5 Music Video Directors Who Became Our Greatest Auteurs

Above: Spike Jonze, CANADA, David Fincher, Chris Milk and Eric Wareheim

John Cleese called the ninety-minute narrative the most interesting and dynamic thing you can do on film. Unsurprising, then, that so many of the makers of the very most dynamic of these ninety (or so) -minute narratives began their film work in music videos.

Music videos are the movie in miniature, a micro-arena of film experimentation. Film is about a hundred years old. MTV, only about thirty. Music videos are a young form that has always been targeted at young people, so the whole genre has really come to be about being young. In being about youth, it’s also about being culturally and stylistically daring. Here we give you 5 auteurs and the music videos you know, but may not have known were by them. Each video pushes the visual fringe further, possessing, requiring, the forward thinking that has come into each director’s style and made them the great filmmakers they are today.

Spike Jonze

5 Music Video Directors - Spike Jonez

Spike Jonze may still be best known as a music video director, probably because he’s so important to the genre. Starting out in the early nineties with skate and then music videos as flippant and grunge as the music they contained (Sonic Youth’s “100%” and then a co-direction with Kim Gordon for The Breeder’s “Cannonball”), but more known for Weezer’s “Buddy Holly,” Beastie Boys “Sabotage,” Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You,” Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Y Control,” Spike never lost his edge. Jarring and funny, mocking of the mainstream in his originality and entertainment value, he’s too enjoyable to be called gritty or edgy. Words like chaotic, slant, bodily might be better. He’s also known for his commercials, like Lamp, for IKEA. Spike is now famous for his cerebrally twisted, original and definitely edgy film direction, especially in collaboration with Charlie Kaufman. These include Adaptation and Being John Malkovich. His upcoming film Her looks to be his most powerful yet.


5 Music Video Directors - Canada

CANADA is a new group of film artists with an old aesthetic (particularly in their refusal to get with the digital over film trend). Three film-makers from Barcelona (Luis Cerveró, Lope Serrano and Nicolás Méndez) make up the nation, the newest players in this list’s Eschaton game. Recently they directed the very popular “New Lands” for Justice, as well as “Ice Cream” for Battles, which swirls a waterfall of surreal but also strangely stock-looking footage, intermixed with the band playing, into a real head-warp. The three members of CANADA work as a unit, and seem to get a lot done that way: CANADA also publishes under Canada Editorial, and produce for other directors under the name NEVADA. You can check out an interview with one member here, where he mentions that all three have already been offered feature length work, but have so far turned it down. No doubt that CANADA and its affiliates will be moving forward into full auteur-dom soon.

David Fincher

5 Music Video Directors - David Fincher

David Fincher is the director of Fight Club. And Se7en. He also did Madonna’s “Vogue” and “Janie’s Got a Gun” by Aerosmith. Actually, he just directed Justin Timberlake’s video for “Suit & Tie” which, in its classy black and white, looks like an answer to “Vogue” twenty years later. Fincher started making videos in 1984 with Rick Springfield, and by 1990 he was pretty much running MTV, when the company he helped to found, Propaganda Films, was making about a third of all music videos in the USA. Spike Jonze also spent some time at Propaganda. Now known as one of the greatest directors of our time, Fincher was originally laughed out of town when he started making full length features: the nation-wide pan of Alien 3 had him retreating back to music videos. This is when he directed “Love is Strong” for the Rolling Stones. Obviously music videos have become, for him, a place to hone your craft. Before any of this happened, though, he also made this for the American Cancer Society.

Chris Milk

5 Music Video Directors - Chris Milk

Chris Milk has, so far, not moved on to feature length works, instead focusing largely on studio art. You may know him for “The Wilderness Downtown”, the interactive video for Arcade Fire’s song. Milk’s deeply personal video juxtaposes the direction-less suburban childhood subject of the song and the geographically discursive, empty time of html processing. Being able to insert your own personal geography and will into the piece serves only to illustrate the ubiquity of suburban existences. This video is the big leap in music videos of the last five years, a real push of the form into the internet age. Milk has also made videos for Kanye West, Johnny Cash, and Modest Mouse. His current work is film installation The Treachery of Sanctuary, “a large-scale interactive triptych: a story of birth, death and transfiguration that uses shadows of the participants’ own bodies to unlock a new artistic language,” currently touring the world with The Creators Project.

Eric Wareheim

5 Music Video Directors - Eric Wareheim

Eric Wareheim is the member of this list that did it all backwards, meaning, of course, he’s the coolest. He, and his best friend Tim Heidekker, started making movies together in film school and reached relative fame with Tim & Eric: Awesome Show, Great Job which ran on Teletoon’s Adult Swim in 15 minute episodes from 2007 until 2010. Now, after Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, his music video directing has started to get some attention. Tim & Eric are the anti-comic media prophets of our generation, and damn right they’re now moving on from Awesome Show, which they’re probably still most loved for. Wareheim’s video direction is bright and whirling, kind of vomit-y and fantastical. His video for Major Lazer’s “Pon De Floor” pretty much just says “the internet!” over and over again, and the later “Bubble Butt,” also by Major Lazer, reminds that after the rap videos of the early 2000s anything’s allowed. Wareheim’s videos seem to have recently moved up in the budget echelon, just compare “Bubble Butt” and “Pon De Floor” for proof. His most stirring video so far has got to be“Wishes” for Beach House, which tackles the songs main lyric, “wishes are unreal,” and completely unmakes it. It’s totally real.

Tags: Madonna

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