In Celebration of Spike Jonze


Spike Jonze has been one of my favorite directors ever since I learned who he was.  He was my point of introduction to much of the music that I still love today.  And considering how “cool” he is, I don’t know how I have gone almost twenty years without uttering a “He’s a snob” or some other such envious jibe (by “cool” I mean; he is partial owner of a skateboard company, he is a part of the Jackass crew, has worked with Beck, Arcade Fire, Bjork, the Breeders, Kanye, Maurice Sendak, was married to Sofia Coppola….you see what I mean).  Insecure-teen-me should have at some point talked some smack on the boy, but his work is just too good, it always makes me look at the world a little differently and always makes me feel…better, somehow…I guess that is why I never cared about his personal life much yet was always glad to see him come up with something new.  I have always been inspired by Spike’s approach, which always seems like he is having a lot of fun (there is something I have a hard time not envy-ing).
So where my needing to thank Spike Jonze begins: I was growing up in the ’90s and was into music enough to try my best to catch videos on MTV and VH1 whenever my parents would forget to have those stations blocked from our promo-cable packages…but this was usually a clandestine affair and I would have to keep the remote control at the ready should one of my parents enter the room, leaving my handwritten notes-to-self almost always illegible.  And anyway, it was never too much time before one of my parents would realize that these stations were installed and just as suddenly as they had appeared they would be gone.  However, those cable providers called offering specials a lot in those days and those two music-video channels would show up once again.  Now, being that these two channels operated exactly like the radio – playing the same songs over and over again – I was eventually able to catch beginning and ending fragments of enough videos to learn certain directors’ names: Jonze, F. Gary Gray, Hype Williams, Brett Ratner, Michel Gondry. These directors were the ones who pushed the boundaries of what music videos could be – exorbitant budgets, more and more skin, sometimes even artistry – working with forward-thinking musical acts to create something new during the time of the VJ.  Many of these names have gone on to direct feature-length films, and Jonze is no exception here, as his oeuvre has continued along similar lines to themes that show up in his music videos throughout the years; outsiders/loners, anarchy (in both creative and destructive ways), release.  The other night I saw his latest film, the wonderful Her, and I was quite impressed by it. Today I found myself going back through much of his work and I wanted to share some of my favorite Jonze clips with you all.  So please sit back and watch some of the great work this truly original artist has given us over the past two decades:

While Jonze has made quite a name for himself directing feature films (1999’s Being John Malkovich, 2002’s bit of post-modern perfection Adaptation, and 2009’s faithful adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are) my first exposure to him was from these two videos.  Both use editing techniques to great effect; in “Sabotage”, to create the kinetic intro of an eponymous cop-drama starring the Beasties themselves, while Jonze places Weezer right into an episode of “Happy Days” – and right in their element, it seems – in the “Buddy Holly” video.  In my earliest days of listening to alternative rock music, it was often the music videos like these that would cement certain groups in my mind as ‘favorites’.

…and then there were these two.  Bjork and Daft Punk, hailing from Iceland and France respectively, became the first names I was familiar with in the dance/techno scenes, once again thanks to these memorable Jonze-helmed videos. Jonze’s jones for formal experimentation continues in these clips, as he is able to play around with the musical template in the perfect “It’s Oh So Quiet” clip.  For “Da Funk” we are given the short film “Big City Nights”, the story of one very special man having a not-so-special evening, to which the Daft Punk track plays soundtrack, being lowered for the moments of dialogue.  The “outsider” main character that we see in this clip is a theme that Jonze has explored in depth in his feature films.

And here Jonze stars as the leader of the Torrance Community Dance Group in the classic video for Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You”:

Fatboy Slim once again as Jonze directs a dancing Christopher Walken in”Weapon of Choice”:

Bjork’s “Triumph of a Heart” video is best watched loud, and more than once in a row:

Jonze’s joy in anarchy is at full throttle in the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Y Control”:

The entrancing Greta Gerwig dancing like her life depends on it in the live “Afterlife” video for the Youtube Music Awards:

While I do not want to overwhelm you with too much amazing all in one place, I am assuming that most of you have seen these clips somewhere before, so I wanted to share with you only some of my favorites, though all of them are unforgettable.  If you really enjoyed those videos, I would encourage you to check out the following short films that he has made as well:

I’m Here, 2010

Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win, 2011 (Beastie Boys long-form music video)

Mourir Auprès de Toi (To Die By Your Side), 2011

Well done, traveller.  Let me know if you need any suggestions of where to go from here in your newfound love of all things Spike Jonze.

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