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Review: The Work of Chris Cunningham on Palm Pictures DVD

Cunningham’s fans won’t be disappointed by this compilation disc.


The Work of Chris Cunningham

The second volume of Palm Pictures’s Directors Label DVD series compiles director Chris Cunningham’s music videos, commercials and video installations. Though Cunningham’s grotesque videos have achieved cult status over the past few years, his oeuvre is more “cool” than provocative. His most famous creation is his clip for Aphex Twin’s “Come To Daddy,” which observes a factory freak-out between an old lady and a bunch of midget ghouls. Far superior is the video for Aphex Twin’s “Windowlicker,” which significantly illuminates a ghetto social order and subverts hip-hop’s obsession with booty-shaking. The director positions himself as a digital-era Brakhage with Second Bad Vibel’s “Autechre.” It’s obvious that Cunningham is obsessed with the mechanism of human movement, something he eroticizes in the deliberately clinical Björk-meets-Vonnegut clip for “All Is Full Of Love.” Squarepusher’s “Come On My Selector” features a cute non-encounter between a hospital orderly and a dog-in-doctor-disguise, but this competent video more or less plays out as an audition tape for a lame Hollywood psychological thriller. Leftfield and Afrika Bambaataa’s “Afrika Shox” offers more shallow grotesqueries, while Portishead’s “Only You” reveals how cool it is to sing underwater. Cunningham’s best clip may be Madonna’s “Frozen.” As a witch lost in an unidentified desert landscape, the pop singer gets to turn into a scary-as-shit Doberman and, then, a flock of crows in a matter of minutes. She also gets to float in the air, dance with herself in triplicate and summon a cosmic storm with the twirl of her Henna-covered hand. The overriding theme is isolation but, as directed by Cunningham, the effect is not unlike stepping into the ravishing, apocalyptic hellfire of Salman Rushdie’s The Ground Beneath Her Feet and Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye.


Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry work in grungy miniature. Chris Cunningham works in a clinical digital realm that’s as loud as it is sleek. The video and audio transfers of his music videos are all top-of-the-line.


If Cunningham is a freak, then Björk is a super-freak. Witness the singer’s allusion to yeast on the “All Is Full Of Love” making-of featurette. This short but nifty doc acknowledges Cunningham’s childhood fascination with machines and reveals how he was able to fulfill that fantasy with the help of Björk’s lily-white outlines. Fans of the video will appreciate the incredible storyboards conceived for the project. Other work compiled here: Aphex Twin’s video installations for “Monkey Drummer” and the beautiful “flex”; the famous “Mental Wealth” Playstation commercial; the never seen “Photocopier” Levis commercial; a bleeped version of “Windowlicker”; and the remarkable Nissan commercial titled “Engine” (music by Boards of Canada), which likens the musculature of the human body to that of a car’s. Also included here are previews for the first and third volumes of the Directors Label DVD series, a trailer for Cunningham’s upcoming Aphex Twin short “Rubber Johnny,” and a 52-page book that includes photographs and drawings and interviews with the director.


Though Cunningham’s grotesque videos have achieved cult status over the past few years, his oeuvre is more “cool” than provocative. His fans won’t be disappointed by this compilation disc.

Cast: Autechre, Aphex Twin, Portishead, Madonna, Leftfield featuring Afrika Bambaataa, Björk Director: Chris Cunningham Distributor: Palm Pictures Running Time: 200 min Rating: NR Year: 1996 - 1999 Release Date: October 28, 2003 Buy: Video

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