MTV turns 30 today. To celebrate, we’re running a bunch of pieces on the channel, its legacy, and its future.
Earlier today, we counted down the best music videos directed by people who took home (or, more likely, left at the podium) the Razzies’ “Golden Raspberry” award for worst director. Now we’re counting down the best music videos by those directors’ raised-brow, Oscar-winning counterparts. Let’s get right to it.
5. Michael Sembello, “Gravity” (Ron Howard, director)
Ron Howard would probably like to forget he ever directed the video for Michael Sembello’s “Gravity.” Fortunately, that shouldn’t be very difficult. Although the video shows a little bit of the style Howard’s feature films so desperately lack, after the director’s bizarre introduction, there isn’t a whole lot to see here besides some run of the mill music video weirdness and a few clips from Cocoon. Howard’s more lasting contribution to music video history remains, of course, his wonderful appearance in the Hype Williams-directed video for fellow Oscar winner Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It.”
4. Martini Ranch, “Reach” (James Cameron, director)
You know it’s James Cameron because it’s an eight-minute video for a five-minute song, and who else in 1989 would shoot a Western with motorcycles, Judge Reinhold and proto-DVDs? Also note a stogie-smoking Kathryn Bigelow—whose own entry on this list appears below—leading the gang of feminist vigilantes and branding the bad guy with a martini made of red-hot iron. Some things only make sense when pop music is playing over them.
3. Michael Jackson, “Bad” (Martin Scorsese, director)
Wanting to re-brand himself as something a little more, well, bad, Michael Jackson hired the one director in Hollywood as comfortable filming concerts as he was shooting pictures about street thugs or the messiah. Incorporating a little bit of each, Martin Scorsese shot Jackson and his turnstyle-jumping posse not as the director’s signature mobsters but as if the crew were a lost gang from Walter Hill’s The Warriors, one too busy dancing to rumble.
2. New Order, “Touched by the Hand of God” (Kathryn Bigelow, director)
Kathryn Bigelow is possibly the best American filmmaker working today; throughout her career she’s moved from genre to genre— the vampire flick Near Dark, the action blockbuster Point Break, the Academy Award-winning war movie The Hurt Locker—and created masterpieces in each. Forgotten, however, is her attempt at perhaps the quintessential ’80s form: the hair-metal video. With a touch of irony, Bigelow has new wavers New Order wearing wigs, twirling mic stands and trading in their synths and drum machines for Gibson Flying V’s and an umpteen-piece kit. But really, she had us at the moment Bernard Summer’s slo-mo stage leap ended and the sparks started flying.
1.Tom Tom Club, “Genius of Love” (Jonathan Demme, director)
While the Toni Basil-directed video for Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” looks inward on the swirl of 20th-century life (imagined here as a rippling Merriweather Post Pavilion-prefiguring blue and green background) and that moment of nausea one gets upon stepping back and asking “How did I get here?”; “Genius of Love” is that swirl, its life-affirming bassline and joyous lyrics matched in the video by a sugar rush of colors and animation.
Talking Heads frontman David Byrne once told Simon Reynolds, “You could do a vaguely experimental film thing as cheaply as you possibly could, and if it was connected to a song, MTV would play it because they needed stuff desperately in those days.” The best music-video directors have exploited this experimental potential, creating short films set to pop music that render the high/low distinction on which these lists were based almost meaningless. It’s not surprise then that these directors—people like Chris Cunningham, Hype Williams and Spike Jonze—have generally flown below the Academy’s radar even when they do transition into feature films. Thirty years after MTV started broadcasting these videos around the clock, the form has transformed into a legitimate medium of artist expression, ends in themselves rather than sales pitches for soon to be released singles.