Michel Gondry: A Look At The Extraordinary Music Video Pioneer and Filmmaker
Pioneering film and music director Michel Gondry is notable for creating artistic works that are anything but mediocre. His childlike imagery and innovative, truly groundbreaking and inventive approaches to motion, film, and animation raised the bar of what anyone could achieve in a short amount of time. In fact, his groundbreaking films and music videos have maintained a solid spot in the minds of most viewers. With his camera antics and extraordinary effects, his works have become timeless and recognized in all parts of the world.
How It All Started – Gondry The Creative Prodigy
Michel Gondry was born on May 8, 1963 in the bustling city of Versailles, France. His grandfather, Constant Martin, was a famed inventor and had a huge influence to Michel’s artistry. The clavioline, one of the earliest synthesizers, was among the many works that Martin created. With the support and encouragement from his family, Gondry developed a passion for music and the arts. He had a clear vision and drive for success, and was determined to pursue a career in film-making. His goal was to set himself apart from the conventional filmmakers of his time.
Gondry explored his musical talents when he formed a punk rock band with his sibling and some friends. He was the band’s drummer, and he created music videos that were beyond ordinary. He also collaborated with his brothers in making short films, where they applied novel techniques to produce impressive results.
Into The Music Scene
He began making waves in the music industry when he directed videos for Oui Oui, a French rock band that he and his friends had formed. His extraordinary style captured the attention of several music artists including Bjork. She was amazed with Gondry’s fresh and original ideas, and she wanted a whole new technique for her upcoming music videos. The two artists collaborated on the video for the song “Human Behavior”, which was a part of Bjork’s solo debut album. This extraordinary video aired in 1993 and stunned millions of viewers worldwide. The outlandish images complemented the artist’s eccentric musical style, and this resulted to a long-term, professional relationship between Bjork and Gondry.
The collaboration with Bjork was a huge success, and Gondry directed seven of her music videos. This visionary director has also sparked an interest in many rock bands and solo artists. His application of the morphing technique in many of his videos sustained popularity throughout the 1990′s. Gondry also worked with famous artists and bands such as Kylie Minogue, Daft Punk, The Vines, Radiohead, Beck, The Chemical Brothers, Steriogram, Rolling Stones, and The White Stripes.
From Music To Film
Gondry earned recognition with his outstanding music videos, and even pioneered several techniques in films and television. He introduced the “bullet time” technique, which was adapted in the futuristic film “The Matrix”. Gondry also worked on various television commercials for Gap, Inc., BMW, and Smirnoff Vodka among several other renowned companies.
While he maintained an excellent reputation in the music industry, Gondry decided to explore the world of filmmaking. His first film, Human Nature, was a comedy that received mixed reviews. While the film was highly creative and original, some people found it too odd and overwhelming.
Two years after, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was released. This wildly creative and humorous film featured a modern-day romance that captured the hearts of the public. In 2005, Gondry shared a Best Original Screenplay award with his co-screenwriters Pierre Bismuth and Charlie Kaufman. The film also won him the Best Director Award from the Toronto Film Critics Association, in 2004.
After the big success of his second film, Gondry continued to direct a number of films including the Science of Sleep, which was another blockbuster movie. Just a couple of weeks before the film’s release, he was already working on his next feature, a comedy entitled “Be Kind Rewind”. He also directed Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, a musical documentary about the famous comedian.
Michel Gondry’s Other Notable Works and Achievements
Gondry continued to discover and apply the latest techniques as he worked on music videos, documentaries, and films. In 2005 to 2006, he was a part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an Artist in Residence. He also had an important part in the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, where he was tasked to be the jury head for the short film competition.
Top 5 Michel Gondry Music Videos!
Michel Gondry’s music video career started in the late 80′s when he directed many videos for the French band Oui Oui, with whom he played drums. It was these videos that caught the attention of Icelandic songstress Bjork, who requested he direct the music video for her song “Human Behaviour” This was the first of many videos he directed for Bjork and throughout the 90′s and 00′s he directed a stream of critically acclaimed videos for bands artists such as Radiohead, Beck, The Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk and The White Stripes. The French director’s innovative videos are noted for their surrealism as well as editing and camera trickery.
The thing about Michel Gondry’s music videos is that there is no such thing as a bad Michel Gondry Video.
If however, you are completely new to the man, here is a rundown of 5 of the best and most popular videos directed by Gondry.
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1. Bjork – Army Of Me
Gondry had previously worked with Bjork on the video for Human Behaviour. For their second collaboration Gondry directed the video for Army Of Me. Of the many Gondry/Bjork videos this is perhaps the most unnerving. It features Bjork driving a tanker truck that has teeth at the front and a man frozen in on the way to the dentists, that turns out to be a gorilla who wants to get a diamond out of her mouth that she wasn’t even aware was there.
Not only is this video notable for Gondry’s wicked sense of surrealism and being able to tell a full story, but it also shows how much detail he puts into every second. Towards the end Bjork is about to set off a bomb in a museum, but the museum is full of pointless art. One ingenious bit of detail in particular is the picture that has transfixed a man – it is a painting of a man standing in a gallery looking at a painting!!
2. The White Stripes – Fell In Love With A Girl
No Michel Gondry Music Video list would be complete without mentioning this classic. Even if you don’t know it by name you will by the mention of one word – LEGO! Fell In Love With A Girl was the first of many videos that Gondry worked with the 2 piece. This was actually by accident as Jack White had been interested in working with the director of Beck’s “Devil’s Haircut”, Mark Romanek, but their record company hired Gondry by mistake. In the end though White didn’t mind as he was a fan of Gondry and Beck’s video “Deadweight”
The video is like stop motion animation of Meg and Jack White performing in that it was shot frame by frame and featured LEGO rebuilding. This was often in a very complicated manner to give the illusion of movement. The video also cleverly matches the colours that The White Stripes always dress in and use on their CD artwork – red, white and black.
3. Radiohead – Knives Out
This video features Thom Yorke at a hospital bedside occupied by his partner (played by Emma De Caunes. Imagine the game of operation done for real with real doctors and that is pretty much what you get from this video. Doctors work on the female patient and take all her organs out one by one like the classic board game, as Thom Yorke towards the end turns into a skeleton with a huge heart instead of a head. Gondry has explained that the video is not connected to the song’s lyrics as many have suggested, but that it is autobiographical and a recollections of an ex-girlfriend. Another notable thing is that the video was shot in one take, which remarkable considering the amount of scene changes.
4. The Chemical Brothers – Star Guitar
As much as Gondry is famous for his surrealist approach to music videos, this video shows a more subtle side to his mastery. If you were to watch this video without really paying attention to it, you could be forgiven for thinking it was just the view from a fast moving train and nothing else. However, you would be wrong as it is actually an intricately edited piece of audio and visual synchronization. Every piece of the background, be it pedestrians, electricity pylons, trees and buildings appear in perfect timing with the beat, melody and the other elements of the song. To achieve this and the differing light gradients throughout the video, Gondry shot the journey from Nimes to Valence in France 10 times.
Before making the video, Michel used graph paper to plot the synchronization and modelled the scenery in the video using tennis shoes, glasses, book, tapes, forks and oranges!
5. Daft Punk – Around The World
To finish off the list we have this visual masterpiece. Similar to Star Guitar, this awe-inspired work of choreographed dance features a dancer for every part of the song. It features 4 robots walking in a circle, four athletes walking up and down stairs, four female synchronized swimmers on a different set of stairs, four skeletons dancing in what is meant to be the centre of the record and four mummies dancing in time to the drums.
In a fuller explanation, Gondry has noted that the robots are singing voice, the athletes represent the ascending and descending bass line, the fact that the swimmers or disco girls are female represents the high octave keyboard, with the itchy dance of the skeletons representing the guitar and the mummies representing the drum machine. Interestingly the costumes used in the video were designed by the mother of Gondry’s son, Florence Fontaine while the lighting was operated by Oliver “Twist” Gondry, Michel’s brother.