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Music video | A glass-and-a-half of Jonathan Glazer

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glazerTwo of the most successful ad campaigns of all time, at least in the alcohol market, were for Guinness and Stella Artois.

Enter director Jonathan Glazer, who not only worked on these ads, but also a range of music videos for artists such as Radiohead, Jamiroquai and Blur. As well as with actors Ben Kingsley, Nicole Kidman and Ray Winstone on two acclaimed feature films.

With this kind of background, it’s no surprise that Glazer’s oeuvre is included in a DVD collection featuring the work of several music video directors. A few months back I looked at Stephane Sednaoui. Now I’ve had a chance to look at the Glazer DVD.

“I’m using their shit to sell my shit”

Remember this ad for Stella Artois? It’s called “Last Orders”.

It was the first of three ads directed by Glazer for Stella Artois — the two others were “Devil’s Playground” and
the (Breughellian) “Priests Skating” (with Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 in C Sharp Minor, in case you were wondering).

Other ad campaigns Glazer has worked on include Guinness, Levis and this burst of colour (with a Clockwork Orange-inspired score) for Sony.

Music videos

But Glazer also cut his directorial teeth working on music videos — probably his best known work. His first clip was for Massive Attack’s “Karmacoma”, followed by the Clockwork Orange-inspired clip to Blur’s “The Universal”. In 1996, Glazer did his first project with Radiohead — the lyrical music video for Street Spirit (Fade Out). It was this clip that got Glazer noticed.

But, it was to be another of his 1996/97 videos that would deliver the MTV Music Video Award for 1997 into the palms of his hands. Ladies and Gentlemen, the award goes to “Virtual Insanity” (Jamiroquai).

Jamiroquai plays musical chairs in the clip to "Virtual Insanity"

The clip is very minimal, putting Jay Kay’s dance moves front-and-centre. Moving floors and sliding furniture produce a very funky, slick choreo to match. “It’s like Fred Astaire on acid,” says Jay Kay.

Glazer returned to work with Radiohead, this time on the video for “Karma Police” on their uber successful stream of angst OK Computer.

In the clip, vocalist Thom York is in the back seat of a car that’s pursuing some guy who’s running away for his life. There’s no driver in the car. It’s a metaphor for revenge — Yorke’s in the back seat, hands off the wheels, a passenger of his determined revenge. We, of course, can passively and quietly become victims of our own blind/determined revenge. Which is what happens in the clip.

But awards and acclamations aside, it was Glazer’s video for U.N.K.L.E.’s “Rabbit in Your Headlights” (featuring the vocals again of Thom Yorke) that takes the proverbial cake. It is a confronting, inspiring and powerfully moving piece. It was so good, the record label wanted it censored and it was banned for a while in some countries, such as France.

I think it pretty much speaks for itself. [Unfortunately (and pointlessly), Universal Music has authorised just half of the video on YouTube but I fully recommend searching for the full version online elsewhere.]

Notice the car motif again. All I’ll add is that it stars French actor Denis Lavant, who also played the son in the Stella Artois advert “Last Orders”.

Graduating to feature films

In 2000, Glazer made the leap from music videos and commercials to feature film with the release of the confronting, gritty Sexy Beast. Under his direction, the film is about ex-con Gary Dove (Ray Winstone), who has blissfully retired from the criminal life until Dove’s sociopathic former associate Don Logan (brilliantly played by Ben Kingsley) arrives on the scene.

» Watch this clip — Kinsgley is awesome (tho shouty, so brace yourself)

On the success of this movie, Glazer directed another feature film — Birth, starring Nicole Kidman.

Here’s the prologue scene.

Back to the DVD — Interviews

The DVD includes a great set of his music videos and commercials, including the ones I’ve mentioned so far, as well as excerpts from Sexy Beast and Birth.

It also comes with a rather curious set of interviews with the talent Glazer has worked with. Ben Kingsley is entertaining and Nicole Kidman glows, but aside from that the interviews with the actors/film production peeps is pretty dull, congratulatory, brown-nosing stuff.

The musicians are a completely different story. Each of them talks you through their film clip and are surprisingly (and refreshingly honest). All of the interviews reflect differently on the relationship between a song and its music video.

Nick Cave is particularly frank and open. While he thought the clip to “Into My Arms” was well-produced, he felt it eclipsed the song itself. Cave explains that well-produced music videos with the kind of amazing imagery that Glazer uses can have a tendency to override the song’s tone, “so that you’re overwhelmed by the visual images and don’t hear the song at all”.

In the case of “Into My Arms”, Cave says the melancholic optimism he intended with the lyrics was subsumed by the depressing tone set by Glazer’s imagery. And you can appreciate how a music video can be something of a “final word” on a song’s meaning, and why Cave might therefore feel aggrieved.

» See what you think

Richard Ashcroft talks about his apprehensions in making the clip to A Song For the Lovers, and strutting about sans camisole. But he was pretty pleased with the end result. The somewhat distracted Blur guitarist Graham Coxon doesn’t really seem to think much of music videos at all, saying that pictures are meant for television.

The commentaries also provide a fantastic insight into the production of these clips. Jay Kay talks through the logistics of the rather tricky “Virtual Insanity”. Actor Denis Lavant, who is crazy brilliant and appeared in the Stella Artois advert and “Rabbit in Your Headlights” clip, talks us through those.

The only interview missing is from the man himself — Glazer. Fear not, tho! While Glazer cheekily evades any interview, he does make appearances throughout the DVD’s menus.

Related links

» Great collection of Glazer’s commercials
» Interview with Glazer
» DVD details


Written by Darren Smith

14 April 2009 at 8:50 pm

2 Responses

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