Music Video of the Day: Guess I’m Doing Fine by Beck (2002, dir by Spike Jonze)

Poor Beck.  I’m sure he’s cheered up by now though.

This video was directed by Spike Jonze.  This was two years after Jonze’s received his first Oscar nomination for Being John Malkovich and also the same year that Jonze’s released his second Oscar-nominated film, Adaptation.


Music Video of the Day: Big Brat by Phantom Planet (2003, directed by Spike Jonze)

Big Brat, which appeared on Phantom Planet’s self-titled third album, has twice gotten a lot of attention.  The first time was when it was released as a single in 2003 and the Spike Jonze-directed music video went into regular rotation on MTV.  (This was when MTV still played videos and had some actual influence.)  The second time was in 2012, when it was included on the soundtrack of The Amazing Spider-Man.

The video features the band performing and shooting a low budget zombie film.  (Remember that 2003 was long before the current zombie boom, showing that both the band and director Spike Jonze were far ahead of the curve.)  This is yet another video in which Spike Jonze displays his love of media and pop culture.  Jonze, of course, has gone on to have a very successful career as a director of idiosyncratic feature films.


Music Video of the Day: Sabotage by the Beastie Boys (1994, directed by Spike Jonze)

Today’s music video of the day is my personal pick for the greatest music video of all time, Sabotage by the Beastie Boys!

This song was actually inspired by the band’s frustration with a sound engineer who the band felt was trying to rush them through their recording sessions.  The feeling was that he was deliberately “sabotaging” them and the band expressed their frustrations in an instrumental track.  It wasn’t until two weeks before the track was actually to be recorded that the Beastie Boys came up with the lyrics for the song.

The video, famously, features the Beastie Boys as three cops on a 70s cop show, pursuing and apparently murdering Sir Stewart Wallace.  This video is usually held up as an example of director Spike Jonze’s love of kitsch but the 70s cop show theme was actually first suggested by Adam Horowitz.

Believe it or not, this video was controversial when it was first released because it was considered by some to be too violent.  MTV actually demanded three cuts before they would accept it.  They demanded that the knife fight be shortened and that shots of bodies being tossed out of a car and over a bridge be taken out of the video.  Of course, in both shots, the body was obviously a dummy so I’m not sure what MTV was freaking out about.

Sabotage received five nominations at the MTV Music Video Awards and, amazingly, it lost every one of them.  Even best direction was won by Jake Scott, who did the video for R.E.M’s Everybody Hurts.  While Michael Stipe was accepting the best direction award, Adam Yauch rushed the stage (while dressed as Nathaniel Hornblower) and protested the snubbing of Sabotage.  

This was actually the first time in the history of the VMAs that someone rushed the stage to protest a win.  Kanye West, of course, later made this a famous move but Adam Yauch did it first.  (My favorite thing about the picture above is the look on Michael Stipe’s face.)

The MTV Music Video Awards may not have appreciated Sabotage but the rest of the world certainly did.  It not only remains one of the signature tunes of the 90s but, if you believe Star Trek, it’s also the song that inspired Jim Kirk to grow up, join Starfleet, and put the safety of everyone under his command at risk at least once a week.


Music Video Of The Day: If I Only Had A Brain by MC 900 Ft Jesus (1994, directed by Spike Jonze)

Once upon a time, there was a televangelist named Oral Roberts.  Oral was very successful and he even had his own university in Oklahoma.  One day, Oral said that he had a vision of someone telling him that he needed to build a hospital on the campus of his university and that, of course, he would need people to send him money to help him do that.  That someone was Jesus and, according to Oral, Jesus was 900 feet tall.

Mark Griffin, a classically trained musician who had recently graduated from the University of North Texas, happened to hear what Oral said.  Griffin, who had played in several local Dallas bands, was on the verge of launching a new career as a rapper.  Griffin took the name MC 900 ft Jesus and the rest is history.

As MC 900 ft Jesus, Mark Griffin developed a strong cult following.  He still has one, even though he retired from the business in 2001.  (He had performed a few times post-retirement and there are annual rumors that he’s on the verge of making a comeback.)  If I Only Had A Brain was one of his more popular songs, thanks to this music video from Spike Jonze.


Music Video of the Day: Sure Shot by The Beastie Boys (1994, directed by Spike Jonze)

First things first, Lisa has asked me to apologize to everyone.  She’s currently under the weather and has been ordered to get a lot of rest, which is why she didn’t post anything yesterday.  She will be back and regularly posting soon.

As for today’s music video of the day, what can you say about Sure Shot and the Beastie Boys?  This is the song and the video that I think made everyone want to be the fourth beastie boy.  If I remember correctly, it came out directly after Sabotage and it provides quite a contrast to that earlier video.  Interestingly enough, both videos were directed by Spike Jonze.

This is the rare rap song to feature a flute.  The flute was sampled from the 1970 song, Howling For Judy, by Jeremy Steig.  Steig, who has released twenty albums, has said that he made more money off the royalties to that sample than he has from all of his previous work.


Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Wolf of Wall Street (dir by Martin Scorsese)

Suck it, The Big Short The Wolf of Wall Street is the best film to be made about Wall Street this century.

Martin Scorsese’s 2013 financial epic tells the true story of a group of rather sleazy people who got rich and who basically, to quote Robert De Niro from an earlier Scorsese film, “fucked it all up.”  Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio, giving what I still consider to be the best performance of his career) is the son of an accountant named Max (Rob Reiner).  Fresh out of college, Jordan gets a job on Wall Street.  Under the mentorship of the eccentric (but rich) Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), Jordan discovers that the job of a stock broker is to dupe people into buying stock that they might not need while, at the same time, making a ton of money for himself.  With the money comes the cocaine and the prostitutes and everything else that fuels the absurdly aggressive and hyper-masculine world of Wall Street.  Jordan is intrigued but, after the stock market crashes in 1987, he’s also out of a job.

Fortunately, Jordan is never one to give up.  He may no longer be employed on Wall Street but that doesn’t mean that he can’t sell stocks.  He gets a job pushing “penny stocks,” which are low-priced stocks for very small companies.  Because the price of the stock is so low, the brokers get a 50% commission on everything they sell.  Because Jordan is such an aggressive salesman, he manages to make a fortune by convincing people to buy stock in otherwise worthless companies.  As Jordan’s boss (played, in an amusing cameo, by Spike Jonze) explains it, what they’re doing isn’t exactly regulated by the government, which just means more money for everyone!  Yay!

Working with his neighbor, Donny Azoff (Jonah Hill, at his most eccentric), Jordan starts his own brokerage company.  Recruiting all of his friends (the majority of whom are weed dealers who never graduated from high school), Jordan starts Stratton Oakmont.  Using high-pressure sales tactics and a whole lot of other unethical and occasionally illegal techniques, Jordan soon makes a fortune.  When Forbes Magazine publishes an expose that portrays Jordan as being little more than a greedy con man, Stratton Oakmont is flooded by aspiring stock brokers who all want to work for “the wolf of Wall Street.”

And, for a while, Jordan has everything that he wants.  While the Stratton Oakmont offices become a den of nonstop drugs and sex, Jordan buys a huge mansion, a nice car, and marries a model named Naomi (Margot Robbie).  His employees literally worship Jordan as he begins and ends every working day with inspirational (and often hilariously profane) sermons, encouraging his people to get out there and sell no matter what.  Of course, making that much money, Jordan has to find a way to hide it from the IRS.  Soon, with the help of Naomi’s aunt (Joanna Lumley), he is smuggling millions of dollars into Switzerland where a banker (Jean Dujardin, who is both hilariously suave and hilariously sleazy a the time) helps him hide it all.

When Jordan learns that the FBI and SEC are looking into his dealings, Jordan invites Agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) to come visit him on his yacht and, in a scene that launched a thousand memes, the two of them have a friendly conversation that’s largely made up of passive aggressive insults.  Jordan taunts Denham over the fact that Denham washed out when he tried to get a job on Wall Street.  Denham laughingly asks Jordan to repeat something that sounded like it may have been a bribe.  When Denham leaves the boat, Jordan taunts him by tossing a wad of hundred dollars bills into the wind….

And here’s the thing.  Yes, the media and our political class tells us that we’re supposed to hate that Jordan Belforts of the world.  One can imagine Bernie Sanders having a fit while watching Jordan brag about how he cheated the IRS.  If Adam McKay or Jay Roach had directed this film, one can imagine that they would have used the yacht scene to portray Jordan Belfort as pure evil.  (McKay probably would have tossed in Alfred Molina as a waiter, asking Belfort if he wants to feast on the lost future of the children of America.)  But the truth of the matter is that most viewers, even if they aren’t willing to admit it, will secretly be cheering for Jordan when he throws away that money.  DiCaprio is so flamboyantly charismatic and Scorsese, as director, so perfectly captures the adrenaline high of Jordan’s lifestyle that you can’t help but be sucked in.  He may be greedy and unethical but he just seems to be having so much fun!  Just as how Goodfellas and Casino portrayed life in the mafia as being an intoxicating high (as well as being more than a little bit dangerous), The Wolf of Wall Street refrains from passing easy judgment and it steadfastly refuses to climb onto a moral high horse.  Jordan narrates his own story, often talking directly to the camera and almost always defending his actions.  As a director, Scorsese is smart enough to let us make up own minds about how we feel about Jordan and his story.

Of course, when Jordan falls, it’s a dramatic fall.  That said, it’s not quite as dramatic of a fall as what happened to Ray Liotta in Goodfellas or Robert De Niro in Casino.  No one gets blown up, for instance.  But Jordan does lose everything that gave his life meaning.  By the end of the film, he’s been reduced to giving seminars and challenging attendees to sell him a pen.  (“Well,” one hapless gentleman begins, “it’s a very nice pen…..”)  During the film’s final scenes, it’s not so much a question of whether Jordan has learned anything from his fall.  Instead, the movie leaves you wondering if he’s even capable of learning.  At heart, he’s the wolf of Wall Street.  That’s his nature and it’s really the only thing that he knows how to do.  He’s a bit like Ray Liotta living in the suburbs at the end of Goodfellas.  He’s alive.  He has his freedom and a future.  But he’s still doesn’t quite fit in.  Much like Moses being denied the opportunity to physically enter the Promised Land, Jordan’s punishment for his hubris is to spend his life in exile from where he truly belongs.  And yet, you know that Jordan — much like Henry Hill — probably wouldn’t change a thing if he had the chance to live it all over again.  He’d just hope that he could somehow get a better ending while making the same decisions.

Unlike something like The Big Short, which got bogged down in Adam McKay’s vapid Marxism, The Wolf of Wall Street works precisely because it refuses to pass judgment.  It refuses to tell us what to think.  I imagine that a lot of people watched The Wolf of Wall Street and were outraged by the way Jordan Belfort made his money.  I imagine that an equal number of people watched the film and started thinking about how much they would love to be Jordan Belfort.  The Wolf of Wall Street is a big, long, and sometimes excessive film that dares the audience to think of themselves.  That’s one reason why it’ll be remembered after so many other Wall Street films are forgotten.

The Wolf of Wall Street was nominated for best picture of the year.  It lost to 12 Years A Slave.

Music Video Of The Day: Crush With Eyeliner by R.E.M. (1995, directed by Spike Jonze)

As with so many of R.E.M.’s songs, the meaning of Crush With Eyeliner is open to interpretation.

Courtney Love, for instance, has sworn that this song was about her.  Michael Stipe was friends with Kurt Cobain and took Courtney Love to the MTV Music Video Awards in 1994, after Cobain’s suicide.  Love has said that both Crush With Eyeliner and County Feedback are about her.

For his part, Michael Stipe has said that the song was meant to be a tribute of sorts to the New York Dolls, with the song’s mentioning of Frankenstein meant to serve as a direct reference to the Dolls’s song of the same name.  Stipe has also said that the song is also about people who take on different personalities depending on whatever situation they find themselves in at the moment.  That could very well describe Dolls.  Of course, it could also describe Courtney Love as well.

Crush With Eyeliner was also one of the first songs that Stipe wrote after suffering through five months of writer’s block.  Stipe had sunk into a deep depression following the death of his friend, the actor River Phoenix.  When it came time to record Crush With Eyeliner, Stipe brought in another friend, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, to provide backing vocals on the song.

The video was directed by Spike Jonze and features a Japanese band lip-synching to the song.  Jonze is a director who needs no introduction.  Jonze got his start doing pop culture-themed music videos before eventually going on to become one of the most interesting feature filmmakers around.  Four years after the shooting of this video, he would marry (and later divorce) Sofia Coppola.  Coppola’s Lost In Translation, which was also set in Japan, features Giovanni Ribisi playing a character who is widely thought to have been based on Jonze.  Coppola, for her part, said that the character was not directly based on Jonze, though “there are elements of him there, elements of experiences.”


Music Video of the Day: Shine by Walt Mink (1993, dir by Sofia Coppola)

Happy birthday, Sofia Coppola!

Today’s music video of the day is the first music video to have been directed by Sofia Coppola.  In fact, this may be her first directorial credit.  While the song itself is a bit generic, the video is pure Sofia Coppola.  Watching it, it’s hard not to see the same vision that, a few years later, would give us The Virgin Suicides, Somewhere, and The Bling Ring.  This video was filmed at the Coppola vineyard in Rutherford, California.

Interesting to note that the film’s editor was Spike Jonze, who would later marry Coppola in 1999 (they would get divorced in 2003) and who is thought to have been the inspiration for Giovanni Ribisi’s character in Lost In Translation.


Music Video of the Day: Praise You By Fatboy Slim (1998, dir by Spike Jonze)

This is perhaps the greatest music video of all time and it only cost $800 to make.

First a little background of how Spike Jonze came to direct this video.  Apparently, Jonze unsuccessfully lobbied for the chance to direct the video of Fatboy Slim’s Rockafeller Skank.  However, Jonze still made a video of himself dancing to the song and sent it to Fatboy Slim (also known as Norman Cook) as a gift/joke.  Cook was so impressed that he hired Jonze to make the video for Praise You.

Here’s what you really need to know about this video:

Despite the authenticity and the passion of the amateur performance captured in this video, The Torrance Community Dance Group does not exist.

Richard Koufey does not exist. That is Spike Jonze playing Koufey.  I don’t know if Jonze “performed in several B-boy posses” while growing up, as Koufey claims to have done.  There’s something oddly touching about the enthusiastic way that Jonze/Koufey shouts, “B-boy.”

The bewildered audience is real and their confused reaction to Koufey’s performance was real too.  This video was shot outside of a movie theater, without permission or permits.  What you’re seeing in this video is technically a crime, which makes it all the more enjoyable.  I’m not sure if the man who briefly turns off the music was in on it or not.  If that wasn’t planned out ahead of time, Jonze was definitely taking a risk by jumping on him.

Myself, I just love the enthusiasm of it all.  It takes talent to be both bad and good at the same time.




Music Video of the Day: Da Funk by Daft Punk (1996, dir. Spike Jonze)

Sorry for keeping this short. Just before I sat down to write this yesterday, I became so dizzy that I collapsed. I am going to try and stay in bed all day. Luckily, there isn’t much to say that I haven’t already in my posts for Dog Police by Dog Police and Old Timer by That Dog.

You have a music video that uses similar dog makeup and themes from Dog Police, but without the humor. It is played straight. You have Spike Jonze collaborator and drummer for That Dog–Tony Maxwell–playing Charles. Charles comes to the big city obviously different from everyone else because he is a dog person–much like someone moving from the country or suburbs to the big city. That makes him in the process of trying to adapt to a new place. He also has the physical handicap of a broken leg that that doesn’t really come into play except to complement the mental handicap that the radio represents. We see that not only does it have a sentimental tie to his youth as shown by the picture with his dad, but we also see that he literally can’t turn it off because of the missing buttons. He does run into an old friend and would be able to follow her on the bus were it not for the radio he can’t turn off yet and the bus doesn’t allow radios. It also means he will have a tough time getting people to accept him in much the same way that the band did to get to this music video that included a review of a pre-Daft-Punk album by Melody Maker that called the music they made as “a dafty punk thrash.” There’s more you can read in the “history” section on Wikipedia that ties into this video as well.

It all sounds quite depressing. However, we know throughout, and at the ending, that the short time we have spent with him is only a rough patch–he’ll make it through. I guess you could look at the ending as him going out into the street as a suicide attempt. I don’t see it that way. I see tough times ahead for Charles. Tough times that Charles will be able to overcome as we can see that he has a strong spirit despite the barriers to entry that the big city throws at him.

A stylistic choice that is interesting here is that it is shot on the streets rather than the studio music videos people are typically familiar with even from Spike Jonze.