Conveying a wealth of information in limited intervals of time, the music video functions like subliminal stimuli, churning out provocative imagery in momentary bursts, serving as optical interpretation of intangible sound. Its thematic and temporal constraints, all of which are dictated by outside sources, seem to be at odds with author-driven filmmaking, leaving a director to fabricate contrivances at the behest of an employer. This textual rigidity limits most examples to the scope of a press release, relinquishing attempts at experimentation to the trash bin of ephemeral advertising.
Accepting the challenge of commissioned artistry with a wink and a snicker, Jonathan Glazer exploits the limitations of the form as a springboard into equally restrictive spaces, morphing the sterility of hotel hallways and cramped back seats into deceptive games of sight and sound. Reveling in shadow and distorted motion, Glazer fashions simple visions of tossed feathers and flailing bodies into poetic waltzes, perfectly fleshing out musical motifs through painterly compositions and cross-over diegesis.
Delighting in the bondage of claustrophobic widescreen, Glazer shoots “Rabbit in Your Headlights” in a squint, mounting tension through swift edits and the bleary illumination of passing headlights. His subject is a drifter (played by Denis Lavant), haplessly staggering through a high-traffic tunnel, fueled only by the rapidity of his rambling gibberish. Awash in the glow of overpass bulbs, our walker is propelled into flight by the bumpers of indifferent motorists, wiping his face of blood each time he hoists himself from the sodden pavement.
Glazer stops the track to give his subject a brief respite and expand the length of his narrative, a technique that interrupts the flow of the music, but brilliantly draws parallels between Lavant’s shuffling feet and the stomping drum track sampled from David Axelrod’s “Holy Thursday.” His closing snapshot is just as epiphanic and rhythmic, glorifying Lavant as he sheds his coat like a dead skin and repels an oncoming sedan with his stiffened back, each shard of glass and metal drifting in the air like a passing constellation viewed in time lapse.
The artist continues his studies in unnatural movement with “Street Spirit (Fade Out),” taking Maya Deren’s work as a model for ruminations on the intoxicating anti-gravity of suspended beings and objects. Shot in a broader, 4:3 aspect ratio, Glazer entombs this abundance of space beneath a stark black scrim, further obstructing the plain of vision with flickering white bits of flesh, reflected in beaming spotlight. Though the perpetuity of the edits renders each portrait temporary, the use of double exposure and overlay spawns a magnificent richness that conjures forth the grace of the music, culminating in a trio of grands jetés that fuse into an orb of ascending limbs.
“Into My Arms” expands on this graceful simplicity by slowing the pace, reproducing concise images of sorrow on crisp, black-and-white film stock. Glazer sustains a penitent and regretful ambience, his succession of shots showing only Nick Cave and the faces of his spiritual victims, each word crooned acting as a plea for forgiveness before the series of quivering, tear-stained countenances. As a hand peaks from behind the camera and gently strokes a trembling cheek, Glazer discards any ironic distance, transcending the machinations of his craft and inserting the celestial into a commercial medium.
The Work of Director Jonathan Glazer (Palm Pictures, 1995 - 2000)
Music by Unkle, Radiohead, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Photographed by Stephen Keith-Roach