As a budding filmmaker who grew up in the 90s it goes without saying that music videos have influenced and shaped my tastes and style just as much as any feature film has, maybe even more so. Directors like Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Jonathan Glazer, Mark Romanek and of-course, Chris Cunningham are all filmmakers who’s short-form work in music videos and advertising ended up burnt onto my eyeballs at a very young age (between them they pretty much have this list covered). I’m constantly returning to and obsessing over their work. They took the whole music-video format and turned it into a legitimate art form. Not only did they promote a band and a song, they could tell a story or create a world. They were like mini pieces of art or short films. The way they established a style, a mood, a texture in under five minutes and set it to a rhythm has always been something I’m striving for. There’s a real sense of authorship to all of their videos, a feel that is unique to their sensibilities. Even now we are stood in their shadow trying to replicate or build on what they did.
I’ve been thinking a lot about these filmmakers recently and trying to pin-point the exact moment or the exact video that really made me sit up and take notice. There was a documentary that aired on Channel 4 sometime in the early 2000s that ran down the greatest music videos of all time, or maybe it was a documentary on the 100 scariest moments of all time? Either way this video was high on both lists. Chris Cunningham’s video for Come to Daddy by Aphex Twin hit me like a ton of bricks. At this point my tastes were varied but primarily gauged to horror movies and visceral, violent cinema. I was looking to be shocked and scarred. This video did both:
I only saw snippets of Come to Daddy in the documentary but they were dark, vivid and absolutely unlike anything I had ever seen before. When I finally saw the entire video I felt shaken, thrilled and naughty. It’s the kind of thing that feels forbidden. I must have been around twelve years old at the time and I knew this was not something a twelve year old should be watching. I loved that about it. Not only was it fucked up, harrowing and totally relentless but also strangely relatable. Living in England you see blocks of flats like the one in that video all the time. I’ve seen little old women walking their dogs, letting them piss on a discarded TV and walked through car parks at night while kids are playing when they should really be in bed. Cunningham tapped into these familiar and mundane British sights and transformed them into an electronic nightmare. It attacks you. Watching it now I can appreciate more of the dark humour. Whereas before the image of that weird thing screaming in the old granny’s face was a purely terrifying moment, now it’s kind of ridiculous and well, funny. But no less of a powerful visual statement. The impact hasn’t been diluted one bit.
Out of all the directors from the 90s music video boom, it’s surprising that Chris Cunningham is the only one yet to make a feature film. I suspect it’s because his singular and uncompromising vision is difficult to translate to a mainstream medium. Following Come to Daddy I devoured as much of his work I could set my sights on and found them all to be equally fascinating and unsettling (I highly recommend the Work of Director DVD’s that Palm Pictures put out a few years ago). He’s a true visionary and a genuine original. I’ve never seen a Chris Cunningham video I’ve forgotten. It all started with Come to Daddy which certainly holds claim to being among the most influential 6 minutes I’ve ever seen. After seeing this video I knew what music videos were capable of. You could even say it changed my life.