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Calum Marsh

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Calum Marsh is a purveyor of essays and criticism and a generally lovable dilettante. He lives in Toronto and was born in Great Britain, though regrettably he lost the accent.

15 Great Music Videos by Famous Film Directors

It’s well-known that Paul Thomas Anderson directs music videos at about the same glacial pace as he directs his feature films, which is why cinephiles the world over were understandably ecstatic when the PTA-helmed video for Fiona Apple’s “Hot Knives” suddenly materialized from the ether early this week. In honor of this rarest of gifts to the film world, we’ve compiled a list of 15 other great music videos directed by feature film auteurs, whether made while working their way up to the big leagues or slumming as a passing fancy.

15. The White Stripes – “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” // Dir. Sofia Coppola

A beautiful rich woman posed just so and impeccably shot? This is indeed Sofia Coppola at work, turning Kate Moss’s black and white pole dancing routine into pure class.

14. Bruce Springsteen – “Dancing in the Dark” // Dir. Brian De Palma

At first blush this live concert video seems too stripped down and simple for the director of “Blow Out” and “Obsession”, but then again it fits with his interest in watching and performance. Bonus points for featuring Courteney Cox as a diehard fan pulled up on stage by the Boss.

13. A-Ha – “Take on Me” // Dir. Steve Barron

The director of such beloved 80s comedies as “Coneheads” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” remains best-known for his comic book opus in miniature, and it isn’t hard to understand why.

12. Rick Astley – “Never Gonna Give You Up” // Dir. Simon West


That’s right: the guy who brought you “Con Air”, “The Mechanic” and “The Expendables 2” is also the man who Rickrolled the nation for years.

11. R.E.M. – “Losing My Religion” // Dir. Tarsem Singh

The easy joke, of course, is that Tarsem Singh never stopped making music videos—he just stretched them out to feature length. But whatever your take on the gilded tableaux of “Immortals” and “The Fall”, there’s no denying that “Losing My Religion” rules.

10. The Smashing Pumpkins – “Tonight, Tonight” // Dir. Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris

Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris found much success with their feature film debut, “Little Miss Sunshine”, but their video for “Tonight, Tonight” remains their claim to fame. Taking Georges Melies as its inspiration, the video brings the Pumpkins on a trip to the moon, with suitably whimsical results.

9. Meat Loaf – “I Would Do Anything For Love” // Dir. Michael Bay

Yeah. That Michael Bay. No comment.

8. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – “We No Who U R” // Dir. Gaspar Noe

Does any modern director seem better-suited to the world of music videos than Gaspar Noe? His punk rock ethos and abrasive, highly over the top style proves a perfect fit for Nick Cave, with whom he worked on this recent single.

7. New Order – “The Perfect Kiss” // Dir. Kathryn Bigelow

The “Point Break” and “Zero Dark Thirty” director brought her unconventional sensibility to bear on New Order with her video for “The Perfect Kiss”, which cleverly recast the band as hair metal badasses.

6. Chemical Brothers – “Star Guitar” // Dir. Michel Gondry

Next to Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry has maybe the most significant body of music video work in the medium’s short history, but his most accomplished effort is also his simplest: “Star Guitar” inverts the practice of matching cuts to beats by making movement illustrative of rhythm and in so doing changes the language of the music video altogether.

5. Madonna – “Vogue” // Dir. David Fincher

The most Finchery of David Fincher’s many early music videos, his overtly stylized take on “Vogue” finds him crafting some of the most striking and sumptuous images of his career. No small feat.

4. Daft Punk – “Da Funk” // Dir. Spike Jonze

“Da Funk” is written like a comedy—a guy walking around in a dog suit should be funny, right?—but in practice it seems too weird and too mysterious, and in a way too sad, to really be comic. Like Daft Punk’s music, what seems simple and familiar is often truly undefinable.

3. Michael Jackson – “Thriller” // Dir. John Landis

John Landis’s video for “Thriller”, maybe the most well-known video ever made, is frankly better than any of John Landis’s own movies. Just…don’t tell him that.

2. Michael Jackson – “Bad” // Dir. Martin Scorsese

Like “Thriller”, “Bad” is more a self-contained short film than simply a music video. Unlike “Thriller”, it takes itself somewhat seriously, with Scorsese shooting the black and white story sequences as if he were making “Mean Streets 2”.

1. U.N.K.L.E. – “Rabbit in Your Headlights” // Dir. Jonathan Glazer

Jonathan Glazer would go on to make two great feature films (with a third on the way this fall), of course, but his best work to date remains the visionary, Denis Lavant-starring video for “Rabbit in Your Headlights”—which may in fact be the best music video ever made.


Categories: Features

Tags: Calum Marsh, David fincher, Jonathan Glazer, Martin scorsese, Meat Loaf, Michael bay, Michael jackson, Music Videos, Sofia coppola, The White Stripes, Unkle

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