by Marty Demarest

A few years ago, "former music video director" was about the worst thing that you could say about a feature-film director. And it still comes up as a derogative label, along with phrases like "MTV-style editing" and "pop sensibility."

But anymore, critics who say things like that need to pull their heads out of their screening rooms and take a refresher course in contemporary filmmaking. Not only have major mainstream directors like David Fincher (Fight Club, Panic Room) and Michael Bay (Bad Boys II) come from the world of music videos, but so have some of the most innovative artists working in film today. Most prominent among them is Spike Jonze, who directed the critically lauded Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.

Jonze is the director who had the inspiration to feature Christopher Walken in the music video for Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice." Cast as a bored, aging traveling businessman, Walken hears a song playing on a nearby stereo and begins dancing through an empty hotel lobby. It's deliriously fun, and when he starts flying through the air, Jonze achieves a level of inspiration that most directors never manage to put onscreen once in an entire career.

That video, along with 15 others, is included in a beautiful collection from Palm Pictures, along with a substantial 52-page book. Each video -- from Bjork's "It's Oh So Quiet," to the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" -- is entertaining enough to sustain multiple viewings. And there's a surprising amount of emotional and intellectual material on display here, too. There are also several short films and documentaries. How They Get There is one of the funniest shorts I've ever seen; it's a one-joke movie, so saying anything about it would give it away -- but the joke is astonishing. And Torrance Rises, which is a mockumentary about Jonze's live appearance (as the dancer from Fatboy Slim's "Praise You" video) on the MTV Video Music Award, out-Guffmans the movie Waiting for Guffman, since most of the people onscreen aren't in on the joke.

No, music videos -- when they're done Spike Jonze-style -- are more cinematic than most movies. They do away with plot and dialogue, which are remnants from novels and theater, and concentrate on motion, technology and mood. That's not enough to sustain a feature film. But Jonze shows that, by perfecting those components, a director can bring something to movies that most directors overlook. Not to mention the critics.

Publication date: 10/30/03

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