Miércoles 8 de Agosto de 2007, Ip nº 202

The great video revival
Por John Bailey

Music videos were once fleeting affairs, glimpsed on Rage then consigned to the dustbin of history. No longer. Now, barely remembered clips from 20 years ago are a Google search away, ready to be viewed on your iPod or downloaded to your phone.

Just don't tell the directors.

"I don't want my videos being watched on YouTube," says London-based music-clip director Lee Gingold. The 29-year-old, who cut his teeth producing innovative and deftly executed videos for bands big and small in Australia, isn't such a fan of the online resurgence of the music promo.

"Because it just looks shit. It looks really shit. If you're making something for MTV or Rage or whatever, it's completely different to making something for YouTube. YouTube's all about those dudes on bloody treadmills, isn't it?"

He's speaking of the band OK Go. You know the video, even though you can't hum the tune. The song name escapes you but you've forwarded their YouTube link to everyone in your address book. Directors may be precious about the poor resolution on YouTube, but getting a clip on that site is the very best way to get it before the world's eyes. And if the viewers love it, they'll turn it into a sensation.

In an age of multimillion-dollar special effects, Chicago band OK Go recorded a home video in which the foursome performed an elaborate choreographed dance routine on a series of exercise treadmills, and the winning combination of naive production values and earnest, original ideas made it a worldwide success

"What's that band?" asks Juliana Chin, curator of the Melbourne International Film Festival's first ever session devoted to local music videos. "OK Go, that's it. They've done phenomenally well with that treadmill one."

MIFF is devoting several sessions to the art of the music video. Mirrorball, a staple of the Edinburgh Film Festival, brings together the world's best new clips. After 11 years, it's finally making an appearance in Melbourne. To accompany the international selection, the best local clips have been assembled for Orbit, a session that proves there's more to the art of music videos than a bunch of bikini-clad models standing around a pool.

There are three distinct strands of hot new videos: catchy choreography with a punk-rock "I could do that" charm; weird animation from the imagination's outer limits; and a handmade aesthetic that replaces the slick gloss of commercial cliche with a patchwork, frayed-at-the-edges naivete.

OK Go isn't the only group to catch on to the daggy dance routine as promotional gold. Canadian songstress Feist's My Moon, My Man is a Busby Berkeley-lite affair that replaces treadmills with airport travelators. Britain's Bats for Lashes has created waves with the video for the song What's a Girl to Do?, featuring animal-headed BMX riders performing a creepy rehearsed routine. Vincent Vincent and the Villains (the 2007 answer to Madness) will feature in MIFF's Mirrorball season with an infectiously catchy four-man fandango including every half-arsed dance move in the book, from heel clicks to aeroplane swoops to fake punch-ups.

A dance routine costs nothing but rehearsal time and a willingness to look a bit daggy. The daggier the better, actually. It's a deliberate reaction to the economic extravagance of high-profile artists who spend big in order to look cool. It's no coincidence that the endearing, self-deprecating dances filling our screens are coming from the indie-rock sector.

For Chin, flouting your no-budget background has a long tradition in rock'n'roll's rebellious history. She cites the clip for David Bowie's Jean Genie, sometimes touted as the first real music promo. Shot in 1972, it includes all the features that later came to be known as the MTV look: fast edits, flashing lights, plenty of colour and random moments that make little sense. It was shot in a day for $350. "People who don't have the budget push the boundaries a bit more, and they don't follow that generic music video pattern," says Chin.

Animation can be just as attractive to a band with no money but plenty of time. Take Daniel Reid's clip for Melbourne's Bit By Bats, screening in Orbit. The band gave Reid as much time as he needed to create a fully animated video to suit its song One Six One. He took six months to painstakingly craft the detailed 3D world in which the clip takes place, with a computer-generated version of the band speeding through an uncanny cityscape on a runaway train.

"It's blown so many other bands away because even quite well-to-do bands often couldn't afford to do something like this," says Reid.

After four years working as an animator in Britain, he found music clips the perfect fit for his own creative interests.

"With animation," he says, "you really do rely on sound and when you've got a good song that's already been put together you can feed off of that. It gives you visuals, it gives you timing, it does so much of the work for you."

But six months is a long time to spend on a three-minute surge of colour and sound.

"That's what I used to think," says musician-turned-director Isobel Knowles. "It's going to go on Rage and it's going to be played a few times at 3am. A hundred people will see it each time maybe. But that's more than any of my other films have been seen!"

Knowles played in Melbourne band Architecture in Helsinki for four years before leaving the group last year - "creative differences", says the band's webpage; "they kicked me out", she says.

Luckily, she was already developing her skills as an animator and director. She animated Van Sowerwine's Cannes-nominated short film Clara. And she has worked on clips for a host of Australian singers, from Sarah Blasko to New Buffalo. Two of her music videos, for Ground Components and Dr Dog, will screen as part of Orbit.

Produced on a shoestring, her Dr Dog clip is a gentle, hand-drawn cartoon with a childlike appeal. While it doesn't feature live footage of the band, it still conveys a sense of the artists behind the music. "I've had so many emails from people watching the Dr Dog clip who've discovered the band through it," says Knowles. "It gives the band a visual aspect, apart from their photographs."

What unites animation and the deliberately dorky dance is an anything-goes punk sensibility that finds another expression in the proudly low-rent production values now seen in even some of the biggest acts' videos.

Blame it on Spike Jonze's classic clip for Fatboy Slim's Praise You. It was a pioneer of the low-fi look - a deliberately amateurish home-video style recording of an apparently impromptu street performance by a woefully talentless dance class. It had nothing to do with the artist, or even the song. But it was funny.

Jonze is joined by fellow director Michel Gondry as the visionaries who led the music-video revolution. Gondry, especially, is known for avoiding computer graphics in favour of in-camera special effects, retro styling and a low-budget video look. The ripple-effect has been noticeable.

Regina Spektor's US, screening in Mirrorball, is an animated wonderland of cut-outs and quirky collage, as the New York singer unpacks a suitcase of cardboard furniture before venturing into a forest of newspaper clippings that come to life.

Britain's Fujiya & Miyagi have taken the handmade look even further, with an animated clip entirely constructed from dice. It's not the prettiest thing on show, but the originality of the idea and the effort behind its completion provide an aura money can't buy.

"With the Chris Cunninghams and the Spike Jonzes," says director Bart Borghesi, "everyone says, 'Hey, it's art! This is cutting edge filmmaking.' But there's something very commercial about all those works as well.

"In order to achieve a couple of robots kissing each other in a Bjork video, you need money." Borghesi is one of the few Australians to have made a professional career from music videos. "I've been doing them for about 10 years. I'm probably one of the elder statesmen." He's created about 85 clips in the past decade, working with artists such as Something for Kate, Airborne and Eskimo Joe.

While big overseas acts can afford to spend large on high-concept artistic experiments, don't expect local labels to throw money at creative whimsies.

Borghesi estimates that the average Australian studio-financed clip might cost between $20,000 and $30,000. For major artists, that figure might occasionally nudge $100,000.

"In a country like Australia, where the market's not that big," says Borghesi, "the main priority for labels if they're going to drop a bit of money on a clip is to make the artist look appealing. Because at the end of the day, you can have the greatest, arty, wildest concept but what a record company wants is for people to say, 'OK, that's who they are, they look great, that's how they look when they play'. Ninety-nine out of 100 record-company employees will put that at the top of their list."

But while most of the new Aussie content to fill our screens won't break out of the standard mould, there's still hope. RMIT graduate Lee Gingold now works for Passion Pictures, the London company best known for creating the distinctive animated videos for Gorillaz.

He believes that the state of the art in Australia is healthier than that of Britain. "Because of one factor," he says, "and that's Rage. Over here, you just haven't got anywhere to view bands who are just playing around pubs. You're either on MTV and you're doing well, or you just don't exist."

As long as there are Australian bands that don't have a dollar to their name, but are willing to play dice anyway, there'll be ample fodder for another decade of MIFF selections. All it takes is some fancy footwork, some cardboard cut-outs and a camera. Treadmills optional.

Mirrorball, a collection of cutting-edge international music videos, screens at MIFF on Tuesday, July 31.

Orbit, a selection of great Australian music videos, screens at MIFF this Thursday and on Saturday, August 4.

For information and bookings, see melbournefilmfestival.com.au or call 9417 3804. STREAM THIS


Ali Love: Secret Sunday Lover

This is what the future looked like. In 1970. On a tight budget. Paying homage to bad sci-fi and good disco is this crap-tastic video accompanying a song that will no doubt be all over Melbourne come summer.

Roisin Murphy: Overpowered

The gifted Murphy parodies our notion of success in this slow-burning gem of a clip - beginning at the end of a live show, it follows her on the bus home, stopping for some chips, doing the laundry and brushing her teeth on the toilet. See, they're just like us! Though she does it all in a hilariously garish Gareth Pugh stage outfit.

UNKLE: Burn My Shadow

ER's Goran Visnjic wakes up to discover a set of wires emerging from his chest, leading to a timer with just three minutes left. What follows is a white-knuckle thriller set to a driving UNKLE score. A Hollywood feature will probably follow.

Fujiya & Miyagi: Ankle Injuries

Michel Gondry turned the White Stripes into animated Lego; did he start a genre? Here, the Brighton band is re-created with hundreds of coloured dice in a stop-motion frenzy. To add interest, the numbers on each dice correspond to subtle subtonal variations in the song. Or something. Pretty cool either way.

Jenny Wilson: Let My Shoes Lead Me Forward

Oddball Swede Wilson gets the stop-motion treatment in an apartment bare of anything but shoes. Lots of shoes. Lots and lots of shoes that dance in stop-motion syncronisation.

Bonde Do Role: Solta O Frango

Brazilian baile funk is hot, and Bonde Do Role does it the hottest. This bizarre, doco-style clip features men dressed as chickens cockfighting in the street as ghetto- dwellers place their bets. Real poverty mixed with a surreal sense of humour makes for an oddly engrossing track.

DJ Mehdi (feat Chromeo): I Am Somebody

Two friends pass each other every day, and their hand-slap greetings grow increasingly elaborate on each occasion until, eventually, someone takes it too far. How so much drama and pathos is squeezed into such a silly premise is quite a feat, and it's all laid down alongside irresistible Parisian grooves.

Gus Gus: Moss

These Icelandic house honchos have always had a slightly unnerving side, brought to the fore in this new animated clip. A town full of clumsily rendered characters wander around throwing roses into each others chests. Well, nobody said music videos had to make sense.

  22/07/2007. The Age.