Director's Series Vol. 4: The Work of Director Mark Romanek

05.05.2008
Mark Romanek branched out into directing feature films in 2002 with One Hour Photo, but throughout the 1990s he made his mark (no pun intended) directing a slew of inventive and highly stylized music videos for a wide range of artists (Jay-Z, Nine Inch Nails, Madonna).

As part of their continuing DVD series, Palm has now issued Director's Series Vol. 4: The Work of Director Mark Romanek, which collects 25 of his music videos, including the capper of this set, the brilliant clip of Johnny Cash doing a raw cover of Nine Inch Nail's Hurt that transcends so many levels it hits like a hammer to the heart.

These aren't run-of-the-mill performance videos, even when he almost seems to want to go in traditional directions. Instead, he'll opt to capture a band performing in unusual ways, whether it being filming them from behind (Linkin Park's Faint) or lit by fireworks (Audioslave's Cochise). Romanek displays a distinctive visionary talent to paint futuristic settings (Michael and Janet Jackson's Scream), stark black-and-white imagery (R.E.M.'s Strange Currencies) or strange nightmarish dreamscapes (Madonna's Bedtime Story) with his unique fingerprint, utilizing light and composition in haunting ways. His unedited version of Nine Inch Nail's Closer, filmed on hand-crank cameras and purposely distressed, is presented here in all of its twisted ugliness (all that MTV couldn't show), and seems even more perverse when played next to the comparatively comical Eels video for Novacaine for the Soul, which features the band floating weightless.

This is really exciting stuff, full of the kind of creative energy that music videos are supposed to radiate, and Romanek, according to director Steven Soderbergh, has the innate ability to "find the soul" of a given track, and actually add to the experience. It was Romanek's concept to take a sexually provocative approach with Fiona Apple in Criminal, lighting the apparently post-group-coital video with a small spotlight, which ends up giving the song a much darker and seedier tone than the original recording had. Now, when Apple sings "I've been a bad, bad girl," it means something else entirely. His design for Lenny Kravitz' star making video Are You Gonna Go My Way is manic and fast, and it lays out a public image that Kravitz only had to build upon from that point on.

There are directors who just make videos, simply showcasing faces and songs in cookie cutter fashion. Then there are the artists, directors with a style and vision and the ability to turn songs into something more.

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