Sound And Vision: John Maybury
In the article series Sound and Vision we take a look at music videos from notable directors. This week we take a look at two music videos by John Maybury.
John Maybury is an actor's director. He might have started out as an avant-garde filmmaker and peer of Derek Jarman, his strongest feat as a director is the performance he gets out of his actors.
Take for instance his film, Love is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon, about the painter Francis Bacon. It's a film that is full of painterly mise and scene, off kilter camera angles and strong editing choices, but the core is a harrowing performance of Daniel Craig in a star making turn, and a never-better Derek Jacobi as the heart breaking titular character.
Maybury's follow-up The Jacket is a naff, all-but-forgotten science fiction flick, that feels like a ninety minute anti-smoking advert, or a poor man's Jacob's Ladder. But Adrien Brody is really good in it, spending most of the film in a straight jacket in a small cramped space, leaving Maybury to trust in the head on close ups of the performance of his star. It is something that Maybury did before twice in his music videos.
Those two music videos are classics, among a larger oeuvre, but both couldn't be more different. Neneh Cherry's Buffalo Stance is vibrant, colorful, playful, and oh so nineties. While Sinead O'Connor's Nothing Compares 2 U is solemn, held back, subtle and spare. But both of them are almost entirely built on close ups of the performer singing directly to camera.
In Buffalo Stance the backdrop is filled with colorful squiggly visuals, that split the difference between early MTV commercials and the paint-on-film-techniques of avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage. Maybury would later hommage Brakhage more directly with the end titles of The Jacket that remade Brakhage's Mothlight, but here the nod is more ephemeral. Still the visuals never distract from the beaming performance of Neneh Cherry, who is seemingly effortlessly charming.
Sinead O'Connor on the other hand doesn't charm... she haunts. This central performance is mostly just a close-up of Sinead against a stark black backdrop. Maybury only cuts away a few times to suggest a larger wintery world that O' Connor inhabits. She seems like the loneliest woman on earth, calling out to the viewer from beyond the screen. Singing to camera she does not so much break the fourth wall as shatter it. The world, hers and ours, would never be the same.