Smile Politely

Michel Gondry mesmerizes on new compilation release

Many people may know Michel Gondry as the director  of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Others may have seen his White Stripes “lego” video a few years back. Those Gondry-geeks who follow his career also know that he is one of the most respected directors living today, winning truck loads of awards for his music video and TV commercial work.

I became a big fan of Gondry after watching The Work of Director Michel Gondry (2003), his first volume of collected works on DVD. After the first viewing, I immediately went out and bought myself a copy. I’ve watched parts this DVD numerous times since and I am more entranced by his work with every viewing. Gondry’s art is timeless and his crazy creative vision is absolutely genius.

So needless to say, I anxiously awaited the arrival of Michel Gondry 2: More Videos Before and After 1 at That’s Rentertainment. Like most gems at this video store, you won’t find it on the new releases wall. Instead, you’ll have to search for it way in the back under “music collections.” In fact, this self-released DVD is so rare, Netflix doesn’t even have it. And not enough people have seen it for IMDB to give it a rating. The only other way to acquire this DVD is to purchase it from Gondry himself on his web site (and while you’re on his web site, why not pick up a roll of Gondry toilet paper so you can wipe your ass with his crazy doodles?).

As a follow up to the first volume, Michel Gondry 2 features 20 new and old videos and plenty of extras. You’ll see crazy music videos from Bjork, The Rolling Stones, Beck, Sheryl Crow, Paul McCartney, Radiohead, The White Stripes, and more. By crazy, I mean knitted sets made entirely out of yarn, insane stop-motion that feels like an acid trip, impossible set distortions where midgets look large and giants look small. Then there’s Gondry’s trademark touch — the one-take video, which look deceptively simple at first glance, but makes your head spin upon repeated viewing because you just realized that Gondry has pulled off another impossible technical trick.

Watching the videos on this DVD begs the question, “How did he do that?” Fortunately, Gondry is willing to share his secrets and the “making of” on this volume is even more enlightening. Gondry never takes the easy way out. For example, in the Beck video, Natalie Portman plays a ghost. Any other director would simply have used digital compositing to achieve a ghostly image. But that would have been too easy. Instead, Gondry built two identical sets that are mirror images of each other. The sets are separated by a plate glass and when properly lit, a reflection in the glass would look like a ghost. The result of this in-camera trick is something that looks slightly flawed, like those antiquated special effects in old silent movies. This is what gives Gondry’s work that special hand-made quality, with an irresistible charm that is unique to his style.

Gondry likes elaborate sets and really goes all out on the White Stripes “Denial Twist” video where the camera moves seamlessly from one room to another, alternating between sets that are squashed or sets that are squeezed. By putting midget actors in the squashed room and giants in the squeezed room, Gondry achieves a weird effect where Jack and Meg appear to grow and shrink in size as they move from one room to another. This may not seem like a big deal until you realize that the entire video is done in one take without any cuts.

None of this technical wizardry should come as any surprise as Gondry also happens to be the inventor of the “bullet time” technique which was later used in “The Matrix” and countless other movies. Which begs the next question, “What is Gondry going to do with “The Green Hornet?” which he has been signed to direct for release in 2010. If you can’t wait till then to find out, do check out his new short film out called “Interior Design,” which one of three shorts in the feature film collection called “Tokyo.”

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