Sound And Vision: Jared Hess

Contributing Writer; The Netherlands
Sound And Vision: Jared Hess

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 different music videos by Jared Hess.

Jared Hess' oeuvre is quite similar to that of Wes Anderson, in that they both like to stylize their set design to a certain extent, pushing into quirky territory, with symmetric compositions and highly specific color schemes. Where Wes Anderson is the pastel prince, Hess likes his colors very saturated. Where Anderson's sense of style evokes the elitist twee of The New Yorker readers, Jared Hess' flirts with pulp and low culture: Nerd culture in Napoleon Dynamite, amateur wrestling in Nacho Libre, pulp novels in Gentleman Broncos, pop convection, TikTok culture and farm life in Thelma the Unicorn, etc, etc.

It was only with his two music videos that something really clicked for me about Jared Hess' work. His music video for The Killers' Christmas single Boots (below) has a very naturalistic style that has just a slight tinge of his normal quirk to it. The off-kilter vibe is all in the clothing and props, that feels just slightly ajar from reality. A man down on his luck, living on the streets, finds inspiration in a church to turn his life around, and to reacquaint with his family come Christmas time.

He does so by buying a boombox (of a slightly abnormal variety) from a fellow vagrant, and performing his heart out on the streets. It feels aspirational, but also just slightly off. Learning that Jared Hess' himself is religious, he is Mormon, it suddenly clicked that some of the noticeable design choices in Jared Hess' films can be explained by this background.

I was raised in a religious household myself. The blend between Christian and secular culture in my life eventually lead to a distrust of a certain type of Christianity that traumatized me. But at the same time there was still a fear of the secular world instilled in me, which I was taught to mistrust from a certain age. It led me to see the world through a certain lens, where normalcy was both aspirational and something to be wary off. It is this same dichotomy between the fear and love of normalcy that I see in Jared Hess' work. His work isn't necessarily twee or quirky, his design choices all stem from taking normal things (nerd culture, lowbrow culture, pop songs, amateur wrestling, turtleneck jumpers, pulp novels, mustaches, horn-rimmed glasses, etc) and pushing them to such an extent that it becomes unnerving or outside of the ordinary. Napoleon Dynamite isn't twee, it is normcore. Or even more so, mormoncore.

This realization was underlined when I saw his second (and only other) music video, this one for The Postal Service. We Become Silhouettes (also below) is mormoncore to the extreme. We follow a family in matching outfits, performing upbeat songs together, and making homemade dinners. But something is very amiss, in some ways. Listen to the lyrics, and you get a sense of impending doom and existential apocalyptic angst, that is underlined by details in the video. The jars with fruit mush do feel slightly like a Jonestown Massacre waiting to happen. The beef jerky that is clearly astronaut food also seems to hint at a dystopian setting, as does the lack of other people and the overpresence of tumbleweed outside.

This family taking a bike trip to a beautiful sunset might be the last thralls of a religious suicide cult. Or they might be the last survivors of an earth that died before them. Or on the contrary they are a happy family, just enjoying their life. It all is a possibility. But whatever your interpretation is: the normalcy here isn't normal. It's cultish.

Jared Hess plays around with notions of religious cultural tropes, familiar for those who like him grew up Mormon, or like me grew up protestant. He pushes them to the brink. It makes for a tremendous music video that is equally light and dark, normal and abnormal. I never really thought Jared Hess was for me, but the music videos made his oeuvre finally click. A rewatch of some of his titles finally worked out, as these two pieces were the keys that I needed for his oeuvre to open up to me. Jared Hess wasn't for me, but now I'm drinking the Kool-aid.

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