The Top Ten Spike Jonze Music Videos (That I Know Of)
10. Buddy Holly (Weezer)
Well, it's on here, but rather begrudgingly. It's like how people feel obliged to include Romeo & Juliet as one of Shakespeare's top plays just because it's so famous, when the Bard really did a lot of better stuff. Sure, it's a cool idea and whatnot, but this is one of those videos that seems more dated the further away we get from it. Along those same lines, Jonze's famous video for Sabotage isn't even on the list, so I'll spare the suspense right now. Call it the Forrest Gump syndrome --- melding old and modern footage is so commonplace nowadays and people can whip it up on their iMacs. Plus, I think Arrested Development now holds the record for the most Happy Days nostalgia.
9. Crush With Eyeliner (R.E.M.)
Here's an interesting concept: have a group of Japanese teenagers lip-sync to the music and play off of ethnic stereotypes since these guys don't look like 'real' rock stars. The added joke is that R.E.M. are four of the least rock star-looking guys of all time. By the way, Sofia Coppola and Spike Jonze used to be a couple. I wonder if she got the idea to explore Japanese youth culture from this video? Yet another source she ripped off Lost In Translation from.
8. It's Oh So Quiet (Bjork)
Spoiler alert: If I ever make a listamania about the top ten most bizarre careers in music, Bjork will have a high ranking. I've always had a nagging feeling that Bjork is putting us all on, and she's actually from Decatur, Illinois or something and talks like Roseanne in real life.
Presuming my theory is incorrect, however, is there any crazier possible musician-director combination than Bjork and Jonze? This video is just a lot of fun. An elaborate song and dance number can make any video worthwhile.
7. Y Control (The Yeah Yeah Yeahs)
This video is about as messed up as it gets. All it needs is Maggie Simpson taking out her pacifier and telling us that this is indeed a disturbing universe. Why is it on the list? Well, it has a countdown of its own, so obviously it deserves a ranking. Second, that scene with the little girl chopping off that other kid's hand made me laugh out loud (I'm a weird person). You might think Karen O's ridiculously short skirt appeals to my shallower side, but this doesn't do it for me. A woman in a short skirt isn't in and of itself attractive if the woman isn't bringing much to the table to begin with. See: all six seasons of Ally McBeal.
6. Drop (The Pharcyde)
The Pharcyde could release this video tomorrow, and it would still seem just as fresh and creative. Moreover, it would surprise a lot of people since I'm not sure the Pharcyde ever actually existed. Go ahead, name one other song of theirs without consulting Google first. So there!
5. Elektrobank (Chemical Brothers)
Here's something weird for you. The gymnast in the video? It's Sofia friggin' Coppola. She and Jonze were dating at the same, and thus she ended up cast as the heroic Kerri Strug-esque gymnast conquering Mother Russia. It's pretty clear she doesn't actually do her own stunts in the video, however, and thus my search for an actual talent that Sofia Coppola possesses continues.
Remember back around 1997 when electronic music was supposed to be the next big thing in rock, and bands like the Chemical Brothers and the Prodigy were going to dominate the charts? Uh, yeah. On the bright side, the brief electronica era at least provided some awesome music videos. Since the music was so repetitive, the videos demanded interesting imagery and/or plots to keep people interested. The videos were the actual attraction, and the music basically just served as the score.
You can mark Jonze as a great director because a) he made rhythmic gymnastics seem interesting and b) he somehow makes Sofia's nose seem smaller than it does today. That is arguably the most impressive technical achievement of his career.
4. Electrolite (R.E.M.)
I can't think of R.E.M. without the phrase 'Hey! Remember the 90's?!' popping up in my head, but I'll continue. Jonze can't take full credit here, as it was co-directed by some guy named Peter Care. Nonetheless, this video contains enough crazy shit and creative ideas for about twelve videos. I never realized it before, but R.E.M. ex-drummer Bill Berry can be added to my list of People Who Look Like My Pal Matt Larkin, along with Noel Gallagher.
1997 marked a turning point in Jonze's video directing career. Before that year, his videos were notable for technical achievement. After videos like this one and Da Funk, he took a decided turn towards the 'what the hell?' concept. It was probably a smart move, given that a video like Buddy Holly seems blase by today's standards.
My list of the top ten Peter Care videos will be the topic of Listamania MMMMCMXCVIII.
3. Weapon of Choice (Fatboy Slim)
The brilliance of the Airplane! and Naked Gun films is in the casting. Modern fans may not realize this, but at the time of the original Airplane, Leslie Nielsen was known as a dramatic actor. Same with the likes of Robert Stack and George Kennedy. Their serious images made the jokes all the funnier, since they were able to spoof themselves as well as the gene at the same time. To put it in a modern context, imagine a Naked Gun-style comedy starring Ben Kingsley, Lawrence Tierney and the guy who plays Bill Buchanan on 24. I think I'd pay $100 for a ticket to that movie.
This is my roundabout way of discussing Christopher Walken's career arc. It's hard to pinpoint exactly where Walken turned from serious character actor into caricature (but a self-aware caricature, which makes it somehow even more awesome). The obvious turning point is his hosting gig on SNL in 2000 that featured the immortal 'More Cowbell' skit and (in my opinion) the even funnier Census sketch with Tim Meadows. But remember, he was the villain in Wayne's World II seven years prior, and his legendary monologue in Pulp Fiction was delivered in 1994. And he had been hosting SNL for years even prior to 1993. And it wasn't until the mid-90's that the Christopher Walken impression became a staple of b-list comedians. Seriously, any time Kevin Pollak or Jay Mohr are on a late-night talk show, there is a better than 80% chance they'll be asked to bust out the Walken.
This video clearly takes some inspiration from Walken's SNL hosting gigs, as Walken begins each of his appearances with a song and dance routine in the opening monologue. Walken began his career as a dancer in musical theatre, and thus has always had a soft spot for the soft shoe. Ergo, it's only fitting that he be featured in this video. I have no doubt that Walken did all of the actual dancing, and the stunt double was just used for the flying scenes. Unless Christopher Walken can fly, which would be not unexpected. There is a very short list of celebrities who could've taken Walken's place in this video and been just as awesome. Danny Trejo is one. Al Pacino is another. Maybe Warren Beatty, but he's been in enough comedies that the idea of him being funny isn't a totally foreign concept.
If I could travel back in time to any point in human history, it would be to the meeting when Jonze pitched this concept to Walken.
Jonze: So, you're going to be dancing around this empty hotel lobby.
Walken: Can I. Choreograph my own. Dancing?
Jonze: Yeah! Definitely!
Walken: You know. I used to be a dancer in. My early days. In. Theatre.
Jonze: That's awesome!
Walken: Wowie zowie!
2. Da Funk (Daft Punk)
MTV and MuchMusic have degraded to the point that it's much harder for a band to break through with a video, instead of a song. So many bands break via a hit single that gets popular due to iTunes that the idea of a song breaking on MTV due to a clever video seems almost quaint nowadays. Rather than let this degenerate into the 339, 268, 256th post in internet history about how modern-day music video channels suck, let me instead point out that nobody from my generation will ever forget Da Funk. Or, as it's perhaps better known as, 'the dog video.'
As I mentioned earlier with Elektrobank, electronica led to a lot of story-form music videos, and this one was basically a short film. Charles the dog is the epitome of controversy. On the one hand, you felt sorry for the poor guy --- he's on crutches, he has the face of a dog, he's clearly had a few bad breaks in life. You want him to get together with that girl. But then again, like any tragic hero, he has a fatal flaw. He cannot turn down the music on his boombox. Shakespeare himself couldn't have written a more bittersweet love story. In fact, the deleted act from Merchant of Venice where Shylock can't turn down his lute is just a horribly written collection of scenes altogether. Ultimately, while we sympathize with Charles, we can't fully root for him. Despite all his qualities, he is still at his core one of those fucking jackasses who just won't turn their music down in public. Those people are loathsome.
Daft Punk liked the characters so much they brought them back in the self-directed video for their song Fresh (it's also up on YouTube). Daft Punk, by the way, are one of the most lovably eccentric bands out there. These guys go to comical lengths to hide their identities. They've appeared for interviews with their faces covered in piercings, covered in black hoods or wearing elaborate robot helmets. In fact, for a brief time their gimmick was that they actually were robots, sort of like how the White Stripes' gimmick was that they were siblings or that Nirvana's gimmick was that they were talented.
1. Praise You (Fatboy Slim)
Well, this pretty clearly has to be number one. Back in high school, we had one of those MuchMusic video dances replete with smoke machines and video walls, and I managed to match Jonze's entire routine by following along with the video as it played on the big screen. In a related story, I went to these dances alone. And left alone.
These facts have to be common knowledge by now, but I'll repeat them for posterity. Yes, that is Fatboy Slim as the guy who pokes his head into the frame in the last scene. Yes, that actually is Spike Jonze himself as the leader of the dance troupe. No, they're not an actual dance troupe, it's Jonze and some friends of his who choreographed a routine. Yes, it was shot in front of an actual theatre, so all of the reactions from the people in line are real.