Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Works of Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham, and Michel Gondry

Director's Label Series Boxed Set - The Works of Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham, and Michel Gondry

Director's Label Series Boxed Set - The Works of Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham, and Michel Gondry

The Work of Director Spike Jonze
When you experience The Work of Director Spike Jonze, you enter a world where anything can happen and frequently does. From the innovative director of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation., this superior compilation of music videos, documentaries, interviews, and early rarities offers abundant proof that Jonze is the real deal--a filmmaker ablaze with fresh ideas and fresh ways of filming them. While collectors will regret that only 16 of Jonze's 40+ music videos are included here, this glorious sampling represents the cream of Jonze's bumper crop, and for sheer ingenuity, it doesn't get any better than this. From the Beastie Boys' popular TV cop-spoof "Sabotage" to the intensely disciplined backwards-filming technique of the Pharcyde's "Drop," it's clear that Jonze has an affinity for inventive street theater, culminating in the sad/happy vibe of Fatli! p's introspective "What's Up Fatlip?" and the pop-jazz effervescence of Bjork's "It's Oh So Quiet." Technical wizardry is also a Jonze trademark, especially in the elaborate "Happy Days" nostalgia of Weezer's "Buddy Holly" and the graceful fly-wire dancing of Christopher Walken to Fatboy Slim's pulsing "Weapon of Choice." No doubt about it: Every one of these videos is an award-worthy testament to Jonze's ability to combine hard work with fun-loving spontaneity. Accompanied by an informative 52-page booklet, this two-sided DVD also explores Jonze's artistic evolution with an entertaining selection of video rarities and three half-hour documentaries, the best being a revealing and very funny interview with rapper Fatlip after his dismissal from the Pharcyde. Commentaries for the music videos are consistently worthwhile, supporting Jonze's own belief that his best videos were made for artists whose work he genuinely enjoyed. Lucky for us, his pleasure is infectious.

The Work of Director Chris Cunningham
Like the other volumes in the acclaimed Director's Series, The Work of Director Chris Cunningham offers a feast of visual ingenuity, with one major difference: Unlike the relatively playful brightness of Jonze and Gondry, Cunningham wants to involve you in his nightmares. From the urban monstrosities of Aphex Twin's "Come to Daddy" to the limb-shattering weirdness of Leftfield's "Afrika Shox," Cunningham's music videos emphasize the freakish and the bizarre, but they are also arrestingly beautiful and otherworldly, as in the aquatic effects used for Portishead's "Only You," combining underwater movements with ominous urban landscapes. Some of Cunningham's shock effects are horrifically effective (his 'flex" video installation, excerpted here with music by Aphex Twin, is as disturbing as anything conjured by David Cronenberg), while others are cathartic or, in the case of Aphex Twin's "Windowlicker," outrageously amusing. And while the eerie elegance of Madonna's "Frozen" arose from a chaotic production, the signature work in this collection is clearly Björk's "All Is Full of Love," a masterfully simple yet breathtaking vision of intimacy involving advanced robotics and seamless CGI composites. In these and other videos, Cunningham advances a unique aesthetic, infusing each video and commercial he makes with a dark, occasionally gothic sensibility. That these frequently nightmarish visions are also infectiously hypnotic is a tribute to Cunningham's striking originality.

The Work of Director Michel Gondry
The Work of Director Michel Gondry invites the lucky viewer into a wonderland of childlike imagination. Before the Versailles-born Gondry turned his creative ingenuity to feature films (beginning with the underrated Human Nature and the 2004 Jim Carrey comedy Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), these 27 music videos and assorted "stories and things" formed a legacy of supreme cleverness, suggesting a creative lineage from the pioneering film magic of Georges Méliès to the groundbreaking experimental films of Norman McLaren. It's perfectly fitting that the accompanying 75-minute documentary is titled "I've Been 12 Forever," because Gondry (b. 1964) never lost the sense of wonder and inventiveness that children display when their minds are allowed to flourish in a creative environment. No wonder he's best known for his dazzling collaborations with Icelandic pop star Björk, resulting in music videos (seven included here) that redefined the magical potential of the medium. Each, in its own way, is a masterpiece of the fantastic. What's also remarkable about Gondry's work is its technical progression, from the homemade crudeness of his earliest videos for the French band Oui Oui, to the technical wizardry of Kylie Minogue's "Come Into My World," in which the Australian pop star is seamlessly multiplied as she strolls around a busy Parisian intersection; like many of Gondry's videos, it's a stunning "how-did-they-do-that?" work of art, reminiscent of Zbigniew Rybcynski's prize-winning 1982 short "Tango." From the hilarious dreamworld of the Foo Fighters' most popular video "Everlong" to the painstaking pixilation of Gondry's videos for the White Stripes (one made entirely of animated Lego blocks), this DVD is packed with Gondry's tireless pursuit of perfection; he'll do whatever's necessary, no matter how simple or complex, to achieve perfect harmony between song, artist, and visual concept. All the while, he's drawing from a seemingly endless well of inspiration, as evident in the delightful 52-page booklet of stories, drawings, photos, and interviews that chronicle the eternal sunshine of a brilliant mind. --Jeff Shannon
(description from


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Do fish have dreams?

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans [Blu-ray]"There's a deranged grandeur to Nicholas Cage's performance . . ."

I read the blog entry in Noir Journal #6 and I think it says it all.  Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call, New Orleans is one of my favorite films of the year (along with the Coen Brother's A Serious Man).  See the entry at the link below:

Noir Journal #6: Film Noir in Color Part 2, Bad Lieutenant - Noir Journal . . . investigating noir fiction and film

A.O. Scott's New York Times review referred to it as an "anarchist film noir" and I think that describes it well. The post-Katrina swampy landscape and reptilian camera angles paint a unique new picture of film noir in color. I'm reminded of William Burroughs' description of New Orleans.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Zaha Hadid, futurism in architecture

Zaha Hadid is a wildly controversial architect, who for many years built almost nothing, despite her designs winning prizes and critical acclaim. Some even said her work was unbuildable. Yet over the past decade she has completed numerous structures including the Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati (which the New York Times called 'the most important new building in America since the Cold War'), the Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, Germany, and the Central Building of the new BMW Assembly Plant in Leipzig. Today, Hadid is firmly established among the élite of world architecture, her audacious and futuristic designs having catapulted her to international fame.

TASCHEN has an exquisite book on her work available now.
Zaha Hadid: Complete Works, 1979-2009

Zaha Hadid: Complete Works, 1979-2009

RISE OF THE MACHINES: Robots, Androids and Cyborgs Invade Cinema

Photo of me below is by Seems an appropriate author photo for my next project...

The new book I am working on with Scott Tapio is titled:

RISE OF THE MACHINES: Robots, Androids and Cyborgs Invade Cinema

It will be about the evolution of robots, androids, artificial intelligence, cyborgs, etc in cinema and television. From as early as Metropolis we will cover the beginnings of appearance of robots, even automatons in film and move on to present, analyzing everything from their visual appearance to interaction with humans (with plenty of forays into sex and relationships with artificial beings in the movies). It will include all the camp, Lost in Space, Creation of the Humanoids and atomic age films, Japanese films from RoboGeisha to 2046, and everything else like Stepford Wives, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Robocop, Alien, Terminator and of course the incomparable Blade Runner. Of course we'll include a beautiful filmography with as many movie posters as we can squeeze in. It will be SUBLIME.


Cinema’s Amazons and Cyborgs - MP3 of my chat on Changesurfer Radio with Dr. J. Hughes

Citizen Cyborg: Why Democratic Societies Must Respond To The Redesigned Human Of The FutureDr. James Hughes, IEET Executive Director, a bioethicist and sociologist at Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut and author of the book Citizen Cyborg interviewed me on Changesurfer Radio, which is also featured on and can be subscribed and downloaded via itunes as well.

Listen to the MP3 at:
Cinema’s Amazons and Cyborgs

 We do talk about my newest book project, with Scott Tapio also:
RISE OF THE MACHINES: Robots, Androids and Cyborgs Invade Cinema

I have to say, it's very sobering for me to do interviews like this. I lost a breast last year and that was traumatic, but I feel it as if I have lost a piece of my brain also. Ever since enduring chemo (FAC) a few years ago, I have suffered a massive lapse in memory in certain ways, specifically in naming and labeling of things. I'm not just a little bit forgetful now, or just suffering the natural effects of getting older as many people say. My life changed drastically in certain ways. They call it "chemo brain" and only just beginning to acknowledge this is a problem. Drug companies definitely want to keep this matter suppressed. I opted not to undergo chemo again this time despite dire warnings because this has been such a problem for me.

Now when I meet people, I go through elaborate systems to remember them, creating "case files" for everyone on my iphone and elaborate systems of notes when I work on books and projects. I use a series of alarms on my iphone throughout the day to help me remember to do things that should be simple. It is really far worse than people understand or acknowledge. The only thing I can do is work out better systems to deal with it.


a Hollywood Monster in Laguna Beach

Hollywood Monster: A Walk Down Elm Street with the Man of Your DreamsI was thrilled to receive my own custom signed copy of Robert Englund's new book, Hollywood Monster: A Walk Down Elm Street with the Man of Your Dreams, with Alan Goldsher as a holiday gift from Jen. The title makes me think of Joe Esterhaus' Hollywood Animal for some reason (kind of a scary character in his own way). Anyway, my copy was beautifully signed by Robert Englund (AKA Freddy Krueger) himself (with a bit of artwork even).

Englund is a well known and loved Laguna Beach resident. According to everyone who meets him, he is very approachable and happy to chat with fans and discuss his work. Perhaps this new book will save him having to repeat some of his many stories (I've heard one tale about some horrific wardrobe malfunctions, including wearing a lice-infested Phantom of the Opera costume. We'll see if he mentions it.)

But talk about being a good neighbor - when my stepmother ordered a couple books from his site (, she found the books custom-signed and hand delivered right onto her doorstep not long after, along with a friendly follow up email from Robert's wife inquiring if she received the books in good condition. Very impressive! Although, such neighborly behavior is typical of Laguna people also. I really miss the town. It was the last place I lived that had a true "town spirit."

I'm just starting to dig into the book, so I'll have to report back with a review. This will be a great reference for my next book that I am working on, SURBURBAN APOCALYPSE: The Debasement of the American Dream in Cinema, with Scott Tapio. I really hope that Robert Englund will consider allowing me to interview him for the section that will cover the Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

I saw the original release of the film in the theater and will definitely never forget the excitement of the discovery at the time. I have a terrible craving to go and re-watch that and all of them in the collection. I do feel very concerned about this new Michael Bay remake of Nightmare coming out. Of course I abhor Michael Bay movies, so it's hard to see what he is going to do to this beloved favorite of horror genre fans. And a Nightmare without the the REAL Freddy....I don't know. I sure hope he doesn't slaughter our favorite slasher it too terribly - but of course he will. He'll probably turn it into a romance. I wonder how Wes Craven feels about the matter. For now, I'm going to long for this DVD set to console myself with later, and watch a different and fun remake of a classic campy horror film featuring Robert Englund - the infamous 2001 MANIACS.

The Nightmare on Elm Street Collection   2001 Maniacs  Two Thousand Maniacs