A Look at Chris Cunningham’s Work and Achievements
hris Cunningham is an award winning English video artist and music video director. He was born on October 15, 1970 in Reading, Berkshire, but grew up in Suffolk. Chris has worked with several prominent artists in the music industry and has also directed several short films, commercials and other video art projects. Most of his work includes science fiction or horror themes.
Chris’ career began in the mid 1990′s when director Stanley Kubrick sought him out to work on his sci-fi film AI (later completed by Speilberg). Kubrick was so impressed with Chris’ work on the film Judge Dredd that he wanted him to design the leading child robot character in A.I. At the time, Chris had been working as a conceptual illustrator under the name “Chris Halls.” Cunningham spent a year working on the film before leaving to pursue his directing career.
In 1999, Chris directed Aphex Twin’s music video and short film “Windowlicker.” The ten minute long piece pokes fun at the contents of rap videos that frequently aired on MTV at the time. The video’s four minute introduction contains 127 uses of profanity and was restricted to nighttime play by most music channels. The controversial video was nominated for Best Video at the BRIT Awards in 2000.
Both “Windowlicker” and Aphex Twins’ previous music video for “Come to Daddy” have become Chris’ most well known works. The “Come to Daddy” music video won several awards including three CAD Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Video and Best Editing. It also received two silver awards at the 1998 D&AD Awards.
Chris Cunningham also directed Bjork’s “All Is Full of Love” music video, which won multiple MTV Video Music Awards, including Best Special Effects and Breakthrough Video. It was also nominated for Best Short Form Music Video at the 2000 Grammy Awards and is a permanent part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s film and video collection. “All Is Full of Love” is the first music video to win a gold award at the D&AD awards.
Adding to his list of credentials, Chris also directed Madonna’s 1998 video for “Frozen.” The piece was inspired by the films The Sheltering Sky and The English Patient and depicts Madonna as a dark witch who morphs into a black dog and a flock of crows. The video won the 1998 MTV Video Music Award for Best Special Effects.
While Chris may be known for directing music videos, he has also directed quite a few short films
In 2000, one of his first shorts, Flex, made its debut at the Royal Academy of Arts. Shortly after, it was shown at the Anthony d’Offay Gallery and went on to become a part of Apocalypse: Beauty & Horror in Contemporary Art. A portion of Flex was also a part of the 2007 Seduced: Art and Sex from Antiquity to Now exhibition. The fifteen minute long piece is a continuous loop of a nude male and female who float around in complete darkness. Throughout the short, the two are seen embracing at some points and beating each other during others.
In 2001, Chris debuted his short Monkey Drummer at the 49th International Exhibition of Art where the piece was a part of a compilation of his other works, including Flex and Bjork’s “All Is Full of Love.” Monkey Drummer is a two minute piece that features a robot of sorts with nine appendages and a monkey head who plays Aphex’s “Mt Saint Michel + Saint Michaels Mount” on the drums.
Between 2001 and 2004, Chris spent his weekends working on his experimental short film Rubber Johnny
The Rubber Johnny short film depicts a disfigured boy name Johnny, played by Cunningham, who is wheelchair bound and lives in a dark basement with his chihuahua. Cunningham has mentioned that the character of Johnny was influenced by his imagination of a morphing raver. Throughout the video Johnny dances to an Aphex track and even does some tricks with his wheelchair. Later on, the video becomes quite delusional and sporadic with scenes of Johnny’s face being smashed into glass and hiding behind a door to avoid beams of light.
In the late 1990′s, Chris worked on a handful of commercials, including the popular Playstation spot entitled “Mental Wealth.” The commercial featured a young Scottish girl with an oddly shaped head (similar in shape to a gray alien) and unusual eyes. Chris has also directed Gucci’s Flora commercial. Other notable commercial works include: Levis, Nissan, Telecom Italia and Orange.
Top 5 Chris Cunningham Videos
Chris Cunningham is a British music video director who got his big break in 1994. Chris’ talent was spotted by Stanley Kubrick after seeing his work in the film Judge Dredd. After a short stint designing animatronic test for a character in the film A.I., Chris decided to follow his dream of being a director. Warp Records would soon give Chris his chance at directing a music video for the Autechre. His career soon picked up and he has gone on to direct music videos for notable people including Madonna and Bjork. Chris is know for his futuristic style that often incorporates robots and the intersection between flesh/robotics.
The following are 5 of Chris’ best known and loved videos – by NO means comprehensive list (that is coming soon) but a great sampling:
Come To Daddy – Aphex Twin
Come To Daddy is a music video for the electronic uber kind ‘Aphex Twin’. The style of the video sticks out in Chris’ portfolio because it shows that his work, even without words, can inflict horror among viewers. The video starts off with an old woman walking her dog in what appears to be an abandoned city. The dog awakens an old television set on the ground and a man is seen screaming on the unplugged TV. This morphs into a spirit being set free and wreaking havoc among the desolate city. The horror comes when children start destroying the city and the old woman is screamed at as the apparition in the television set pulls itself through the screen. This video propelled Chris because it showed how his work played off of viewer’s fears.
Light Aircraft On Fire – The Auteurs
This is one of the first videos Chris made for The Auteurs. Chris has never been afraid to be different and it truly shows in this video. He incorporates some very interesting aspects that are truly unique to his directing style. The video features two main figures, the man singing and a little innocent girl. The singer has very interesting qualities. His one eye is drastically different from the other and the video often accentuates his features by placing a magnify glass in front of him. The little girl, although sweet in nature, has these evil black eyes. She is seen holding flowers and blowing bubbles. As the video progresses, viewers will notice that the band is comprised of animals. When suddenly, the little girl kicks over the instruments and breaks the singer’s guitar.
Cunningham’s creative side can be seen in Monkey Drummer. The video is rather short, but includes one main feature: a robotic monkey. This monkey is rather human-esque and has six arms, two legs and of course a monkey head. The monkey is a bit offsetting because its arms seem to all move independently of one another. The music is very uptempo and the animations of the monkey are spot on, albeit a little too realistic for some viewers.
Frozen features singer Madonna placed in the middle of the desert. This video shows Cunningham’s ability to play off of the environment in his videos. Madonna is a witch in the video who displays her many interesting traits. Suddenly, she falls in the dry desert floor and breaks into a flock of crows. Throughout the video she seems to split into mirror images of herself that dance with her. Towards the middle of the video, she sees a dog and begins to float into the air. During this scene the clouds in the sky are rapidly moving as the nighttime engulfs the scene. It is an exceptional video that exhibited his creative side outside of the horror and sci/fi work he is known for.
All Is Full of Love
This video was made for Bjork and starts off with a robot laying down. The robot continues to sing the song as her robot body is being finished and she slowly starts being able to move around more. The robot goes on to meet another robot and they seem to be very interested in each other. This video gave Chris the recognition he deserves because of the multitude of awards it won and was nominated for.
The video won two MTV Video Music Awards. One award was for Breakthrough Video and the other was for Best Special Effects in a video. It was also nominated for Best Short Form Music Video at the Grammy Awards. MTV2 also listed the video at #1 of their top 100 Best Videos Ever list.