" Be careful of the deadfall "
— Anthony Hopkins, The Edge

MRQE Top Critic

Les Choristes

The French confection Les Choristes is now available on a skimpy, movie-only DVD —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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Palm Pictures hit paydirt when it dug into the pasts of Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, and Chris Cunningham. The resulting DVDs, released under The Directors Label, featured the brilliant early works of unknown talents who would later become major influences in film. The Directors Label continues to dig for hidden gems with The Work of Director Jonathan Glazer.

Glazer is probably best known as the director of the dark crime comedy Sexy Beast, but the most memorable film on this DVD is a music video of UNKLE’s Rabbit in Your Headlights, with its disturbing imagery of a madman in the middle of traffic.

It’s hard to pinpoint a particular style or attitude in Glazer’s work, but his music videos, commercials and feature films are striking – some for their emotional content, some for their playfulness and others for their visuals which are sometimes incomprehensible.

Videos

Jonathan Glazer works with Guinness and sexy beasts
Jonathan Glazer works with Guinness and sexy beasts

In the Rabbit in Your Headlights video, a man, bruised and ranting incoherently, walks down the middle of a busy traffic tunnel. Cars hit him several times and drive on, but he gets up and continues his journey. The video’s imagery is shocking and disturbing (and got it banned in some places), but it leads up to a satisfying payoff at the end.

Another strikingly emotional music video is for Nick Cave’s Into your Arms. Shot in high-contrast black and white, the film cuts between Cave singing and images of people who are suffering from mental anguish. Interestingly, on the commentary track for this video, Cave calls the images “grim and dismal.” He laments that the depressing images overshadow lyrics that were meant to be hopeful. But again, the last shot has something of a payoff that ameliorates the grim imagery.

The playfulness of Glazer’s work comes through in the video for Jamiroquai’s Virtual Insanity. The video, which received heavy airplay on MTV in the mid-1990s, has the singer dancing and dodging furniture in a room with a moving floor. Listen to the commentary track for this video to find out how it was done.

Other Stuff

The television commercials directed by Glazer have memorable imagery that grabs the attention of viewers. The content overshadows the sales pitch at times, but the advertisements are fun to watch. A spot for Levis recreates a 1970s Kung Fu movie. A Guinness commercial that features the bizarre dreams of a drunk gives an example of Glazer’s more abstract work.

The disc also includes two short excerpts from Glazer’s two features films – Sexy Beast and Birth. An intense scene from Beast shows off Ben Kingsley’s electrifying performance as the nasty Don Logan. By contrast, the opening sequence of Birth follows a black-clad man jogging through Central Park on a grey, snowy morning. It’s a peaceful scene and even the man’s collapse and evident death at its end doesn’t disrupt it. Both scenes are good examples of Glazer’s work, but leave one wondering how much credit belongs to Glazer and how much belongs to the others who worked on the films.

The only parts of the DVD where Glazer is seen or directly heard from are in short segments that run before the menus appear. They feature Glazer asking for career advice from a homeless man. “Ben Kingsley,” the man advises, to play a tough guy. “Gandhi?” Glazer replies incredulously. The menus for the videos and commercials have a fun little treat. Instead of selecting “play all,” highlight each individual film, before pressing play, to hear two guys making humorous comments about each one.

Booklet

A 56-page booklet that comes with the DVD pairs photos of his work with storyboards, sketches and pages from scripts. An interview with Glazer has the interviewee doing as much of the talking as his subject. It reads like a good conversation between the two.

Picture and Sound

Although the picture doesn’t seem to be as crisp as feature releases from big studios, it is quite good, with some variation between films. The sound is good too. There is very little use of surround, but that doesn’t detract from enjoyment of the DVD.

Overall

Johnathan Glazer’s work runs the gamut from disturbing to fun. His success in imposing his artistic vision on such a variety of material makes him someone to watch in the future.