Music and film. It is my opinion that one cannot possibly exist without the other. For me, a great song is one that makes me visualize a story in my head as I’m listening to it. It doesn’t just present imagery-laden lyrics; it’s always the combination of the emotions evoked in the words, instrumentation and vocals that makes me feel the story behind them, or any story for that matter. Likewise, I judge a powerful piece of art on its ability to allow me to internally pair a fitting soundtrack with what I see on the screen. I need to see the music on the screen, just like I have to visualize the story in the song. Any song or film that doesn’t inspire me to do either of these things just isn’t worthy of my listening to or watching it.
Needless to say, it comes as a comfort to find that the film directors whom I respect the most share the same sentiment. Some directors whose films I adore have so generously paired their talent with my other favorite medium: music. They have made some of the most unforgettable clips of the past decade, blending their trademark visuals ever so appropriately with songs that virtually call for screen accompaniment. Songs like these practically beg for the visuals that made these directors so important to me. But then again, those directors’ own films practically beg for their musical soulmates. Some artists were simply made for each other. Here is a list of my favorite collaborations between filmmakers and bands.
1. Michel Gondry: “The Hardest Button to Button” by The White Stripes. This magical pairing of Gondry’s whimsy seen in the likes of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with the gritty but beautiful blues-rock of Jack and Meg is one for the ages. This meeting of the minds first occurred with Gondry’s video for the Stripes’ break-up track “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” followed by the iconic Lego-fied clip for “Fell in Love With a Girl.” But it was Gondry’s genius vision for 2003’s “The Hardest Button to Button” that truly captured the smoldering chemistry between Jack’s ferocious guitar styling with Meg’s painfully primitive drumming. The concept is simple: every time Meg steps on the kick drum pedal, another drum kit appears behind her and soon she and Jack are traversing through stairwells and subway platforms on a path of red and white drum sets. Gondry and the Stripes would collaborate more in the future and sometimes Gondry would feature some of their tracks in his films like the dreamy The Science of Sleep and the less-than-memorable The Green Hornet. But perhaps Gondry, who has also shot clips for Beck and Bjork, will be most remembered and revered for this fittingly awesome video for an equally awesome band.
2. David Fincher: “Only” by Nine Inch Nails. Long before NIN’s Trent Reznor would collaborate on Fincher’s The Social Network and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Fincher created probably one of the coolest videos one can make using plain old office furnishings for the With Teeth track. Remember Pin Art, that thing made of needles that, when you place your hand under it, the needles fall through the gaps in your fingers? Well, Fincher’s clip of “Only” features everyone’s favorite random trinket, except we see the outline of Reznor’s face as he snarls the eerie lyrics over equally spooky ambiance and beats. This is one bleak video, a style very familiar to Fincher, who also made the brutal murder mysteries Se7en and Zodiac. As Reznor, trapped in a sea of needles, wails “There is no you, there is only me” and as the camera sleekly trails across a laptop keyboard, a white cup of coffee and a decorative pendulum, Reznor’s distaste for the monotony of life becomes all the more apparent. Would it be wrong to say that the video sounds like it could have been the epilogue to Fincher’s opus Fight Club?
3. Spike Jonze: “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire. Yes, Jonze is best known for his kooky collaborations with the Beastie Boys and Kanye West, but his video for Arcade Fire’s
title track off their Grammy Award-winning record really hits home. The partnership between Jonze and Arcade Fire already proved to be a magnificent one when Jonze featured a reworked version of the band’s hit “Wake Up” in the trailer for Where the Wild Things Are, so their pairing for “The Suburbs” was only natural. Jonze’s shots of a group of teens’ bicycle rides throughout a suburban sprawl infiltrated with police officers wielding machine guns perfectly complements the piano-driven elegy for lost time and longing to hang onto youth. The collaboration is so effortless, it’s almost as if the indie Canadian heroes made “The Suburbs” just for Jonze.