Sound And Vision: Claire Denis
In the article series Sound and Vision we take a look at music videos from notable directors. This week we look at Sonic Youth's Incinerate, by Claire Denis.
Claire Denis is in the game of deconstruction, both in her films and her sole music video.
Often she tackles genres she hasn't dabbled in yet, only to find new angles to explore. Trouble Every Day deconstructs the horror genre, High-life turns science fiction on its head and Let The Sunshine In (Un Beau Soleil Intérieur) is basically "what if a romcom was arthouse-proof". She often explores the inner turmoil of her characters, while also playing around with structure. If her works sound cerebral, it is in fact not: watch a film like Beau Travail, and be thrilled by the visceral heat and the tremendous bittersweet ending. Claire Denis films can be intimidating, but there is a sense of play to them.
The same is the case for her music video for Sonic Youth's Incinerate. Like a lot of Claire Denis' work it's quite haptic: it heightens the senses. You can almost touch the bodies on screen with your eyes, feeling them to be present solely through the way Claire Denis films them. This is something she often does in her films too, exploring the human body through extreme close-ups, unique lensing, and peculiar color correction, often used more sparingly than is the case in Incinerate. Because this music video is a mission statement: if Claire Denis is gonna make one, it's gonna fully deconstruct the concept of one.
It does so by taking a life performance from Sonic Youth and filming it. Novel idea, right? Filming a live performance for a music video release? Well, Incinerate is indeed unlike any live performance out there. Claire Denis seems to deliberately seek the wrong angle and wrong distance for every shot, making it ever so right. She gets up way too close. She films the lip syncing just off screen. She picks an angle where you just can't make out the faces or hands playing, shooting them from the side instead of head on. The results should be messy. They aren't. The choices feel deliberate, the editing extremely tight yet scattershot. By getting this close, and by choosing all the unexpected angles, she heightens the performance of Sonic Youth into something exhilarating, haptic and unexpected. This is a live performance like no other, a music video like no other. It's vintage Claire Denis.