Sunday, September 20, 2009

Time Out of Joint

Netflix delivered as is its wont, and that means we were able to spend about five hours watching "The Work of Director Michel Gondry", which is such a boring title for such a fascinating DVD that I'll title this post something else.

Gondry directed The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a movie I found a little tough to take because it had Jim Carrey in it, and also because it seemed a little derivative. Even though Carrey was on his best behavior and didn't go completely over the top even once, it had a dampening effect on my mood.

As for the concept – the gradual realization that the characters had been through something together at some time in the past, but couldn't, or wouldn't remember it – it struck me at the time as the usual Hollywood Dick technique. No, not being dicks, though many are, but the technique of jotting down plotlines from Philip K Dick – We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Time Out of Joint, Martian Time Slip, Ubik – and mixing them up with cute couples and modern paraphernalia to create a feeling of vaguely unhinged memory and non-linear time. After seeing this DVD, I realize there's nothing derivative about Gondry at all – he LIVES Martian Time Slip. He IS Palmer Eldritch. If Gondry has an antecedent, it may be Chris Marker (La Jetee, 1962) and to a much lesser extent, the photographically-constrained time and spaces of JG Ballard in such pieces as The Sixty Minute Zoom. He's making music videos that take on Science Fiction themes and trounce the writers at their own game.

All of the pieces on the DVD are shorts, and most are music videos. I've gushed here before about The White Stripes Hardest Button to Button, but in context, it appears that video's theme - duplication while the original persists - is a common one for Gondry, which he carries out with breathtaking skill and innovation. One of the best examples is a Kylie Minogue video, Come into My World, in which the camera follows her four times around a circuit, a new Kylie joining in each time, and each action in the background is either duplicated or extended until your jaw drops at the audacity.

Embedding for that video is disabled by stupid request. You have to click here to watch it. However, you can watch the Making Of video (from the Gondry DVD) below.

Cibo Matto's Sugar Water is given a split screen treatment. In a single take, the women go through one single story which turns around in the middle to go in reverse. (This means each has to act backwards for half the video). Apparently it took some extra takes to get this perfectly timed so that they are at the exact equivalent point in each other's timeline, but the overall result is stunning. If I hadn't already known Sugar Water, I wouldn't have heard a note of it, I was concentrating that hard on the timeline.

A Rolling Stones' video takes place in linear time, but with space distorted in an entirely novel way. Massive Attack's Protection appears to be shot by Spiderman with a Steadicam, climbing up and down the walls of an apartment block to peer into different windows – but even Spidey can't have shot the upside-down rooms, the impossible geometries and the cutaway elevator! In another video, what appears to be early 80s Quantel effects – that effect where the image turns into a plane (or many planes) and whirls around while the original image continues to play on the primary screen – turn out to be real, physical objects which dancers use in their choreography. And in the Chemical Brothers' Star Guitar, a continuous shot out of a train window seems to be a series of repetitive loops until you realize that the structures the train passes correspond to the music, all seamlessly integrated into one long take.

There are two long interviews with Gondry, and there are also several short early movies on the double-sided disk. In one, La Lettre, a young boy is using the length of a corridor as a darkroom to make an enlargement of the girl he loves. It's a 28 minute exposure, and a fair part of the film takes place with the characters moving in front of the projected negative image. ("Don't bother ducking – your shadow won't show up.") Apparently it's a real chapter from Michel's life and is about 5,000,000 times more interesting than most film-makers' early shorts.

Weirdly, the other Netflix movie we had for the weekend was Donnie Darko, which is, of course, about a young man shunted into a siding in time while the heavy traffic clears and then sent off again on his dark journey. Must be Time Slip week.

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