’s as if Sednaoui creates art from a subatomic level.
Because Sednaoui usually shoots on film and often works under low-budget conditions, the occasional dirt and overall graininess of these clips are to be expected-in fact, it's often part of the intended effect. A lot of care has clearly gone into preserving the original integrity of these videos: For proof, one need only compare Björk's "Big Time Sensuality" as it appears on this disc and on the singer's "Volumen" music video collection.
Sednaoui's devotion to the pop art and mystique of Andy Warhol is evident in the silkscreen-like images of Massive Attack's "Sky" and the heroin chic of "Sometimes Salvation" by the Black Crowes, but this affection sees a more literal representation in the director's "Walk on the Wild Side" short, a tender, moody experimental drama about sexuality and the Factory heyday set to Lou Reed's song of the same name. Other shorts collected here: an animated piece inspired by Björk's "Army Of Me," Sednaoui's very first short film attempt (titled "Reve Reche"), and the stunning "Acqua Natasa," in which a woman trapped in some sort of underwater memory-deprivation tank sees her clothes slowly torn off by a fantastically retreating and reemerging pink light. Bono, Björk, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Michael Stipe, Flea, Shirley Manson, and Tricky are among the luminaries who talk about their experiences working with Sednaoui over the years in a mod, 35-minute featurette that also allows the photographer-director himself to reminisce about his aesthetic approach. Rounding things off is a question-and-answer presentation Sednaoui gave before a roomful of NYU students (beats getting Brett Ratner when I was going there!) and a 56-page diary of photos, storyboards, sketches, and comments.
Stéphane Sednaoui's images move in mysterious ways.