Sound And Vision: Jonathan Glazer
In the article series Sound and Vision we take a look at music videos from notable directors.
This week we look at Massive Attack's Live With Me, directed by Jonathan Glazer.
Looking at the videography of Jonathan Glazer is watching a director growing increasingly confident in his strengths, relying on tricks and hommages less and less. Glazer, not to be disrespectful, started out kinda as a Kubrick cosplayer. His two earliest music videos are riffs on the works by one of the masters of cinema. Karmacoma, a video he made for Massive Attack, is an extended riff on the hotel horror genre, referencing The Shining and Barton Fink (by the Coen Brothers). Blur's The Universal, on the other hand, plays like a riff on A Clockwork Orange, referencing the film in setting, framing, style, costuming and even the graphics displayed on screen. Both music videos are striking, but they feel like Glazer at his least distinctive.
Glazer himself has said he really came into his own with the music video for Radiohead's Street Spirit (Fade Out). It's a stunning piece in stark black and white, that uses slow motion and fast motion in a way that still boggles the mind even after more than 25 years. His next video is also one full of visual trickery: Jamiroquai's Virtual Insanity. It uses a simple trick, where the walls are put on wheels together with the camera, making it look like lead singer Jay Kay is actually sliding on the floor in an exquisite choreography. It is the most fun thing Glazer ever made.
Still his reliance on visual trickery is something he is phasing out more and more in his videography. His next video, Radiohead's Karma Police has a very simple logline: a man is being hunted by a car, and becomes the hunter when he flicks a match in gasoline that the car has been leaking. Glazer tried to make the camera as subjective as possible, something he didn't think he succeeded in. He sees UNKLE's Rabbit in Your Headlights as a more successful counterpiece. It is a music video that sees Glazer use a more naturalistic style, using diegetic sound and a real time structure. It is one of the stand outs in his oeuvre. The music video he made for Richard Ashcroft's A Song for the Lovers uses similar tricks: it is the least easily likeable video Glazer made, having no narrative to speak off. Glazer uses every alienating trick in the book, like cutting away from the song. He is even letting Richard Ashcroft drown out the sound of the song with the sound of him peeing. It is a daring video, as hard it may be to get in to.
We have been glossing over Nick Cave's Into My Arms, a rare kitschy misstep in his oeuvre, and The Dead Weathers' Treat Me Like Your Mother, that feels as a bit of a retread, instead of a push forward. To me, Glazer's strongest work to date as a music video director is Massive Attack's Live With Me. It uses some of the more naturalistic stylistic choices like in Song for the Lovers and Rabbit In Your Headlights, taking an unflinching look at a woman binge drinking the night away. It is an uncomfortable watch, but never moralistic or panicky. There is also the two final shots that heighten the music video into something more conceptual.
Like in his second and third feature, Birth and Under the Skin, Glazer's style has coalesced into something very much his own. The Kubrickian feel is still there, in both, as is the more visual conceptual side of it all (just think of the stunning close-up of Kidman in the theater in Birth). But both films also feel like very realistic approaches to alienating topics, in the same way that Song for the Lovers, Live With Me and Rabbit In Your Headlights dare to strip down their log lines to something stark and impactful and visual. Glazer has found a way to push his oeuvre ever forward, moving from Kubrick fanboy, to conceptual showman to naturalistic storyteller, into something that is all three and all his own. I can't wait to see his new feature The Zone of Interest, to see how he pushes his oeuvre in a new direction.