The Hands of Bresson

Sundry observations on the art of cinema and world film culture

Bodies in Motion: Claire Denis/Sonic Youth

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"Incinerate": Claire Denis's music video for Sonic Youth

One hesitates to make great claims for the music video, that filmic subgenre of gimmick effects and unbearably stupid posturing. Yes, there have been some sensationally innovative videos by the likes of Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, and stop-motion animators the Brothers Quay, who hit paydirt with Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time.” But the road from here to there is littered with an embarrassment of hackwork debris; the template ossified long ago. Pop stars today turn the old charm of a coordinated dance routine into an aerobic workout of gym-disciplined bodies. Rap artists grotesquely pantomime conspicuous consumption and hawk booty porn Al Goldstein would approve of. R&B crooners are forever climbing into bed, or out of one, half-clothed in silk pajamas, or writhing in mud. Metal acts strive to look fierce and ugly, while someone intercuts images of pain, death, mutilation, and emotional distress. Rock musicians play-act roles that signify nothing (Jack White with a machine gun), then hammer away on snares and low-strung guitars, straining for glory. So why would a world-class filmmaker venture into this minefield of boneheaded clichés and coarsely promotional eye junk? This question looms even larger, for me at least, when the filmmaker in question is Claire Denis, whose lyrical sensibility and all-consuming passion for cinema is evident in her every intoxicating frame. Music videos are the last place I would expect to find the French genius honing her craft. Yet there she was in 2006, shooting not one, but two for the New York–based postpunk outfit Sonic Youth: “Incinerate” and “Jams Run Free.”

Click here to read the rest of this essay. And click here to read Reverse Shot‘s symposium on Claire Denis.

Written by eyemaster

October 7, 2009 at 1:02 pm

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