With the music industry undergoing a monumental shift in the past 20 years, the day of the epic video are over. With MTV in the US not even bothering to make videos, and with most people watching videos on tablets, laptops, and smartphones, there isn’t much business sense in a music company to throw a lot of dollars behind a video.
But in the 90s, there was a time when they would, and this is when the music video was at its highest art form.
Directors like Chris Cunningham, David Fincher, Michel Gondry and Stephane Sednaoui led the way with high concept, high production value videos for Madonna, Aphex Twin, Bjork and others.
My favorite video artist of the period is Mark Romanek. His ability to create surrealist fantasyscapes of both the past and the future (and sometimes both at the same time) always amazed me. Often focusing on dystopian almost 1984/Mad Max worlds, his ability to set mood and tone why using state of the art computer animation (of the time) never failed to astound me.
Here are some of my favorite works of his
Beautiful in its simplicity and minimalism, Rain is set on a not so distant futuristic soundstage. It was shot in black and white then digitally colored later, using silvers, blues, blacks, metallic, offset by scenes of intense light. Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Ryuichi Sakamoto plays himself, as film director.
Bedtime Story – Madonna
Bedtime Story is one of Madonna’s oddest videos to date, probably as odd as the artistic marriage of Madonna and Bjork (who wrote the song as a favor to producer Nellee Hooper). This is NOT Cherish of True Blue. Set in an almost Minority Report-ish alien world. Madonna awakens from some sort of suspended animation, IV drip dripping into her veins.
This is contrasted by an amazing golden colored surrealist world. Madonna sings behind an opening and closing sunflower, whirls through outer-space. She appears in black and white in 1984 like video screens on a revolving cube.
Nine Inch Nails Closer
Probably Mark Romanek’s best known video to date, no one had quite seen anything like NIN’s Closer. It
Looks like a sepia tones vintage, old macabre,freak show/taxidermist/mad scientist laboratory at the turn of the 20th century. Scenes of monkeys undergoing cruel experiments, crawling, writhing bugs among light bulbs, and Trent Reznor suspended in air rotating.
Closer was inspired by Street of Crocodiles, a Stop Motion animated film
Nine Inch Nails The Perfect Drug
Another Indigo toned fantasy matter, we are subjected to a macabre dark fantasy world of Wuthering Heights meets Steampunk and late 19th century Victorian aesthetic. The neon green of the absinthe stands out against the monochromatic blacks and blues.
Fiona Apple Criminal
Instead of imaginary futuristic or victorian phantasms, Fiona Apple’s video for criminal takes on the aftermath of a 70s porno wood panel rec room party. With its pan and scan then freeze techniques, it feels sleazy just watching it. You don’t know what happened the night before, but something clearly hedonistic, sexual and unorthodox occurred. Steam rooms, swimming pools, hot tubs, half naked people (who you can never see the faces of) walking about. Sex lies and video tape.
Michael and Janet Jackson- Scream
The funnest and most light hearted of Romanek’s videos (well as light as Romanek can go), it still filled with outer space futurism, with a heavy Anime meets 2001 A Space Odyssey influences. This time he goes for silver and black and white tones. Simulating Star Trek’s Enterprises holodeck, their are various scenes/modes..gallery, zen garden. Rare for a Romanek video is a choreographed dance scene. But it’s the Jacksons, so it’s almost mandatory and he handles it well.
You can get the “Works of Mark Romanek” from Amazon