Director's Series, Vol. 1 - The Work of Director Spike Jonze
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From Spike Jonze, the acclaimed director of the smash films "Adaptation" & "Being John Malkovich" comes Directors Label: The Work of Director Spike Jonze. This 2-sided DVD is the first time the bulk of Spike's non-theatrical work has ever been compiled o
When you experience The Work of Director Spike Jonze, you enter a world where anything can happen and frequently does. From the innovative director of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation., this superior compilation of music videos, documentaries, interviews, and early rarities offers abundant proof that Jonze is the real deal--a filmmaker ablaze with fresh ideas and fresh ways of filming them. While collectors will regret that only 16 of Jonze's 40+ music videos are included here, this glorious sampling represents the cream of Jonze's bumper crop, and for sheer ingenuity, it doesn't get any better than this. From the Beastie Boys' popular TV cop-spoof "Sabotage" to the intensely disciplined backwards-filming technique of the Pharcyde's "Drop," it's clear that Jonze has an affinity for inventive street theater, culminating in the sad/happy vibe of Fatlip's introspective "What's Up Fatlip?" and the pop-jazz effervescence of Bjork's "It's Oh So Quiet." Technical wizardry is also a Jonze trademark, especially in the elaborate "Happy Days" nostalgia of Weezer's "Buddy Holly" and the graceful fly-wire dancing of Christopher Walken to Fatboy Slim's pulsing "Weapon of Choice." No doubt about it: Every one of these videos is an award-worthy testament to Jonze's ability to combine hard work with fun-loving spontaneity.
Accompanied by an informative 52-page booklet, this two-sided DVD (one in a three-disc series that includes the equally dazzling work of Michel Gondry and Chris Cunningham) also explores Jonze's artistic evolution with an entertaining selection of video rarities and three half-hour documentaries, the best being a revealing and very funny interview with rapper Fatlip after his dismissal from the Pharcyde. Commentaries for the music videos are consistently worthwhile, supporting Jonze's own belief that his best videos were made for artists whose work he genuinely enjoyed. Lucky for us, his pleasure is infectious. --Jeff Shannon
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If you like music videos or short films or the whole MTV aesthetic, or if you're interested in the work of young talented directors, then you'll dig this DVD, and the others in the series, by Chris Cunningham and Michel Gondry.
Jonze put onto this DVD what he thought was his best work. For someone of Jonze's calibre, that is an impressive list indeed: it includes the Beastie Boys' Sabotage (1994), which he made to look like the opening credits of an imaginary 70's cop show, and which won him a swag of awards; Weezer's Buddy Holly (1994), starring the band playing on the set of Al's Drive-In, the diner from Happy Days, and skillfully cut into scenes from the original TV series; Björk's It's Oh So Quiet (1995), a musical song-and-dance inspired by Busby Berkeley; Wax's California (1995), a memorable 12-second slo-mo shot of a burning man running down the street, with cameo apearances from Axl Rose and Sofia Coppola's niece, Gia; Daft Punk's Da Funk (1996), in the form of a slightly surreal short film starring a dog (a common theme in Jonze's work) called Charles walking around New York City with a boombox; Fatboy Slim's Praise You (1998), starring the Torrance Community Dance Group, which was voted the best video of all time by MTV watchers; and Weapon of Choice (2000), also by Fatboy Slim, and starring the utterly terrifying Christopher Walken daintily tap-dancing around a Los Angeles hotel.
Also a noted documentary filmmaker, Jonze has included 3 of his documentaries. The first, What's Up Fatlip?, is a candid look at Derrick "Fatlip" Stewart, a former member of The Pharcyde, the LA hip-hop outfit best known for their 1996 single Drop (the video is, of course, directed by Jonze and included on this DVD), and is, frankly, not interesting for most viewers, although it's quite funny. The second documentary, Amarillo By Morning, a day-in-the-life style look at a group of young suburban cowboys, is a fascinating and funny look at the fresh generation of a gently fading American tradition.
The last documentary, though, is by far the cream of the crop. The 34-minute long Torrance Rises follows the Torrance Community Dance Group as they prepare for, rehearse for, travel to, and finally, receive a standing ovation at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1999. Nobody can watch this film without falling completely in love with Richard Koufey and the rest of these innocent, unself-conscious amateur dancers who were half pushed and half lept onto the world's TVs and VCRs. In my opinion, it is worth the price of the DVD just for this.
The DVD also includes five 'Rarities'. The first of these are two short films, Mark Paints (1995) and How They Get There (1996), both starring Jonze's friend Mark Gonzales, an artist best known for his work on skateboard decks. Mark Paints is a short, quirky look at the artistic process and the small problems that can interfere. How They Get There is an enormously funny and original piece, excecuted with Jonze's inimitable finess.
The Oasis Video That Never Happened (1997) is a reel that Jonze put together when Brit rock band Oasis asked Jonze to do the video to Stand By Me. When he showed them his favourite ideas, the band aparently "wasn't feeling it," and Jonze was fired. He went ahead and put together the best ideas and shots he'd collected in his preparations, and they became this six-minute long piece remeniscent of the video for Cake's Short Skirt, Long Jacket. This one will leave you grinning.
Also included are Richard Koufey's audition tape for Fatboy Slim, recorded to Rockafella Skank (1998), a must-see for anyone who enjoyed Praise You, and The Woods, a fairly ordinary excerpt from a skate film Jonze worked on called Mouse, presumably also featuring the ubiquitous Mark Gonzales. There are interviews with some of the musicians featured on the disc, a very interesting making-of of the extremely technical video for The Pharcyde's Drop, and the Beastie Boys's (very funny) running commentary on a selection of the featured music videos. There are also four easter eggs hidden around the menus - I won't spoil the surprise, but they're definately worth looking for.
I came to it from the other direction. Having seen Being John Malkovich and Adaptation (Superbit Collection), I wanted to learn more about Spike Jonze. On that score, this disk fails miserably. It basically contains a lot of his early works, music videos and longer experimental pieces (30 - 60 minutes), but has neither analysis of his work or interviews with Jonze.
For me, the most enjoyable (and interesting) piece on the disk was a 30-min. mockumentary about the fictional Torrance Community Dance Group that outclasses anything Christopher Guest (This Is Spinal Tap (Special Edition),Waiting for Guffman,Best in Show and A Mighty Wind) has done. The difference lies in Jonze's integration of real people and places with the fictional ones, so there's always the open question of what is real.
I have since done a Wikipedia search under "Praise You" and "Fatboy Slim," which produced a useful discussion of what was going on in the piece on the Torrance Community Dance Group. Recommended for those unfamiliar with Jonze.