After typically coming to the forefront because of a bold vision or creating something extraordinary, acclaimed filmmakers have a tendency to become more and more predictable as the years go on. Their new work becomes too similar to the previous films, the subject matter and style increasingly repetiitve. Famed French media maestro and Oscar-winner Michel Gondry clearly doesn’t want to fall into that rut.
And yet, after his breakthrough success “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” Gondry’s next three films may not have been divergent enough. Sure, “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” didn’t include any of his signature dream sequences, plays with perspective or handmade artistic flourishes, but as great as the concert doc is, a number of other director’s could have shot the same film. The staleness began with “The Science of Sleep,” an almost french language echo of “Eternal Sunshine” and “Be Kind Rewind,” a Jack Black and Mos Def “comedy” that should have been Gondry’s biggest commercial hit — except it wasn’t. Perhaps his use of everyday items wasn’t as fresh, perhaps it was the disappointing screenplay or just the fact the movie wasn’t very funny, but “Rewind” was a big old dud. Now, Gondry is going even more mainstream as he takes the reigns of the Seth Rogen action flick “The Green Hornet.” And Gondry is intent on proving he can make a big studio picture while still including, but not overwhelming, the movie with some of his trademark creative flourishes.
“I don’t want in my life to keep doing movies with cardboard. That becomes something of a joke,” Gondry says struggling to provide an English language response. “I think what I like to do is something broader. Some of my favorite movies are really broad like ‘Back to the Future’ or ‘Ghostbusters’ or ‘Robocop.’ Those are all the movies I like. It’s funny because when I met Seth Rogen and his writing partner they said, ‘We’re going to write a dream sequence to do your crazy Gondry shtick’ and I said, ‘Oh, no, no dream sequence. I’ve done it enough.'”
Sadly, Gondry hasn’t made things any easier for himself by coming on board a movie whose original director, Hong Kong superstar Stephen Chow, dropped out, but is still expected to appear onscreen as the hero’s sidekick Kato. The filmmaker says he hopes Chow stays with the project, but reveals “he’s not confirmed yet.”
“They weren’t exactly in the same place and I think in the same way in the past I worked with people who were at different places for the same project I was able to meet their differences for the best of the film and I think I can do that,” Gondry says. “So far, we don’t have confirmation on Stephen Chow. But, we are still working on the new draft and writing.”
So, while Gondry continues to prep “Hornet,” he’s actually taking some time off this day to promote his second collection of music videos, “Michel Gondry 2: More Videos Before and After 1,” which was released on DVD earlier this week.
Many directors such as David Fincher, McG and Francis Lawrence and have used music videos to break into the business, but tend to drop the low paying gigs once they hit the big time. Not Gondry. After landmark videos such as Bjork’s “Human Behavior,” Daft Punk’s “Around the World” and Massive Attack’s “Protection,” Gondry continues to shoot about two new short films a year for some of the world’s biggest music stars. This compilation alone includes videos from Paul McCartney, Radiohead, The White Stripes, The Rolling Stones, Beck, Sheryl Crow, and yet another acclaimed film with longtime collaborator Bjork.
With his work spanning genres from pop to rock to hip-hop, I asked Gondry if he ever turned down videos because he just didn’t like the song. Gonry replies, “Sometimes it’s not my favorite and it’s more a case of I work with the Rolling Stones and it’s not my favorite song that they did, but it’s the Rolling Stones! It would be just lying to say I turn down an artist I have immense respect for because it’s not my favorite song.”
The filmmaker also finds the shorts are a great source of inspiration and excuse to experiment in his down time. And while music video budgets have been slashed as labels look to cut corners in tough economic times, it’s nothing new for Gondry who says he’s always worked with smaller budgets than he’s needed.
“A couple of time I had big projects, but I am pretty used to work in difficult conditions. In a way I never went for the glamours and high end look,” Gondry says. “Of course the budgets have shrunk literally 90%, so there is barely any money left. But, even with money the creative can be brought down by the demands of the record company if they don’t really want to play the game of creativity or let go of the typical rock n’roll or hip hop image. Then money isn’t [always] the issue.”
Trying to get Gondry to pick a favorite or two among his catalog of videos wasn’t easy, but it’s clear a few immediately come to mind.
“The first one I did for Bjork [“Human Behavior’] sentimentally is very important and maybe the one for Daft Punk [because] it sync’s very well together,” Gondry admits. “Sometimes we go in pairs. Sometimes it’s the reputation of the first one. I did Kyle Minogue and Massive Attack which were one shot videos with lots of trickery, so I don’t know.”
“Michel Gondry 2: More Videos Before and After 1” is now available exclusively on MichelGondry.com.
Check out some of this author’s favorite Gondry videos:
“Lucas with the Lid Off,” Lucas
“Around the World,” Daft Punk
“Fell In Love with a Girl,” The White Stripes
“Mad World,” Gary Jules