I’m a child of the 80’s, teen of the 90’s growing side by side with MTV and caught by the boom of electronic music like Techno, Industrial, Drum n’Base or Trip Hop. With it, there was an eclectic group of rising artists such as Bjork, NIN, Prodigy, Massive Attack, Portishead, Tricky, Aphex Twin, Pulp, etc; names that reached instant recognition and were worshiped by the mainstream to a great extent due to their major relation with the Music Video phenomenon.
In the 90’s, this new generation was also to be joined by some of the old guard resistent Idols like David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Madonna or Depeche Mode (some of the first and biggest supporters of the videoclip in its embryonic stage back in the 80’s) who understood the importance of reinvention and the impact of stylish Visuals in promoting the music and delivering its message (well, Kate Bush was already playing arround, doing some wickedly original videos in the 70’s but she was possibly the only one and the videoclip era was not official yet, neither MTV existent!). They proved to be not only the glorious voices of old trends but rather willingful disciples of the vanguard, actively tuned with the present and future force of the music industry.
In Parallel with this handfull of musicians, another type of artist gained shape without whom the phenomenon would have never happened —The Video Director.
Fellows like Mondino, David Fincher, Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Mark Romanek, Chris Cunningham, Stéphane Sednaoui, Jonas Akerlund, Floria Sigismundi, etc., saw in this discipline a vehicle to express their creativity through the synergy with the musicians.
Soon they were ment to push the boundaries of music video forever creating a new popular art form, their names became familiar to us (the one’s who were interested) and their videos were announced and expected with excitment (at least i did!).
Coming from a very small provinciaI town where nothing much would ever happen in cultural terms, MTV was, as the radio was, not only an escape from our boring reality but also a great window to what was happening out in the world leaving us with the genuine feeling of being a part of the big picture.
I strongly believe that, however superficial it may seem, the cult of the Music video that existed at that time served to me and to many others as a fundamental tightening thread with our generation through the sharing of taste in music within other common grounds (from which i felt in some ways alienated!), as much as it was the “fire starter” to my escalating interest in Aesthetics (film, photography, fashion, etc.) and in realizing the great chemistry that can exist between visuals and sound.
As i am sorry to witness the downfall of the creative power of this institutional branch of Pop Culture that was the MUSIC VIDEO (despite the highly advanced technology at our disposal), this list ends up being in the worst case, my sort of “Requiem” to its symbolic death and in the best case a memorabilia cabinet containing some rescued favourite videos that i consider gems of the kind and their occasional flirtation with Art and Cinematic Masterpieces.
The Times have changed.The World has changed. MTV has changed…and so have I.
Necessary nostalgia, i guess!…
“CLOSER” by Mark Romanek for NIN
The seductivelly grotesque mood of Romanek’s “Closer” takes inspiration on the photographs of Joel Peter Witkin as it does from the poetic, onirique world in decay of Brothers Quay, in particular the stop-motion short called “streets of crocodiles” which on its turn, is based on a book with the same tilte (a.k.a. “Cinnamon Shops” in U.S.) written by Bruno Schulz.
Brothers Quay, “Street of crocodiles”
“BEDTIME STORY”, by Mark Romanek for Madonna
In the synopsis written in the Mubi page of this video we can read:
“Madonna said in an 1999 interview with Aperture magazine interesting insight into the video: “My ‘Bedtime Story’ video was completely inspired by all the female surrealist painters like Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo. There’s that one shot where my hands are up in the air and stars are spinning around me. And me flying through the hallway with my hair trailing behind me, the birds flying out of my open robe – all of those images are an homage to female surrealist painters; there’s a little bit of Frida Kahlo in there, too.”
The reference to the female surrealist artists is totally legitimate, however, the MOST OBVIOUS source of inspiration which is not mentioned here and has never been anywhere else by Madonna or Mark Romanek (i was curious enough to research interviews, articles and “making-of” features), happens to be “PARAJANOV’S “COLOR OF POMEGRANATES” and “TARKOVSKY’S “STALKER”.
In my opinion, the video doesn’t loose it’s strength or value while acknowledging these facts, but it is a shame nevertheless, that their names were kept in the shadow rather then willingly shared as to set a good example of the crossover between what’s called "High art "and “Pop art” (whatever that might be…)
Then, it is not by chance that the video has been chosen to be screened in 2005 in contemporary art galleries (including the Museum of Modern Art, where it is stored in the permanent collection along with another video directed by Romanek for the Nine Inch Nails song “Closer”). It was later acquired for the New York Museum of Modern Art’s film and video collection.
these are the stills from the films that can be compared with the video:
Stills from Parajanov’s “Sayat Nova” a.k.a. “The Color of Pomegranates”…
Still from the final scene of Tarkovsky’s “Stalker”
“ALL IS FULL OF LOVE” by Chris Cunningham for Bjork
“COME TO DADY” by Chris Cunningham for Aphex Twin
“WINDOWLICKER” by Chris Cunningham for Aphex Twin
“ONLY YOU” by Chris Cunningham for Portished
“FROZEN” by Chris Cunningham for Madonna
“ISOBEL” by Michel Gondry for Bjork
“ARMY OF ME” by Michel Gondry for Bjork
“BACHELORETTE” by Michel Gondry for Bjork
“SCREAM” by Mark Romanek for Michael Jackson
Stanley Kubrick´s “2001 Space Odyssey” was the main reference for “Scream”
“HUMAN NATURE” by Jean Baptist Mondino for Madonna
“THE HEART’S FILTHY LESSON” by Sam Bayer for David Bowie
“JUMP THEY SAY” by Mark Romanek for David Bowie
The experimental sci-fi film"LA JETÉE" by Chris Marker was one of the main inspirational sources for this video
“HALLO SPACEBOY” by David Mallet for David Bowie
“I’M AFRAID OF AMERICANS” by Sam & Nick for David Bowie
“GOD’S AWAY ON BUSINESS” by Jesse Dylan for Tom Waits
“WHERE THE WILD ROSES GROW”, by Rocky Shenck for Nick Cave feat. Kylie Minogue
“OPHELIA” from Pre-Raphaelite painter Millais
“HURT” by Mark Romanek for Johnny Cash
“TEARDROP” by Walter Stern for Massive Attack
“PROTECTION” by Michel Gondry for Massive Attack
“ARROUND THE WORLD” by Michel Gondry for Daft Punk
“DEADWEIGHT” by Miche Gondry for Beck
“CELLPHONE’S DEAD”, by Michel Gondry for Beck
“BIG TIME SENSUALITY” by Stéphane Sidnaoui for Bjork
“OCEANIA” by LynnFox for Bjork
“LET FOREVER BE”by Michel Gondry for Chemical Brothers
“STAR GUITAR” by Michel Gondry for Chemical Brothers
“THIS IS HARDCORE”, by Doug Nichol for PULP
“DIRGE”, by ? for Death in Vegas
“(UNTITLED)”by Floria Sigismondi for Sigur Rós
“VIORAR VEL TIL LOFTÁRÁSA” by Arni & Kinski for Sigur Rós
“UNDERWATER LOVE” by Tim Macmillan for Smoke City
“DOWN BY THE WATER” by Maria Machnacz for P.J. Harvey
“PASS THIS ON” by Johan Renck for The Knife
“GLORY BOX” by Alexander Hemming for Portishead
In the video for “Glory Box”, a song that always sounded like it was written for a transvestite, Beth dresses up as a man, flirts with other women dressed as men and re-enact scenes from the 50s Dirk Bogarde film “the Victim”, the first film ever made in the UK to openly address the homosexual experience.
“SLEDGEHAMMER” by Stephen R. Johnson and Brothers Quay for Peter Gabriel
“Sledgehammer” was a widely popular and influential music video directed by Stephen R. Johnson. Aardman Animations and the Brothers Quay provided claymation, pixilation, and stop motion animation. In 1987, it won nine MTV Video Music Awards, a record unchallenged until now, 2010. it still stands a as one of the most original videos ever made and of great influence for the music video directors that were yet to come like more evidentely Michel Gondry. The video is highly inspired by the work of the Czech surrealist artist and filmmaker Jan Svankmajer, the great master of stop-motion animation.
“THE RED SHOES” directed by Kate Bush, herself
In this Kate Bush Video the reference to the film “THE RED SHOES” by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger is quite straight forward
“THE SENSUAL WORLD” by Peter Richardson and Kate Bush for Kate Bush
“THE DREAMING” directed by Kate Bush herself
“MARCIA BAILA” by Jean-Baptiste Mondino for Les Rita Mitsouko
“I PUT A SPELL ON YOU” by Mat Kirkby for Bryan Ferry
WHO COULD HAVE GUESSED AT THAT TIME, THAT THE DIRECTOR OF “VOGUE”, “EXPRESS YOURSELF” and “FREEDOM” WOULD LATER BE THE SAME OF “FIGHT CLUB”, “ZODIAC” or “SOCIAL NETWORK”…
He started his directorial career signing three of the most iconic and expensive music videos of the 90’s and of all time.
In “Express Yourself” Fincher pays tribute to the magnificent “METROPOLIS” of Fritz Lang.
“EXPRESS YOURSELF” by David Fincher for Madonna
“VOGUE” by David Fincher for Madonna
“FREEDOM! ’90” by David Fincher for George Michael
“TOO FUNKY” by Thierry Mugler and Mike Southon
“JUSTIFY MY LOVE” by Jean-Baptiste Mondino for Madonna
“THE NIGHT PORTER” by Liliana Cavani with Charlotte Rampling and Dirk Bogarde
“EROTICA” by Fabian Baron for Madonna
Note: This list is under construction, still lacking more videos, credits, general data and references
The names included in the list below are the ones that I could find so far in Mubi database.