Four filmmakers share the secrets behind their best-known music videos. No radio stars were harmed in the making of this article.
Being a music video director is a bit like playing God: You can pump Jay-Z full of bullets, toss Fiona Apple in a bathtub, or throw Thom Yorke off the roof of a mobile home all in the name of creative expression. And when your body of work is piled high, you can see it immortalized in Palm Pictures’ Directors Label Series, whose latest installment collects the videos of Jonathan Glazer, Anton Corbijn, Stéphane Sednaoui, and Mark Romanek on a four-DVD set (each DVD is also available separately). Here, each of the directors talks about one of the videos that helped him transcend the plane of mere mortals. EXCLUSIVE: Click the link in the right column under “External Video” to watch a clip of Björk and Stéphane Sednaoui talking about the New York truck ride in “Big Time Sensuality.”
(Jamiroquai’s “Virtual Insanity”; Radiohead’s “Karma Police”)
ON UNKLE’S “RABBIT IN YOUR HEADLIGHTS”: “In a way, this video is like an equation. [Actor] Denis Lavant is walking through a tunnel in one direction, but his reflection in the rearview mirrors of the cars makes it look like he’s walking in the opposite direction. But every time he comes close to solving the equation in his head, a car knocks him down. And every time a car knocks him down, he gets stronger, even though he looks more and more like he’s dead. In the end, the car that hits him explodes, and nothing happens to him. So maybe he’s solved the equation.
(Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box”; U2’s “One”)
ON ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN’S “THE GAME”: “When we were filming in Brazil, the military stopped our car because they thought we were buying drugs. We weren’t, but one of us did have coke in the car — it wasn’t me! A military guy saw [singer] Ian McCulloch and said, ‘Ahhh…the Cure!’ I said, ‘No, Echo and the Bunnymen.’ And the military guy got furious. Suddenly we were taken out of the car, and they were pushing us up against the wall with their machine guns. They let us go, but for a while I had this vision that we’d all get kidnapped and chopped up just because Ian wasn’t in the Cure.”
(Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away”; Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic”)
ON BJÖRK’S “BIG TIME SENSUALITY”: “I almost died while we were making this. We were on a very long truck that was driving down Times Square. I saw a big pothole in the street with smoke coming out of it. I jumped off the truck so that I could push the smoke toward Björk — but I fell into the hole. It was 30 feet deep! You can see Björk’s reaction in the video: She puts her hands over her mouth and disappears offscreen. As I was falling, I grabbed on to something so that I didn’t fall all the way down. There was just my head above ground, shouting, ‘Keep filming! Keep filming!'”
(Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer”; Jay-Z’s “99 Problems”)
ON JOHNNY CASH’S “HURT”: “It’s Trent Reznor’s song, but the meaning changes when Johnny sings it. It’s about the difference between a man at the beginning of his life and at the end of his life. In the video, that mortality is so visible, and the layers of regret are exponential. Johnny regretted the drugs and alcohol, that his life was shortened because of them. During filming, I said to him, ‘John, this is the last take in the dining room, so if you want to sweep the dishes off the table onto the floor or something, you can.’ So he poured out a glass of wine. When his family saw the video, they wept.”