Sound And Vision: Jeff Nichols

Contributing Writer; The Netherlands
Sound And Vision: Jeff Nichols

In the article series Sound and Vision we take a look at music videos from notable directors. This week we take a look at Lucero's Long Way Back Home, directed by Jeff Nichols.

The films of Jeff Nichols ánd the sole music video he made, feel very much off the same voice. Which is curious, considering his films run the gamut from, among others, a harrowing drama about a man losing his grip on reality; a coming-of-age-crime film about two teens sheltering an escaped convict; a real life romance drama about an interracial couple facing racism and other adversities; and an Amblin'-inspired science-fiction movie. His new film The Bikeriders, is inspired by films like Easy Rider. This seems like a diverse array of movies, but if anything ties them together, it is setting and tone.

The Jeff Nichols-way is taking inspiration from a source you like, be it Starman and E.T for Midnight Special; or psychological thrillers in the style of Roman Polanski like for Take Shelter; or Easy Rider for The Bikeriders; and then making it your own. His style would be best described as gritty realism, with a whole heaping of Southern Gothic. His love for the deep south and rural America runs through the many road trips in his movies. This is his homestead. It is no coincidence that his music video for Lucero is called Long Way Back Home.

In that music video, a guy returns to the southern rural environment in which he was raised. He is looking for some of his long lost brothers, and if the cold open is anything to go by, it is with an intention of bloody revenge in mind. As the credits to Long Way Back Home state, it was 'inspired by' Lucero's song, but this is a Jeff Nichols-piece through and through, sometimes playing more like a short movie than a music video. It breathes and lives the south, combined with some of the grit and growl of his other films.

Michael Shannon, his favorite actor, even shows up as the lead character. It couldn't have been a Jeff Nichols piece without Shannon being part of the entourage, as he has played a part in every project Nichols has directed to date. Michael Shannon brings his usual stern gravitas and gruff drawl to the short piece. More surprising is Garrett Hedlund, as one of his brothers. He is such a natural fit for Nichols' style and atmosphere it is kind of a wonder they haven't worked together more.

Finally, the way in which the music video ends, is very much in line with Nichols' features. He likes his endings ambivalent, open to more interpretations and readings, like in Mud or Take Shelter. Here, the ending feels like a bit of a cop out, maybe, ending just before its final resolution.

Whatever your reading of the piece may be, one that ends in a resolution of violence or redemption, either way, by cutting to black before that resolution, he leaves the two options open. But ambivalence like this here feels like a filmmaker not wanting to push one interpretation on the viewer. It feels like a filmmaker pulling his punches, somewhat. Jeff Nichols is good into taking inspiration from elsewhere and making it his own. His own story, his own voice. Here you wish he had told his story with more conviction.

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