September 19, 2002

Cornell Cinema

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As part of the continuing “Indie Rock Seen” film series being presented this semester, Cornell Cinema this weekend is showing Sonic Cinema: Sparklehorse, a one-hour documentary that originally aired on the Sundance Channel a year ago. The film features eight music videos for songs from Sparklehorse’s album It’s a Wonderful Life, each film directed by a different luminary from the worlds of documentaries and experimental film.

These short films are interspersed with interviews that shed light on the creative process at work here. A uniquely collaborative feeling pervades all of these pieces, with the directors working closely with Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous to achieve a final product that reflects the intentions of both musician and filmmaker. Though not every one is completely successful, almost all the videos presented are intriguing and match Sparklehorse’s lovely, melancholy music very well.

One of the best clips is director Guy Maddin’s take on the title track to It’s a Wonderful Life. According to Maddin, he felt that there was something about the song which indicated a revolving feeling, so he made a video where everything is rotating. Shot entirely in black and white with a fish-eye lens, the video features people wandering through magical-looking cityscapes that turn slowly in the background (the effect was created by placing all the sets on a merry-go-round at a park). The entrancing visuals foster the same feeling of fantasy and longing as Sparklehorse’s music, and the combination of imagery with sound is stunning in this case.

The juxtaposition also works for the Brothers Quay’s creepy clip for “Dog Door,” a twisted collaboration between Linkous and Tom Waits. The Quay brothers are known for their bizarre aesthetic sense, and their vision was clearly suited to the dark carnival-metal that Waits’ presence turned this track into. The video is dominated by images of a topless, large-headed doll with her legs spread, including extreme close-ups on her rumpled panties. The blurry, shadowy video never really makes it clear what’s going on, but the disturbing mood is only heightened by that fact.

Experimental filmmaker Garin