The most powerful element of creativity is being inspired by an idea and having the ability to manifest it exactly the way you drew it up. The best music video directors have this trait in common, but nobody does it quite like Michel Gondry. The French filmmaker has a childlike imagination for his concepts, often drawing inspiration from his dreams and memories to make what’s surreal look and feel tangible.
Born in Versailles, Gondry is today best known for his work on the big screen, as a writer and director for films like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, The Science Of Sleep, and Be Kind Rewind (though lately, he’s making a mark on TV with Kidding). But it’s his highly influential work as a storytelling music video director that first etched his place in the mainstream pop culture canon. Bring up “That Lego video by The White Stripes!” and the reference to perhaps Gondry’s most well-known clip (for “Fell In Love With A Girl”) instantly comes to mind for anyone.
For many of us in the pre-YouTube era, we were properly introduced to Gondry and his defining videos in the cult-classic 2003 Palm Pictures Directors Label Vol. 1 DVD box set. The three-disc set (Spike Jonze and Chris Cunnigham were featured in the other two) mapped out Gondry’s work with artists like Björk, The White Stripes, Foo Fighters, The Chemical Brothers, and the ’80s French pop band he played drums for, Oui Oui. The collection is spellbinding. Gondry creates worlds and fantasies that come together fluidly through groundbreaking filmmaking techniques and through it all, the artist and their music are somehow always still front and center.
There’s a simple moment in Lance Bangs’ 2004 documentary on the director, I’ve Been Twelve Forever, where Gondry explains that he had a complex early on that he wouldn’t be good enough. “At some point, if you want to consider yourself as somebody who creates,” he says, “you have to just ignore that and say that what you’re doing is different because you put yourself into it.”
It’s the ability to let go and just create in the name of art and escapism that has made Michel Gondry an icon. The way his videos make you wonder exactly what the filmmaker was doing just as much as what you see, makes the images stay in our minds and be forever tied to our sensory perception of the songs. With that, we’ve compiled his eight most spectacular videos, with some tidbits on how they were made. The best of the best from perhaps the greatest music video director of all time.