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Palm Pictures presents
The Work of Director Spike Jonze (1994-2003)

"Until he started making videos for me, I hated videos. I'm not a fan of pop videos; I think all the good ones have been done. The bloke who was commissioning the Rockafella Skank video gave me Spike's CD, and I'm like, 'Ah, all the videos that I have enjoyed in the last two years have all been made by this bloke.'"
- Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim)

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: October 26, 2003

Stars: Spike Jonze
Other Stars: Loomis, Mike Diamond, Adam Yauch, Adam Horovitz, Tre, Thomas Bangalter, Guy-Manuel de Homen-Christo, Tony Maxwell, Fatlip, Brian Bell, Rivers Cuomo, Patrick Wilson, Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim), J. Mascis, Puff Daddy, Conrad Sokalski, Jeremy Butler, Christopher Walken, Tom Rowlands, Ed Simons, Björk, Sofia Coppola, Roman Coppola, Torrance Community Dance Group, Richard Koufey
Director: Spike Jonze, Roman Coppola, Lance Bangs

Manufacturer: Metropolis
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language)
Run Time: Approx. 200 min.
Release Date: October 28, 2003
UPC: 660200306823
Genre: compilation


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AB+B B+

DVD Review

Often when highbrow critics hear a former music video director has made a feature, they roll their eyes and bemoan the death of classic cinema. People like Tarsem (The Cell) are said to have made films that lavish attention on the visuals while ignoring the artistry of story and character. Mention MTV to a film professor and he'll go into a ten-minute tirade about schizophrenic editing.

Never mind that I often enjoy the work of these directors (say what you will about The Cell, I'll just watch with the sound off). A select few have bucked the trend and managed to find both mainstream success and critical respect. Take Spike Jonze, for example. The notoriously camera-shy director who made Being John Malkovich and Adaptation got his start in the early 1990s working on videos for indie bands like The Breeders, Weezer, and Sonic Youth. If you only know him from his feature film work, you're missing out.

Thankfully, Palm Pictures has created the new series of "Directors Label" DVDs, featuring short films and music videos from three influential directors. Chris Cunningham is known for his eerie video for Madonna's Frozen. Michel Gondry frequently collaborates with Björk and has directed two films based on scripts by Charlie Kaufman (Human Nature and the upcoming Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). And Spike Jonze, well, he's not only the guy who made the first really great Beastie Boys video (Sabotage), but also the Weezer clip that parodies Happy Days. He's also rumored to be the leader of a small dance troupe (shhh, that's supposed to be a secret).

The Work of Spike Jonze is collected on a two-sided DVD 9. Side A features music videos, while Side B is loaded with short films and documentaries.

Side A: The Videos

California, by Wax
This video, filmed in one continuous shot, features a man on fire running down the street. Shot in slow motion, the two-minute clip was expertly timed and filmed in 12 seconds. Because really, how long would you want to be on fire? The shot on the DVD's cover is of Burning Dan, the insane stuntman and star of this video.

Sure Shot, by the Beastie Boys
One of the least inspired videos on the disc, this is a fairly straightforward rap-to-the-camera piece made palatable by Jonze's gritty photography and the Beastie Boys' manic energy.

Drop, by The Pharcyde
This complicated video is shot in two directions: the rappers seem to move forward while everything else moves backwards. Accomplishing this required the rappers to walk, jump, and speak backwards so the film could be run in reverse. It's pretty cool.

Cannonball, by The Breeders
Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth co-directed this garish performance piece that features the band in front of a bunch of mirrors, and with a lot of lipstick. Kim and Kelley Deal perfect the standing-as-still-as-possible-while-rocking-out style of playing that will become a template for hundreds of emo groups for years to come. Oh, and there is also a bowling ball rolling around, because duh.

Sabotage, by the Beastie Boys
This influential piece earned Jonze his reputation. Filmed guerrilla-style in back alleys and without permits, it features the Boys in a parody of a cheesy 1970s cop show.

Da Funk, by Daft Punk
The grungy realism of Being John Malkovich is visible in this depressing, surreal slice-of-life that follows a talking dog (actor Tony Maxwell in a giant suit) around on a lonely night in New York City.

What's Up Fatlip?, by Fatlip
Rapper Fatlip wrote this song after leaving The Pharcyde. The video perfectly captures the lyrics, which basically do away with the rap stereotypes about living large with lots of gold and girls. On the commentary, Fatlip says he didn't like the video at first because it was too real.

Undone (The Sweater Song), by Weezer
The first of two included Weezer videos is a gliding single take of the band performing in double-time, slowed down to slow motion, so it looks like regular speed, but feels off somehow. A unique take on the typical performance clip.

Praise You, by Fatboy Slim
This popular clip (it won several MTV awards and was voted the 16th video of all time on VH1) features Jonze himself as "Richard Koufey," the director of the Torrance Dance Group. Jonze and crew performed their bizarre dance for a group of unsuspecting moviegoers waiting in line at a theater. Jonze stays completely in character throughout. Roman Coppola is the credited director, with the Torrance Dance Group.

Feel the Pain, by Dinosaur Jr.
Some guys play a hole of golf that takes them all over New York. They also beat people with their clubs. Then I laugh.

If I Only Had a Brain, by MC 900ft Jesus
A guy sees an ad for a brain in a magazine, so he ships himself to the company in a cardboard box. It doesn't go very well.

Sky's the Limit, by the Notorious B.I.G.
This rap video send-up (produced after Biggie's death) recasts Puff Daddy, little Kim, Biggie, and crew as pre-teens (a la Jodie Foster's Bugsy Malone). It looks just like a Hype Williams glorification of rapper excess, but with that special Spike touch.

Weapon of Choice, by Fatboy Slim
Christopher Walken dances around a hotel and keeps a completely straight face the entire time. Possibly the best dance video ever made.

Buddy Holly, by Weezer
The aforementioned Happy Days homage, this clip features the band performing at Arnold's Drive-In. Sit on it, bucko! A marvel of editing and compositing, it makes use of a number of clips from vintage Happy Days episodes.

Elektrobank, by the Chemical Brothers
Hey, look, it's Sofia Coppola (Jonze's girlfriend), and she's playing a high school gymnast with a Bella Karoly-esque trainer. Shot in the style of a John Hughes after school special, the end features a great Kerri Strug reference.

It's Oh So Quiet, by Björk
My favorite video of the bunch anticipates Björk's musical turn in Dancer in the Dark as she participates in an impromptu musical with passersby and inanimate objects. She reveals on the commentary that Ernie from Sesame Street is playing the dancing mailbox.

Side B: Rarities and Documentaries

Rarities includes a number of short films and video clips.

How They Get There (2:40)
Two people play a game of Mirror, Mirror while walking down the street. Then there's a car crash, with comedic effect.

Mark Paints (1:02)
Painter Mark Gonzales paints in fast motion. Eh.

The Oasis Video That Never Happened (5:56)
Spike Jonze had a plan for an Oasis video. Oasis didn't like it (maybe Noel and Liam were fighting that day). See the abandoned footage here.

The Woods (1:46)
In this excerpt from Mouse, a Girl Skateboard movie, a guy skates around in the woods.

Rockafella Skank (4:33)
The video of Spike dancing solo that inspired the Praise You video.

Three long form Documentaries are also included:

What's Up Fatlip? (The Documentary) (31 min)
This piece follows rapper Fatlip around town during that making of the What's Up, Fatlip? video. I guess everyone thought he'd gone crazy after leaving The Pharcyde. This piece might not assuage fears, since he spends much of it in a diaper and a trench coat.

Amarillo by Morning (29 min)
While shooting a commercial in Texas, Jonze met two high school kids that wanted to be bull riders despite the fact that the gangster kids in their school made fun of them mercilessly. So he made a funny, kind of sad documentary about them.

Torrance Rises (34 min)
This Waiting for Guffman-style parody piece (or is it?) follows Spike in character as Richard Koufey as he takes the Torrance Dance Group to perform at the MTV Video Music Awards. I've listened to the song's commentary, and I've watched this, and I still don't know if the Torrance dancers knew Spike was just playing a part. I hope so. Otherwise, it's kind of mean.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Video quality varies from short to short, as many were shot on different film stocks or intentionally downgraded in quality for artistic effect. But all the music videos look great, with clean prints that nicely reproduce directorial intent. The documentaries are a little harder to watch, as they were shot either on video or grainy 16 mm stock, but the quality always seems to serve the material.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English Stereono


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in basic stereo throughout. The songs sound nice, with rich, fully produced sound. It would be nice to hear a more enveloping music mix, but stereo is how most people listen to music anyway, I suppose. The shorts and documentaries have varied sound quality (all of these are also presented in stereo), as sometimes speech is a bit muffled or hard to make out, but it seems like the source materials are to blame in these instances (particularly the Torrance Rises documentary).

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Music/Song Access with 16 cues and remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Work of Director Chris Cunningham, The Work of Director Michel Gondry, Yeah Right! A Girl Skateboards Film, Adaptation: SE DVD
2 Featurette(s)
19 Feature/Episode commentaries by Loomis of Wax, Beastie Boys, Tre of Pharcyde, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homen-Christo of Daft Punk, Tony Maxwell, Fatlip, Brian Bell and Rivers Cuomo and Patrick Wilson of Weezer, Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim), J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., P
Packaging: Keep Case
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Special running commentary on select videos from the Beastie Boys
Extras Review: Palm has done a wonderful job with the first volume of their new "Directors" series. Both sides of the DVD include unique and mood-establishing animated menus, and the presentation is perfect for the material. There aren't a lot of traditional extras, but what is included will take hours to wade through. The disc comes packaged in a nifty clear keepcase that's as thick as a double alpha to make room for a hefty, color insert/photo book, which includes a lengthy interview with Spike Jonze (who otherwise doesn't appear on the disc in a behind-the-scenes fashion). Palm has a lot to live up to with their next two releases in the series.

The bulk of the extras are in the form of commentary tracks. Of the 16 videos, 14 include tracks, and a few include two (or even three). There are 19 in all. Participants vary from the musical talent (Weezer, Puff Daddy, Björk), to the producers, to actors, but almost all of them are interesting and worthwhile in terms of what they add to an understanding of Spike Jonze's directorial style and his creative process. Most of the commentaries include brief video lead-ins and lead-outs with the track participants (Fatboy Slim was recorded in his bathtub).

The Beastie Boys comment not only on their two included videos, but also on several others they really had nothing to do with. Their comments are kind of funny, but meandering too. Don't ask me why these extra tracks are included. Beastie Boys fans might want to watch them, but others can probably safely pass them up.

Side A also includes a few short featurettes. The Interviews is a 13-minute clip of the musicians talking about the videos. It seems like these segments were edited from the commentary sessions (the video footage matches the lead-ins), but there is little repetition. Making of Drop with The Pharcyde runs six minutes and follows the complicated process of shooting a video in reverse (the group had to learn to speak backwards phonetically so the lyrics would match their lip movements).

Each music video also includes a screen of text info that lists the production credits. There are trailers for the next two "Directors" DVDs (The Work of Director Chris Cunningham, The Work of Director Michel Gondry) as well as the skateboarding video Yeah Right!. Members of DVD Fans Against Double-Dipping will be disappointed to see the final trailer, a teaser for Columbia TriStar's special edition re-release of Adaptation.

Two quibbles: No subtitles are included (understandable), and none of the material is time-coded (very annoying).

On the strength of the commentaries alone, this disc earns high marks, but the impressive presentation (particularly the classy insert) raises the grade even higher.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

The Work of Director Spike Jonze is an intriguing and diverse collection of shorts from a filmmaker who defies the conceptions of a mere music video director. This exhaustive portfolio of videos and short films is filled with endlessly entertaining creations from a very unique mind. And who doesn't love that Fatboy Slim video?

 


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