Preface: Created by Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham and Michel Gondry, The Directors Series is an ongoing DVD series highlighting the best work of international music video directors. In addition to videos, these directors have also dabbled in film, commercials and other curiosities. Their unique approaches combine unorthodox techniques with a keen understanding of source material, resulting in some of the music industry's most memorable clips. Each creator compiled their best work to date for the first three volumes, the reviews for which have been linked below. This series marches on with Volumes #4-7, highlighting the work of acclaimed directors Mark Romanek, Jonathan Glazer, Anton Corbijn and Stéphane Sednaoui.
Though director Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo first cut his teeth directing the oddly compelling Static (1985), he wouldn't become widely known until he turned his attention towards the small screen a few years layer. Romanek's unique style of visual presentation proved to be a perfect fit for the music video format, a fact that he recognized almost immediately after finishing his first few shorts. Some of his more famous classic efforts include Nine Inch Nails' infamous "Closer" (presented here in its uncut form), Lenny Kravitz's energetic "Are You Gonna Go My Way" (making the young star an overnight sensation) and Michael and Janet Jackson's "Scream" (often referred to as 'the most expensive music video ever made', though the director disagrees with the statistics).
Soft-spoken yet assertive, Romanek is no stranger to media controversy surrounding his work. The aforementioned video for "Closer" was cut for broadcast on MTV, as the trimmed version replaced a few of the more risqué visuals with a "Scene Missing" notification. His sultry video for Fiona Apple's "Criminal" showed the talented young musician in a revealing light, creating a rift between the two after critical backlash against Apple. Even his most recent work---in this case, Jay-Z's "99 Problems"---was trimmed and blurred for broadcast; among other things, we see full-frontal male nudity and the infamous rapper getting gunned down in the street. Still, it's the director's refusal to compromise his vision that really shows Romanek's character.
As such, the portfolio of a talented director is best showcased by the director himself. The Directors Series presents Romanek's personal favorite videos, highlighting over 10 years of work that speaks for itself. Though several essential bonus features are also on board, this disc includes the following:
(Bonus Features listed separately)
Music Videos (26 Total)
Jay-Z "99 Problems" (Director's Cut)
Sonic Youth "Little Trouble Girl"
It's hard to believe two years have passed since Volume 3 of The Directors Series was released, so it was great to finally see more solid work from some of the industry's most talented. One thing really caught me off guard this time around, though: I was actually watching the music videos of a few songs I really didn't care for…but I enjoyed 'em anyway. Ironically enough, this same sentiment is expressed elsewhere on the disc during an interview: Mark Romanek makes great videos, even if the songs aren't. Even so, there are plenty of times when both the song and video are absolutely top-notch. Take, for example, "Hurt" by Johnny Cash: originally written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, the song takes on a whole new meaning when performed by a music legend in the final years of his life. In more ways than one, it's the emotional centerpiece of an already-great collection of work.
There are other examples, of course, but they're easy enough to spot. This portfolio of music videos is one of the strongest in the series thus far, and it's great that Romanek's best technical efforts are finally being compiled (interestingly enough, another interview mentions a failed collaboration with The Criterion Collection a few years back). Thankfully, Palm Pictures has continued the trend this time around, combining an entertaining batch of videos and other goodies for a very reasonable price. Those who already own other discs in The Directors Series know about the level of quality and detail present in every one, so you'll be glad to know that Mark Romanek's disc is up to par in every department. For those new to the series: prepare to enjoy yourselves.
The audio treatment is equally impressive, as this content is presented in a lively 2.0 Dolby Digital Surround mix. The atmosphere is generally quite strong and the audio quality for the music videos seems to be right on par with most commercial CD releases. Surround use is somewhat limited, but this collection of material still sounds about as good as it's ever going to on DVD. Unfortunately, no subtitles or Closed Captioning options were made available for this release.
Created and designed by the artists themselves, the presentation style for The Directors Series has always been a real highlight. The menu design for The Work of Director Mark Romanek (seen above) is clean, simple and easy to navigate through, often combining stark, fragmented imagery with plain text. A "Play All" option for the videos has also been included, while individual commentary tracks are easy to reference (unlike earlier volumes in the series, such as Spike Jonze's disc). The packaging for this one-disc release looks fantastic as usual, featuring a striking cover design and a simple layout. Also included in the double-sized clear keepcase is an informative 56-page Booklet stuffed with rare photos, personal captions and a lengthy interview with Romanek conducted by Jonze.
The first and most notable bonus feature is a series of Audio Commentaries that run over every music video---there's over 40 in all, with many of the videos having two and three tracks apiece. Romanek contributes on for each video, though we also hear from Trent Reznor, Janet Jackson, Beck, Weezer, Jay-Z, Michael Stipe, Fiona Apple and many more. There's a few absences here, but it's fantastic to hear so many tracks from the original artists and contributors. That's not to say Romanek's commentaries aren't interesting in their own right; in most cases, they're the highlight.
Fortunately, there's even more new stuff to dig through here. Rounding out the extras is a trio of documentaries, starting off with The Work of Director Mark Romanek (38 minutes). Compiled from new interviews with the original artists (and featuring appearances by Steven Soderbergh, Chris Rock, Robin Williams, producer Rick Rubin and more), this detailed piece is really worth watching for fans of the director's work. Up next is The Making of 99 Problems (11 minutes), detailing Romanek's work with Jay-Z for his striking black and white video. The behind the scenes footage is interesting, but the story of how the video almost collapsed under its own weight is even better. Finishing things off is Romanekian (8 minutes) a light-hearted series of interviews with Chris Rock, Robin Williams and Ben Stiller as they roast the acclaimed director. It's an entertaining way to round out the bonus features, and the included 56-page Booklet (mentioned above) is just icing on the cake.
Even if you don't like every song on this compilation, it's hard not to appreciate the fantastic visuals of director Mark Romanek. His work represents some of the best in the industry, combining striking compositions with a bold use of color and atmosphere. These music videos are accessible enough to stand out the first time around, yet most are layered enough to warrant plenty of replay value. The Directors Series, Volume 4 is one of the strongest collections thus far, easily making this installment a must-have for fans of the series. The technical presentation is rock-solid and the bonus features are as entertaining, plentiful and informative as the main content. Overall, this is a fantastic release that deserves to be on the shelf of any self-respecting music lover. DVD Talk Collector Series.
Randy Miller III is a moderately affable art instructor based in Harrisburg, PA, who also enjoys freelance graphic design and illustration. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.