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Directors Series, Volume 1: The Work of Director Spike Jonze, The
The Work of Director Spike Jonze is part of the first run of DVDs from the Directors Label. Produced by Palm Pictures, these DVDs highlight some of the best directors in the music video industry.
While he needs no introduction, Spike Jonze still deserves one. His work has won the admiration of countless critics, and he has garnered quite a fan base over the last ten years. Chances are, you've seen his work before…his directing credits on the big screen include the truly bizarre Being John Malkovich and the recent Adaptation. He's even acted in a few films, most notably as Private Conrad Vig in David O. Russell's underrated Gulf War movie, Three Kings. The world of music videos, however, is where he's perhaps best known: his award-winning efforts include the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage", Weezer's "Buddy Holly", Fatboy Slim's "Praise You", and Bjork's "It's Oh So Quiet." Many of his videos are so striking that you'll remember the images onscreen well after the songs have been played out.
What's most memorable about his work, though, is the combination of the seemingly normal with the completely unexpected. Being John Malkovich was the biggest perpetrator of this---just try and sell the plot to your friends, and see if they don't have you committed. In the music video for Wax's song "California", a clip of a man running down the street in slow-motion seems normal enough…except that this man happens to be on fire, and nobody pays much attention to him. The Pharcyde's video for "Drop" also throws the viewer for a loop…it was performed backwards and played back in reverse (see for yourself!). I won't spoil the surprises any more, as there's many great moments found in Spike Jonze's work. In short, he's easily one of the most creative new talents of our generation, and will really be one to watch (even more closely!) in the years to come.
He seems like a pretty cool guy, too!
Along with fellow directors Michael Gondry and Chris Cunningham (both well-known in the music video industry), Spike Jonze and company have compiled a series of their individual portfolios of creative work. Spike's will be the first to be released (later this month) after a seemingly endless series of delays. The two other compilations will follow shortly after. Let me be honest with you…if this DVD is any indication of the quality of the two future releases (and I'm sure it is), you're in for a real treat. The Work of Director Spike Jonze is a fabulous new release that really lets Spike put his best foot forward. Essentially the equivalent to a 2-disc release, this double-sided disc is divided neatly: Side A focuses on the music videos, while Side B contains a number of short films and rarities. The music videos, in particular, play like a "who's who" list of the most creative ever made (and the songs are great too!). The packaging and presentation is also very well done, and is discussed in more detail in the later portions of this review. I said before that I won't spoil any more of wonderful surprises found in his work, so I'll get right to the content.
Side A: Music Videos
Beastie Boys, "Sure Shot"
The Pharcyde, "Drop"
The Breeders, "Cannonball" (co-directed by Kim Gordon)
Beastie Boys, "Sabotage"
Daft Punk, "Da Funk"
Fatlip, "What's Up, Fatlip?"
Weezer, "Undone (The Sweater Song)"
Fatboy Slim, "Praise You" (with the Torrance County Dance Group)
Dinosaur Jr., "Feel The Pain"
MC 900 ft. Jesus, "If I Only Had A Brain"
The Notorious B.I.G., "Sky's The Limit"
Fatboy Slim, "Weapon Of Choice"
Weezer, "Buddy Holly"
The Chemical Brothers, "Electrobank"
Bjork, "It's Oh So Quiet"
Side B: Rarities & Documentaries
What's Up, Fatlip? (31 mins.) An extremely casual meeting with Fatlip, formerly of The Pharcyde.
Amarillo by Morning (29 mins.) A day in the life of a few young, hopeful suburban cowboys.
Torrance Rises (34 mins.) Road-trip footage of the Torrance Dance Group from the "Praise You" video.
How They Get There: Short film with Mark Gonzales. Car crashes too.
Mark Paints: Another short film with Mark about, you guessed it, painting!
The Oasis Video That Never Happened: Also pretty self-explanatory.
Rockafella Skank: The audtition tape for Fatboy Slim, similar to "Praise You".
The Woods: An excerpt from a skateboarding film, with some really nice stunts!
Again, sorry if my descriptions seem vague...you're much better off spoiler-free, though!
Needless to say, there's a good bit of stuff here for your viewing pleasure. At best, it's some of the most creative work by a young director I've seen. Even at worst, it's all pretty darn watchable. I made sure not to get into the music too much (on Side A), as it may have affected my judgement of the videos on their own. Still, it's hard not to, as most of the footage onscreen fits extremely well with the music. One can't work without the other: a real testament to the level of quality found here. These are much more interesting than your average, run-of-the-mill videos found on MTV.
A quote from Spike Jonze about his own work went something like this: "I felt like the videos that came out the best were the ones for the artists I loved." In that case, he must have loved all of these artists! One odd thing about the playlist, though, was the seemingly random order of the videos. It may have been more interesting to see them in the order of their creation (a selectable option on the Michel Gondry DVD), to get a better idea of the growth Spike Jonze has showcased. Also, I'd hate to leave out the short films and rarities found on Side B (though they do seem somewhat overshadowed by the videos). I particularly enjoyed the What's Up, Fatlip? documentary, but they're all pretty interesting. In fact, most of Side B was all new to me, so that was another plus for this collection. Everything fits together nicely overall...despite the complete contrast of documentaries in subject matter, they all have a nice "feel" to them, and seem genuine and spontaneuous.
All in all, it's obvious that there's a lot going on in the mind of Spike Jonze. During the commentary tracks (discussed in more detail in the "Extras" section), nearly all of the participating artists testify that Spike is a wonderfully weird director. Bjork shares some great insight during "It's Oh So Quiet" , including a story of Spike calling her up at 4:00 AM and exitedly spouting of some new ideas. Spike seems like a genuinely nice guy and a lot of fun to work with, and he's one of the few 'celebrities' I'd actually want to meet in real life. It would be great to hear just what makes the guy tick.
Darn it! Here I am rambling on, and we haven't even covered the technical end of the review! Once again, this is an awesome release in nearly every category, so I'm not done gushing just yet!
As a compilation of music videos and short films from the last ten years, it's obvious that the video quality is going to vary a bit. Several of the videos and short films are a bit on the grainy side, but not because of any print flaws or negligence. Overall, the majority of footage was shot on hand-held or digital video camcorders, so it can't be compared fairly to the smooth look of high-quality film. However, these appear to be in great shape (if not the slightest bit dark on some occasions), and look even better than their original broadcast versions. Fans won't be disappointed in the least! While most of the videos and short films were intended to be seen in the fullscreen aspect ratio (1.33:1), a few are also offered in widescreen (1.78:1). Obviously, thie video quality here gets a big thumbs up!
Most of the substantial content here is music videos, so the audio had to deliver in spades. It sounds great (presented in Dolby Surround), and the music and effects came in nicely from all angles. Everything sounded open and clear, so fans of every genre represented here will have something to be happy about! Some of the videos showcased slight directional activity (intentional, of course), but most are anchored strongly in the middle. In particular, the two Beastie Boys tracks were especially powerful in the audio department. Also, I did a direct comparsion with one of vidoes from another source...Bjork's "It's Oh So Quiet" was also found on another disc I own, the Volumen video collection. When compared, the version on the Spike Jonze disc had a bit more punch to it, and the subwoofer got more action too! On the flip side, the short films are much more subdued (they are documentaries at heart), but everything comes through clearly with no problems. This was a great effort overall, and I'm positive this level of quality will continue into the next two releases.
The contents here are divided neatly, so it's pretty hard to tell what's "regular" and what's "extra".
On Side A, the most notable extras are the audio commentaries found on most of the music videos. These commentaries feature the music artists and performers themselves, including Fatboy Slim, Weezer, Christopher Walken, Puff Daddy (filling in for the late Notorious B.I.G.), Bjork, The Beastie Boys, and more! These were a great addition to the overall content, and shed even more light on the videos. Also included on the first side are bonus commentary clips, info pages for the videos, and some very cool trailers (labeled "From Our Friends"). These trailers include The Work of Director Chris Cunningham and Michael Gondry (next in the series), Yeah Right! (an amazing-looking skateboarding video), and the upcoming Adaptation: Special Edition DVD, which was news to me. All of these were very interesting and worth a look…quite a nice change from the usual tacked-on studio trailers.
Side B didn't contain any real extras, just the rarities and short films themselves. Also on board, though, was a self-running "credits page" listing all of the music used in the production of the compilation, as well as some personal thanks. Also of note is the included book (discussed below) which is certainly a valuable extra in itself. Overall, a very solid effort in this department…this disc was obviously a labor of love from top to bottom, and it will really be worth the wait!
Menu design and presentation:
The menus were a nice touch, and featured simple stick figure animation on a gray notebook paper-like background. They were fun to look at, and really seemed to add a personal touch to the presentation (like Criterion's Rushmore menus and packaging). Navigation was simple after everything was explored, but was a bit confusing at first (on Side A). The videos can either be played normally by selecting "music videos", but the additional commentary and info pages can only be seen by selecting "Commentaries and Info". The "Play All" feature on both sub-menus didn't introduce each video separately, so the only way to tell who's who is by selecting each one individually. It would have been nice to simply present one complete section instead of two separate ones, and just allow the viewer to switch to audio commentary on the fly. Last but not least, no subtitles are included, and would have been a nice addition (you might miss some of the lyrics!). This is an excellent first effort, but hopefully the menu design might be tweaked a bit for future releases in this series. Oh, one other nitpick: double-sided discs are extremely hard to keep in excellent condition. It would have been more favorable to use two single-sided discs instead, at least for a rough-and-tumble fella like myself.
On a similar note, the packaging itself also deserves special mention. The wonderful cover artwork (with the famous scene from Wax's "California" music video) really is an attention-grabber, and the overall design layout is nice to look at. The clear keep-case (also showcasing photos from the back of the cover art) is double-wide, but not to hold two discs. This extra room is needed for the awesome 52-page square-bound color book also included, featuring a collection of writings, photos, and interviews (with Christopher Walken himself gracing the cover!). The book is a great read and a very nice inclusion to the release. Overall, this is one of the most substantial packaging jobs this year, and really adds to the value of this collection!
Should anything else have been included?
Well, I know for a fact that Spike Jonze directed more than 16 music videos, some of which I haven't even seen yet (several fan-sites offer complete videographies). Whether the rights were an issue or the contents were just "hand-picked," it would still have been nice to go the extra mile and throw even more stuff in the pot. However, with the double-sided disc contents and the beautiful 52-page booklet, I really can't complain! This is an outstanding value and only makes me more eager to check out the next two compilations!
I hope you're convinced that this disc is worth your time and hard-earned money. If not, this disc is worth your time and hard-earned money. The rock-bottom MSRP of $19.99 (heck, it's only $14.99 at DVDTalk's Amazon link above) makes this a definite must-have, even for the casual fan. Of course, it also helps that the content found here is top-notch as well. If you're a fan of creative music videos---or just creative movies---you owe it to yourself to give this disc a spin. The Work of Director Spike Jonze easily cruises into the esteemed ranks of the DVD Talk Collector's Series. With any luck, there won't be any more delays on this great release!
Randy Miller III is a part-time cartooning instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.