Recent Alternative Rock/Independent Video Collections by Vittorio Carli

by Vittorio Carli

Some of you readers might still be scrambling for last minute Christmas gifts. Here are some ideas for stocking stuffers for the new music fans on your gift list. Most of the following DVDs are easy to find, affordable, and will appeal to those with somewhat avant-garde tastes.

Rock video is surely one of the most underrated art forms. You wouldn’t know it by watching the swill that is often aired on MTV and VH1, but some of the most creative film work is done in music video. But really experimental videos aren’t often aired on the big national music video stations, but one of the best places to view good independent rock videos in Chicago is the JBTV show, which is broadcast on Wednesday at 11 pm on channel 26. Cable usually plays the most banal videos over and over, but MTV2 also has the cool Subterranean show on Sunday nights. Some of the best videos are also available for viewing on-line as downloads.

Some top film directors such as Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, John Singleton, and Brian DePalma did some classic music videos long after they made a name for themselves in movies. Also, John Landis’s video for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Guy Ritchie’s video for Madonna’s “What It Feels Like For a Girl” are arguably better than their full length features.

Also, some of best and most daring young directors such as Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovitch”), Chris Cunningham, and Michel Gondry” have made music videos. Gondry, who directed one of the year’s most innovative films, ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” started out as a musician/music video director. These directors have made music videos every bit as entertaining and mind blowing as any of their full length films.

The compilations of the three director’s videos can be purchased separately, and they have been released as part of a three DVD set called ” Director’s Series Boxed Set-The Works of Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham and Michel Gondry,” which was released on November 16 and retails for $59.98.

I have reviewed and rated each of the three directors’s collections separately as well as some other recent music DVD releases. My price listings and ratings are for new copies from Amazon.com. However, the ratings are somewhat suspect, since the Yeah Yeah Yeahs DVDs contains the most violent and disturbing images, was only rated PG.

Bjork-Greatest Hits-Volumen 1993-2003 **** (Elektra, 2003, NR, $19:98)- Bjork has consistently attracted some of the top directing talents to direct her frequently brilliant videos such as Chris Cunningham, Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham, and Michel Gondry. The surreal video for “Army of Me” is perhaps the finest music video I’ve ever seen, and it contains potent dream images and a story involving symbolic terrorism. The marvelous farcical dance video for “It’s So Quiet” was the inspiration for the great Lars Von Trier film, “Dancer in the Dark.” In “I Miss You,” the animators of “Ren and Stimpy” put both the real and animated version of Bjork into a whole other world where she interacts with Tex Avery style cartoon characters. Music video doesn’t any better than this.

Bjork-The Inner or Deeper Part of the Animal and Plant Structure *** (Elektra, 2004, NR, $12:98) The CD with a catchy title is a 45 minute documentary about the making of “Medulla,” Bjork’s latest idiosyncratic masterpiece bridges the gaps between classical, dance, and avant-garde. The new album focuses on vocal experiments and contains very little experimentation. It includes insightful interviews with contributing rappers, musicians, and even a throat singer. Bud sadly there is no info or talk with her most interesting collaborators, the human beat box, Mark Bell or former Soft machine, vocalist Robert Wyatt. At times, her radical vocal experiments are tough going for novices, but this should appeal to fans for experimental music. Only slightly more commercial than a Psychic TV performance or Nick Zedd video.

Chris Cunningham, The Work of Director Chris Cunningham***1/2 (Universal Music, 2004, NR, $15:99) This is perhaps the strangest and idiosyncratic of the three great directors series. Cunningham’s works are a little darker and less accessible than the works of Jonze or Gondry, and he sometimes tries to capture the essence of nightmare with one foot in cyberpunk. Some of the bands with videos (including Aphex Twin and Portishead are as idiosyncratic as his videos.) The look of the robots for one of his Bjork videos was allegedly ripped off in the Will Smith film, “I Robot”

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds-The Videos ***1/2 (Wea Corp., 2004, PG, $14:99) This video collection of the former Birthday Party member is uniformly excellent. Cave’s voice is all over the map. He goes from sounding like Johnny Cash to sounding like Jim Morrison; and sometimes he sounds like no one else. . The video features some terrific originals, great covers, and some high profile duets. His due with Indy rock queen, PJ Harvey on is emotionally volatile and heart breaking. Improbably his duet with Australian pop tart, Kylie Minogue actually works quite well (Cage plays a murderer singing to the corpse of the woman he murdered.) But it gets a little tiresome hearing how much Cave hates each video in the intros.

Sonic Youth-Corporate Ghost: The Videos 1990-2002 ****- (2004, NR, $14:99) The videos by this post punk/noise/jam band are almost as creative as their songs. Every single song from “Goo,’ has a video. Kim Gordon usually plays a central role in the videos, and she is often dressed in wonderfully trashy outfits seemingly to mock female sexploitation images. Videos by important future film makers such as Todd Haynes and Spike Jonze. The videos feature special guests such as Chuck D. (of Public Enemy) and Kathleen Hanna (of Le Tigre). One of the highlights is “Mildred Pierce” which features a young Sofia Coppola decked out in heavy makeup impersonating the Pierce era Joan Crawford. The song/video ends in a delightfully crude explosion of noise/feedback compliments of Thurston Moore.

Spike Jonze-The Work of Director Spike Jonze **** (Universal Music, 2003, NR, 15:99 ) The highlights are as good as any music videos, ever. I especially loved the brilliant “Starsky and Hutch parody, done for The Beastie Boys’s “Sabotage,” and a dizzying and brilliant dance number for Fat Boy Slim’s “Freedom of Choice” which features Christopher Walkin of all people doing an air dance. Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” takes the band playing a nostalgic song, and expertly intersperses it with “Happy Days” footage. A delight from start to finish.

Michel Gondry-The Work of Director Michel Gondry (Universal Music, 2003, NR, $15:99) ***1/2-French percussionist Michel Gondry has made some of the most clever and inventive videos ever.” His video for Kylie Minogue’s “Come Into My World” is much better than the song. It features multiple Kylie Minogues walking around in a strange kind of a video loop. His video for the Foo Fighters’s “Neverlong” is a horror masterpiece complete with morphing hands, and unexpected gender changes in the main characters. “Around the World” by Daft Punk is transformed into a goofy and delightful dance number featuring mummies, robots, and flappers. There are also a few weak spots. The videos for his old band, Oui Oui, “La Ville” are not all that impressive, and the video of the Rolling Stones’ version of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” is a total dud, mostly because of the weakness of the cover version.

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs-Tell Me What Rockers to Swallow (Universal Music, 2004, PG, $14:95 ) ***1/2 The DVD contains collects work from one of the more promising up and coming alternative bands. It includes incendiary concert performances, lame footage from their Japanese concert tour, some uncommonly fine music videos, and a documentary on the band made by Spike Jonze, the boyfriend of the striking lead singer, Karen O. Their crossover hit video; “Maps” is poignant, romantic and straightforward, and a little more mainstream than most of the group’s stuff. In it, Karen O, acting out the song’s emotions on her face. “Date with the Night” is lively, sexy, and has great rapid fire editing and quick jump cuts to go with the quick instrumentation and vocal delivery. But the highlight is “Y-Offender,” a horrific black and white, George Romero tribute which features crazed vampire/zombie children destroying property, causing havoc, and mutilating themselves. Hillary Duff fans should stay far away. The only drawback is that band doesn’t yet have many songs in their repertoire, so several of the songs are repeated two or three times.

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