This month marks the 30th anniversary of MTV, the channel formerly known as Music Television. While it's now mostly known for teen moms and Jersey sleazeballs, the channel started by playing nothing but music videos. Most of these videos were, and still are, directed by filmmakers who got their start in the medium. Some of them would go on to direct feature films and move on to successful big screen careers. But there are also established Hollywood filmmakers who have made their way to the small screen to direct music videos. Here are five videos directed by some very famous feature directors. Some of these videos show all of the hallmarks their director brings to their bigger budgeted projects; some of them just defy belief.
THRILLER - MICHAEL JACKSON
DIRECTED BY JOHN LANDIS
The most iconic video of all time may also have been the first to be directed by a feature director. Landis was well known as the director of Animal House and Trading Places, but had also directed An American Werewolf in London. So when Michael Jackson, the biggest pop star in all the land, needed a video for the title track to his ridiculously successful album, he called Landis. Landis proposed a short film, based around the song, and brought in collaborators from his features, including makeup artist extraordinaire Rick Baker. Together, Landis and Jackson created something that's more than a music video. In fact, it's not video at all; it's film, an incredibly entertaining short film that just happens to have the music video for one of the greatest singles of all time smack dab in the middle. It's truly a video that changed the way we see music, and directors are still emulating it today.
FIGHT THE POWER - PUBLIC ENEMY
DIRECTED BY SPIKE LEE
Spike Lee had directed two modestly sucessful films when he released 1989's Do The Right Thing. That film, which focused on racial tensions in a Brooklyn neighborhood on one scorching summer day, brought Lee both accolades (including numerous awards, several Oscar nominations and the the top spot on many critic's best of lists) and criticism over the film's possible inciting of violence amongst African-American youth (which were unfounded). Lee started the film off with Public Enemy's Fight The Power, a song whose deep lyrics and dense music set the stage for the abuses of power the movie would portray perfectly. Lee then directed the video for the song, which, in its longer version, starts with newsreel footage of the 1963 civil rights march on Washington. Cut to Brooklyn, 1989, where Public Enemy holds their own march against racial injustice. Images of Malcolm, Martin, and Marcus Garvey adorn signs as PE rap live what may have been their best song. Add the natural sound of a crowd really getting into the moment, and you have a video that fits in well with the message Spike Lee was, and still is, trying to get across.
UNDER THE BRIDGE - RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS
DIRECTED BY GUS VAN SANT
When they released Blood Sugar Sex Magic in 1991, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were known more as a goofy party band than serious musicians. That is, until the release of Under The Bridge, the second single off of the album. It signaled a turning point for the band, a maturity they hadn't had before, and the video was a major part of that. Gus Van Sant was approached to direct the video by bassist Flea, who had appeared in Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho. Van Sant took a simple approach, as he did in his early films, focusing on character; in this case, Anthony Kiedis, the front man who wrote the song about his addiction to drugs and the toll it took on him. Van Sant shows Kiedis in close up, contemplative, then takes him to the streets of Los Angeles, where his love of the city, its people, and of performing shows. Perhaps the most powerful image is Kiedis running in slow motion over a superimposed image of an atomic bomb, symbolic of his need to get away from the pain and hurt in the lyrics. Under The Bridge would make the band one of the biggest acts in the world, and Flea would give the video credit for breaking the band through to the mainstream.
MARTINI RANCH - REACH
DIRECTED BY JAMES CAMERON
Just because you directed two of the biggest money makers in history doesn't mean you'll be any good at directing music videos. This is a lesson James Cameron obviously never learned, as evidenced by his music video for Martini Ranch's Reach. "Who is Martini Ranch," you may ask. Well, they were a New Wave band whose lead singer just happened to be actor Bill Paxton, star of several James Cameron films, including Aliens, which might explain why Cameron directed this video in the first place. In fact, if you look closely, you'll see several cast members from Aliens, including Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, and Jenette Goldstein. Really, this is a strange video that really doesn't show any of the hallmarks of a James Cameron film, but it does hold one distinction: it might be the only music video ever made to involve two Best Director Oscar winners, as Kathryn Bigelow (then the soon-to-be Mrs. James Cameron) plays the cigar chomping gunfighter.
GRAVITY - MICHAEL SEMBELLO
DIRECTED BY RON HOWARD
Here's another weird video directed by another future Oscar winner, Ron Howard. The song, Gravity, was the theme to Howard's film Cocoon, and performed by Michael Sembello, better known as the guy that sang the song Maniac from Flashdance (there's way too much 80s going on in that sentence). After an introduction by the director himself, which has little if anything to do with the actual video, we are treated to the synthesizer sounds of Sembello, clips from the movie, and some really weird imagery, including a spinning pyramid, a pool of water, a woman in a white flowing robe, and a monkey. It's actually the most symbolic of its time period, which makes it the most dated. It's as if Howard watched videos from around that time period and decided to emulate them. It's a strange, uninspired moment from a usually creative director.