The Work of Chris Cunningham
(Music Videos, short
films, and advertisements)
B- Sound: B Extras: B- Main Program: B
Pictures has issued some of 2003’s most important DVDs with the release of the
first three volumes of The Directors Label Work
Of series. This second volume offers
the remarkable work of the incredibly talented Chris Cunningham, who is easily
the most underexposed and underrated of the first three filmmakers in the United States featured in this series. While Spike Jonze has gone on to feature film
success and Michel Gondry has had far more airplay of his work, Cunningham has
been working on a deep level of darkness that is not as commercially viable as
his co-founder partners of this series.
of the “it’s dark for darkness’ sake” school of very bad filmmaking,
Cunningham’s work comes from actual feelings and experiences from his
precocious young days as an early thinker.
Even before the 52-page booklet confirmed this, the actual amount of
vision is rare and rich here. So many
posers want to be thought of as “artists” with “vision” when they are
interviewed, and it gets really tiresome (and frankly embarrassing to such
people without them knowing it) to hear them tell us how important they are
because of their supposed artistry.
Cunningham, like all true artists, lets his work do the talking.
world he had constructed without pretense, we see a near future that is
familiar and inevitably approaching.
Unfortunately, there is no more room for the organic homo sapiens as we
know our species to organically be. Only
two options are offered: either the human becomes robotic and technologized, or
they must transmute into another non-human creature in order to remain in a
state of freedom and in the natural world.
However, in the latter option, a loss of identity and individuality is
still inescapable. Along with the
uncompromising hard edge of the images, sounds, technology, darkness, unseen
worlds, and brutal images of distorted or mutilated carnage (always human so
far), you get an often sardonic sense of humor.
This is mature and often intense subject matter, so it is no wonder that
“false happiness addicted” and dumbed-down media tries to marginalize him,
had better response in Europe.
reason, it is not a big surprise that early on, it would be Stanley Kubrick
that would call on him to try and create an artificial “mecha” boy at the time
the all-time genius director was attempting to do a mature, adult version of A.I. – Artificial Intelligence, before
finally giving in and turning it over to Steven Spielberg. Kubrick had left such an imprint on the work,
that Spielberg’s changes were in vein and the film was a colossal disaster for
reasons to numerous to explain here. It
did some curiosity business, but the styles of the two filmmakers contradicted
each other more severely than water and oil.
was reportedly disappointed the “mecha” did not work, but it was certainly not due
to lack of talent and ambition on Cunningham’s part. As a matter of fact, we now know Kubrick’s
version of the film had its best possible shot thanks to his choice of
Cunningham, but we can chalk it up to a lost Kubrick film and move on.
Cunningham has not done any feature film work yet, the collection of Music
Videos, abstract films and television ads not seen in the United States more than states the case of how
much of a very talented filmmaker and auteur he is. Using the criteria already established, let
us look at his eight music videos offered here, all framed at 1.78 X 1 unless
Second Bad Vilbel – The Industrial Electronica
track by Autechre essentially is the state of two insect-like robot’s
“personal” points-of-view, but is done with such extraordinary artistic design,
editing, and imagery, that you are immediately in another world that is
unstable, void of nature, and in a perpetual state of confusion. This is very impressive. One robot creature alone is now joined by a
very different one, and the existential dread applies to them too.
Come To Daddy – Without a doubt, this wild,
stark, and even Expressionistic clip for the song by Aphex Twin is a descendant
of David Cronenberg’s 1983 exercise in the cyber world and post-modernism, Videodrome. The lead singer, in the best tradition of a
Blood, Sweat & Tears album cover, has been duplicated into a series of
midget-children in his demented facial image.
This clip also demonstrates one of Cunningham’s “primal scream” moments
where one “creature” yells-down another point-blank with its voice and
mouth. As with the previous clip, analog
video creates a world of distorted reality that seems inescapable.
Only You – This video by for the song by
Portishead (whose big hit had the female lead singer crying “nobody loves me”
in a pained refrain, while the instrumentals sounded like something from a
vintage John Barry/James Bond soundtrack, which a sample resembles towards the
end of this track) has a slower, more naturalistic pace than most of the songs
in this set. Weightlessness is purposely
made to be dreamlike and was done with a large share of underwater
photography. This clip proves that both
the artist and the director were far from one-hit wonders. It is framed in a 2.35 X 1-like Scope frame.
Frozen – The video for this fine Madonna
song was an award-winning hit for her and is the most exposure Cunningham has
received for his work to date, but despite his disappointment in some of the
final result, it is a beautiful video that does an exceptional job of covering her
spiritual themes, while keeping within the confines of his own thematic. He wanted Madonna to turn into more creatures
that were even and more exotic, but the point is taken. Madonna was shifting into previously
uncharted territory for this song, among the tracks on her Ray of Light album, and it is one of her most unique Videos. For a woman who has been responsible for more
great Music Videos with more talented directors, for a longer period of time
than anyone else, that says something great about Cunningham. This clip is full frame.
Afrika Shox – This clip for the Leftfield
featuring Afrika Bambaataa track essentially is a remarkable statement about
the continuing state of racism, poverty, ignorance, and neglect that the United States still needs to work out. Inspired by the citing of a Vietnam veteran, Cunningham’s clip offers
a famished, tired African American man walking the streets of pre-9/11/01 New York City.
In what is practically a nod to the great cult classic Sci-Fi film The Incredible Melting Man (1978,) the
man slowly loses his body limbs piece-by-piece.
The parts cannot be reattached, because they simply crumble. The conclusion can also be taken as a nod to
Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop (1987)
which itself was referencing Incredible Melting Man.
There are many great original touches too. The framing offers a Scope-like 2.35 X 1
Come On My Selector – The Squarepusher track has a
video set in a ward for the mentally handicapped in Osaka, Japan, but this is not going to be a
drama by any means. Instead, we get a
world of scientific quackery to match and surpass any mental illness. Once again, the theme of being trapped and
wanting to escape is front and center, which comes into play with the old
standby of a mind-transference machine and a pet dog! It even tends to stand in as a metaphor for
the concept of psychological transference.
Cunningham again had issues with the final result, yet his thematics are
all over the work. The framing is again
a Scope-like 2.35 X 1.
Windowlicker – This is the unedited version of
the Aphex Twin clip with a strongly humorous dose of expletives. Two guys go looking for women, with at least
one of them being far more aggressive than the other. Suddenly, the strategy backfires when they get
more than they bargained for, especially with the arrival of some competition
that is bizarre and “catchy” in the wrong way, to say the least. The framing is yet again a Scope-like 2.35 X
1, and the edited version is in the supplement section.
All Is Full Of Love – This final Video offers the
always daring singer/performer Bjork as a robot in the making. This may give us a hint at what Cunningham
was trying to come up with for Kubrick’s A.I.,
but also is the strongest implication of his influence by the director, which
is obvious throughout his work. No
wonder it is used as the cover of this set.
A Making Of program about this
clip is at the beginning of the supplements section, which runs approximately
seven minutes long. Those interested in
the exceptional animation can use their frame-by-frame and still capacities to
slowly search between picture changes and find instruction notes on how each
step was taken to composite the final result.
Monkey Drummer – This is a strange, abstract
video piece where a robot with a monkey’s head and human arms “plays”
music. This offers an interesting
juxtaposition of the aforementioned themes.
Music by Aphex Twin.
flex – Takes erotica and technologizes
it, as a male and female nude dance around, on, and all over each other ((and
at various camera speeds. The THX-1138 influence is strong here;
including the fact that this couple is trapped is some unspecified
dimension. The full-frame presentation
is set to music by Aphex Twin.
Mental Wealth – An ad for Sony Playstation from
Europe offers a girl with unique facial
features: her head seems to have a huge brain inside and both sides of the
actual face are symmetrically similar.
This is full screen video.
Photocopier – This unseen Levi’s ad simply
criticizes the competition for being unoriginal, while also noting that they
were there first. However, the ad never
explicitly says this; it just has a giant truck run though a copier.
Engine – This ad for the Nissan Primera
has a moderately-built male body somewhat robotically moving to electronic
sounds that actually turn out to be music by the group Boards of Canada. It is brief, but to the point.
the case with the Spike Jonze installment, video quality varies throughout,
with image quality having a slight edge in the less commercial works. The various aspect ratios are just fine, but
it is too bad the widescreen clips could not have been anamorphically
enhanced. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
is stronger-than-usual as it was on the last DVD, which is often the case with
Palm music releases. Despite some
reservations, this makes for exceptional playback for this kind of a title.
from what looks to be eight other Music Videos not on this DVD are in the thick
booklet and hopefully will surface soon on DVD.
Cunningham is a very important filmmaker who will hopefully continue to
make uncompromising, groundbreaking work form his vast wealth of ideas. It will be years before most will finally
appreciate how vital these films are, which is why you need to experience this
- Nicholas Sheffo