Sound And Vision: Garth Jennings

Contributing Writer; The Netherlands
Sound And Vision: Garth Jennings

In the article series Sound and Vision we take a look at music videos from notable directors. This week we look at several music videos by director Garth Jennings.

If you ask me who my favorite music video director is, the answer won't be Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze or David Fincher, even though I think all of them are great. No, for me there is one director who really stands above the rest of the crowd and that is Garth Jennings. As a duo with producer Nick Goldsmith, under the moniker Hammer and Tongs, he made not one, not two, but three of my favorite music videos of all time (R.E.M's Imitation of Life, Beck's Lost Cause and Blur's Coffee and TV). The music videos the duo made are full of inventiveness and conceptually daring pieces. The sort of things you can't really do in a feature, nor in a short, but that work wonders in the boundaries of the music video.

Take for instance R.E.M's Imitation of Life (below) in which the whole video is based around a looped image that goes back and forth in time. The image is a huge tableaux vivant, like a big Where's Waldo-image, and the ingenuity is that Jennings keeps zooming in on different parts. Those different parts take on different meanings throughout the song, and in sequence with what we zoomed in on before. So, in that case, it can turn out that the woman we saw just now in a zoomed in shot, cheats on her husband in another zoom-in. Or that the words that a gossipy lady says turn out to be a perfect lip sync later in the song. It's a mind-bogglingly involved video, but one that also is at the core of the ethos of Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith: everything in life can turn into art.

In their music videos Hammer and Tongs turn inanimate objects into quirky cartoon characters (Blur's Coffee and TV), the story of evolution into a heady claymation (Fatboy Slim's Right Here Right Now), a piano into a demon dragon (Fatboy Slim's Demons), or the odd dance movements and performances of Thom Yorke in pure meme material (Radiohead's Lotus Flower and Atom For Peace's Ingenue). Everything is music, art, and culture. Everything is vibrant and alive. That is more than true for Hot Chip's Boy From School (see also below) which uses everyday household materials (jello, sponges, toy helicopters, several kitchen appliances, sand) to make a huge mythological painting. It is a stunning video that feels like unbridled inspiration.

The bittersweet side of everything being art, is seen in Supergrass' Low C (see also below), in which Hammer and Tongs visit a low-rent roadside attraction that has seen better days, with a documentary crew and the band Supergrass in tow. There is a certain melancholy to the imagery here: the performers at the attraction did a mermaid act, and while it is stunning, the art of it has been lost to most people. The tourists don't come in anymore. Giving one last hurrah with former and current mermaids, the band put on a show. It brought tears to my eyes.

This is what Hammer and Tongs do best: short form explorations of the vibrancy of everyday life, looked at from such an interesting angle, that everything becomes embodied with a certain playfulness and joy. Garth Jennings made several films that didn't ever reach the height of his music video work. But lest people think that he is only doing Sing and Sing 2 for the big bucks, like his music videos, those films are also emblematic of the philosophy that art is everywhere and can come from humble beginnings. It is the entire premise of both of those films, that everyone can do art.

There is also not that much difference between a film like Son of Rambow, while not entirely successful as a feature, and something like Boy From School and Coffee and TV: turning everyday objects into art. In Son of Rambow, a film that seems deeply personal, a ragtag band of young kids, one of whom is raised in a religious sect, make a film together. Out of pure love. That love is present in every one of their videos. And all of their films. Hell, even the band Travis, whose music video for Driftwood was made by Jennings, show up as their characters from that music video in a cameo in Son of Rambow. The thing that I like most about Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith, and that ís present in their films too, is the steadfast belief art is for everyone. You just need to see it. It can be easy to be cynical about Sing or Sing 2, but for one kid, somewhere, that film will be a gateway into loving music and film. And isn't that great?

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