Tag Archives: Michel Gondry

PPH @ LFF: The We and the I | review

When a bunch of teenagers board the bus or train you’re on, what do you feel? Dread? Disgust? I usually try to reassure myself that when I have kids, they won’t be so un-self-aware. But the thing is, when people are in groups – teenagers or not – we tend to have a certain blindness of others outside our group. And when we were teenagers, it was even worse; remember being painfully aware of your peers while egocentrically preoccupied by your own drama-filled thoughts? (I hope that wasn’t just me.) Michel Gondry’s The We and the I brilliantly captures our struggle against groupthink to be individuals in a condensed form by limiting the camera’s gaze to a bus ride home on the last day of school. It’s refreshing and fun to catch a glimpse of Gondry’s view of the world – realistically flawed, humorous and vulnerable moments combined with a bit of visual whimsy.

The film begins by contrasting the relative quiet of the South Bronx neighbourhood with the frenetic chaos that the end of the school day unleashes. Students pile onto the public bus and compete for seats; it quickly becomes clear who is confident and who is not. As a high school teacher myself, parents sometimes ask me for advice about teenagers; one of my first questions to them is where their kid sits on the bus. The kids who think they’re cool, often bullies, sit way in the back. The independent-minded ones don’t mind taking the seats in front. Most end up in between, but still leaning towards one side or the other. The We and the I gets this just right, presenting a good mix of teenage archetypes without it seeming too forced: up front, some snooty clever kids; some couples, both straight and gay; some sensitive musician boys; an artist; an awkward outcast; an aloof outsider who stoically keeps his headphones in; and of course, the cocky bullies in the back. Thinking back, a bit of you probably belonged in each group… but you had to choose an affiliation, unless you were one of the rare ‘floaters’.

The cramped setting of The We and the I mirrors the sometimes suffocating social world of teenagers; it’s a real technical achievement that Gondry manages to be a fly-on-the-wall in such small spaces. The camera seamlessly flits around the bus, dipping in and out of each hormone-fuelled micro-drama while still capturing the dynamics between groups. The kids’ cell phone use is included to admirable effect, from my teacher’s point of view – most teens today feel compelled to be plugged in at all times, which also leaves them more vulnerable to social missteps. As the bus gradually empties, the We does become the I; the teens have to choose their own individual paths.

Having taught just outside NYC, the kids in The We and the I are much more familiar to me than the casts of past teen films – much more recognisable than the characters in Dazed and Confused, which just represents a very different part of America. There’s no guitar rock on this soundtrack – it’s mostly Young MC and old-school hip hop. It’s also such a relief to see teenagers onscreen actually talking like teenagers – swearing left and right, voices emphatic, vocabulary normal (not what an adult wishes they’d say). It’s heartening to see teens represented so honestly by these non-professional actors. When the credits roll, you see that all the character names are the kids’ actual names – Gondry workshopped the film with these kids at The Point, a community youth centre. The result of their collaboration is a uniquely candid document of the lives of urban youth that makes me very glad that someone like Gondry keeps making films.

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Music video week | Editor’s Top 10 | Ashley Clark

As part of Music Video Week here on PPH, we asked our contributors to nominate their Top 3 music vids of all time along with a few words to explain their choices. Well they’ve all done that, so now it’s my turn. And due to a potent combination of hubris, indecision and the fact that, as editor, I have no-one to answer to, I’ve actually chosen 10. Here they are…

10. ‘Start The Commotion’ – The Wiseguys (Pedro Romanhyi, 1999)

I caught this cleverly edited vid one night on MTV2 and just could not stop laughing; the visual repetition works brilliantly with the nagging catchiness of the song, and creates a cumulatively hilarious effect. It’s a simple concept, perfectly executed. The bespectacled guitarist (who appears to be atop some sort of pivot), and the three clean-cut doo-wop guys, just get me every time.

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9. ‘Coffee and TV’ – Blur (Hammer and Tongs, 1999)

This tender, heartbreaking and ever so slightly silly video for Blur’s ‘Coffee & TV’ tells the story of a plucky, animated milk carton who goes off in search of Blur’s guitarist Graham Coxon, who has apparently run away from home. Across six suspenseful, charming minutes you’ll laugh, be wowed by the animation, and very possibly cry.

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8. ‘Ya Mama’ – Fatboy Slim (Traktor, 2001)

A redneck happens across a cassette tape with magical powers. He decide to exploit it for his own ends. The rest is loose-limbed, explosive bedlam. Uproariously, preposterously funny, and a great concept.

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7. ‘Always Be My Baby’ – Mariah Carey (Mariah Carey, 1996)

This one’s simple, really. I saw it when I was 10, and I immediately fell in love. However, until a very recent Google search, I didn’t know this sweet, nicely composed effort was directed by Carey herself.

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6. ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ – The Avalanches (Kuntz and Macquire, 2000)

This unforgettable promo is simultaneously fiercely literal (the actions of the cast often correspond to the stream-of-consciousness sampled lyrics) and mind-warpingly surreal (human-sized talking birds, for example). It’s difficult to pick out a single funniest moment, but once you’ve seen a turtle with the head of a confused old man, your life will never be quite the same again. The shabby, retro school play aesthetic haunts, too.

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5. ‘Da Funk’ – Daft Punk (Spike Jonze, 1995)

…in which a sad sack, anthropomorphized dog on crutches attempts to find love on the streets of New York. This genuinely odd piece casts a haunting spell, but don’t go looking too deeply for meaning. Here’s Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter: “There’s no story. It is just a man-dog walking with a ghetto-blaster in New York. The rest is not meant to say anything. People are trying to explain it: Is it about human tolerance? Integration? Urbanism? There’s really no message. There will be a sequel someday.” The sequel is yet to arrive, but if it does, let’s hope Spike Jonze is at the helm once again.

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4. ‘Drop’ – Pharcyde (Spike Jonze, 1995)

Back to back Spike Jonze. This mind-warping cut featured the South Central group performing their song backwards (yep, they had to learn their raps backwards!), and then replayed backwards to create the disorienting, WTF?! effect. An outstanding blend of pure inspiration and hard work that’s both surreal and fun. This really cool video explains how the ‘Drop’ was made. You should watch it.

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3. ‘Cry’ – Godley & Creme (Kevin Godley, Lol Creme, 1985)

I first saw this monochromatic classic at the age of about 10, on Dr Fox’s Video Jukebox, a short-lived, late-night ITV show which became defunct almost as soon as it was funct. The promo’s simple but brutally effective idea shows a succession of actors of all shapes and sizes miming the ballad’s plaintive lyrics direct to camera. The twist is that they are morphed into each other using a technique called analogue cross-fading, which creates some really disturbing imagery, and also underscores the universality of the song’s raw emotion. The same idea has been done since with higher budgets and greater slickness (see Michael Jackson’s ‘Black or White’), but never with the same aptness or gravitas.

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2. ‘Just’ – Radiohead (Jamie Thraves, 1995)

A man inexplicably lies down in the middle of London’s financial district. Scores of passers-by surround him to press him for an explanation, while Radiohead jam out their rocky ‘Just’ in an apartment above the city. The man resists, the crowd persists. Finally, the prone protagonist spills. What does he say? We’ll never know, but his whispered truths are so toxic that they cause all of London – in an astonishingly composed overhead tracking shot – to follow suit. The promo’s stark visuals and captivating plot thoroughly complement the dependably threatening obliquity of Yorke’s lyrics, and the end product lingers darkly in the mind like a half-remembered episode of The Twilight Zone.

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1. ‘Sugar Water’ – Cibo Matto (Michel Gondry, 1996)

A clever, intense and quietly disturbing promo from the creative genius that is Michel Gondry. ‘Sugar Water’ is a witty meditation on identity and the time/space continuum, and inspired the famous split-screen sequence from Roger Avary’s massively underrated Bret Easton Ellis adaptation The Rules of Attraction. Once seen, never forgotten, and you’ll want to watch it again and again.

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Want to join the conversation? Find us on Twitter @PPlasticHelmet and use the hashtag #MusicVideoWeek.

Music video week | Contributor Top 3 | Michael Mand

As part of Music Video Week here on PPH, we’ve asked our contributors to nominate their Top 3 music vids of all time along with a few words to explain their choices. Here are Michael Mand‘s choices. He can be followed on Twitter @Grindermand.

3. ‘Tomorrow’ – Morrissey (Zack Snyder, 1992)

A particular pattern has emerged in cinema in recent years, as film directors increasingly come from the world of music video, underlining the impact that the form has had since the launch of MTV thirty years ago. The suitability of this as a proving ground is debatable – McG’s video for the Basement Jaxx track ‘Where’s Your Head At?’ is far superior to his execrable feature film output – but there have been some successes.

Zack Snyder dabbled in both music video and advertising before making his full length debut with 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake and hitting pay dirt with 300, Watchmen and the forthcoming Superman reboot, Man of Steel. His first foray into the music world came with Morrissey’s 1992 track, ‘Tomorrow’; the single, tracking shot following our hero as he wanders the backstreets of Nice, his band in pursuit, singing direct to camera. Eschewing the special effect wows and irrelevant storylines of much MTV fare, Snyder succeeds in capturing Morrissey at his charismatic peak, all film star looks and semi-repressed sexuality.

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2. ‘Star Guitar’ – The Chemical Brothers (Michel Gondry, 2001)

Perhaps the most successful director to have combined work in both the music video and feature film formats is France’s Michel Gondry, who won an Oscar for the screenplay of 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Gondry has a formidable track record in the music world, having directed many of Bjork’s innovative videos, as well as memorable clips for the likes of Daft Punk and The White Stripes but, for me, his finest achievement is his accompanying film for The Chemical Brothers’ 2001 single, ‘Star Guitar’.

Taking its title from the sample of David Bowie’s ‘Starman’ around which it is based, ‘Star Guitar’ is an aural account of a train journey, a journey brilliantly mirrored by Gondry in his ground breaking video. Gondry himself filmed the view from the train between Nimes and Valence, taking the trip ten times to gather footage at different times of day, before digitally enhancing the continuous shot to ensure that each musical and rhythmic element of the track is reflected in the passing scenery. The result is a wonderful example of a music video working alongside, rather than distracting from a piece of music.

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1. ‘Atmosphere’ – Joy Division (Anton Corbijn, 1988)

A filmmaker from an entirely different background is Dutchman Anton Corbijn, who made his name during the 1980s as a photographer for the New Musical Express. Corbijn’s iconic, black-and-white shots of Joy Division and their singer Ian Curtis won him particular acclaim and ultimately led to him directing the 2007 Curtis biopic, Control.

In between, Corbijn was charged with directing the video for the 1988 re-release of Joy Division’s classic ‘Atmosphere’. Drawing on the visual style of his original photographs, the director created a spine-tingling tribute to Curtis, complete with strange obelisks, barren American landscapes (which somehow reflected the post-industrial Manchester wasteland of JD’s roots) and hooded figures resembling Star Wars’ Jawas.

The atmosphere (pun intended) of the clip perfectly mirrored the gloomy grandeur of the music, while the closing shot of the ‘Jawas’ carrying a huge Corbijn portrait of Curtis along a desolate beach was perhaps the final act in the singer’s canonisation. Rarely has an outsider been so responsible for the visual definition of a band.

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Want to join the conversation? Find us on Twitter @PPlasticHelmet and use the hashtag #MusicVideoWeek.


Taxi Driver gets Gondry’s “swedish” treatment

It’s never been in doubt that the best thing about Be Kind Rewind, Michel Gondry’s bittersweet ode to home videos and rental stores, was the “sweded” movies. These cheap yet charming remakes of the pop film canon filtered through the memories of Jack Black and Mos Def’s characters stand today as some of the most potent demonstrations of the French filmmaker’s boundless inventiveness and adorable D.I.Y aesthetics.

To mark the recent Parisian premiere of Martin Scorsese’s latest – the family-friendly Hugo  the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director delivered this cracking Christmas treat; a lovely lo-fi version of Marty’s most iconic (and least PC) work, Taxi Driver… with coloured pencils for bullets and en français s’il vous plait. Profiter: