Gondry is a French filmmaker with several awards. He is a commercial, screenwriter, and music video director. Gondry achieved fame through his innovative visual manipulation and other elements of cinematography. His films represent “imagery and innovative approaches to film, motion, and animation productions” (Gondry, 2003). As a result, Gondry has captured a place in the minds of most audiences due to his camera antics and amazing effects. Gondry’s works have remained enduring and known around the globe.
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Most of Gondry’s films avoid the use of complicated techniques to produce special effects. For instance, Gondry shows a lack of interest in applying advanced technology to produce films. Instead, he favors crude effects in his films to match simple ways of the music.
Analysis of three different works of Gondry, his own words, and influences (staging or ‘in-camera effects’) by Georges Melies and Busby Berkeley, and Gondry’s contribution to audiences’ enjoyment of his work
In an interview with Gondry, Andre Dellamorte notes that the film, Science of Sleep reflects in-depth creativity because Gondry captures interesting features regarding the film’s genesis. Dellamorte observes that the outstanding feature of the film is the “fascination with prestidigitation, the in-camera trick, and the sleight of hand” (Dellamorte, 2007), which Gondry creates. Therefore, Dellamorte notes that the film reveals ‘a play with the camera’.
In Science of Sleep Gondry refers to works of Georges Melies, ironically he does not consider Melies’ works as having influences on him. According to Gondry, Melies was “one of the first guys to see the first screenings of the film, and he was the first guy on the earth to think of the camera as an extension of his tricks” (Dellamorte, 2007). On the influence, Gondry considers Melies’ works and other works as sources of inspiration and motivation. He says, “I don’t think… I watched many of his movies, but I try to be inventive on my own, right? I always try to avoid influences, I don’t know how you can call it. I think inspiration, motivation is a better word” (Dellamorte, 2007).
Goldsmith provides a thorough assessment of Georges Milies’ film techniques. According to Goldsmith, Milies’ works portray both tradition and the future of film productions (Goldsmith, 2004). From this point, we can argue that some elements of Milies’ works must have influenced Gondry. Goldsmith notes that comparisons of Gondry and Milies’ works are not far-fetched. He notes, “Both directors delight in all types of technical trickery, from the sophisticated to the rudimentary” (Goldsmith, 2004).
For instance, Gondry uses techniques of Melies in the video, Deadweight. In this case, the shoe leads Beck down the city street. Gondry achieves this technique “entirely in-camera by reversing footage of Beck walking backward, dragging his shoes, which are tied to his ankles with fishing wire” (Goldsmith, 2004). The technique is simple but achieves a successful effect that Beck calls ‘Buster Keaton trick’.
Elizabeth Ezra noted that Melies had unique camera tricks that required advanced training and endurance because the achievements were technically complex (Ezra, 2000). As a result, some critics have argued that Melies was ahead of his time in filmmaking. Melies wanted to use motion pictures to represent all forms of art. On the contrary, Lucy Fischer believed that Melies’ works and tricks contributed to the stereotyping of women because all of Melies’ works portrayed women who suffered or changed in many ways. The magic tricks of Melies have influenced some elements of Gondry’s films.
In the use of CGI or other advanced technologies, Gondry combines them with other “simple techniques so that the effect does not look artificial or too technical” (Goldsmith, 2004). Many of Gondry videos have “other several effects, real footage, and models” (Goldsmith, 2004), which create astonishment and puzzling effects. Gondry comments on CGI as follows, “I want to use CGI, but only in ways that you can’t do with the camera” (Dellamorte, 2007).
Gondry believes that the blue screen does not produce the best situation for shooting a video because it removes the actor from the moment. According to Gondry, most directors use the blue screen in the lamest ways especially when actors are driving. He claims that it “disconnects the actor from the reality you’re trying to create around them” (Dellamorte, 2007).
Some critics argue that collections of Gondry’s works amount to mediocrity and a bag of tricks. However, Gondry’s works portray an approach to cinematography that has unique features. In some cases, the works are antithetical to the established principles of music videos in totality. For instance, Gondry tends to produce music videos with longer lengths than other videos on MTV or other stations. For instance, some of his works like “Star Guitar and Hyperballad seem to have a single take” (Goldsmith, 2004). This technique makes Gondry’s films to have effects on the audience. It applies the simplicity of the camerawork. Further, the editing of the work only enhances its real features and reduces manipulated features.
In Hyperballad, Gondry uses “various images of the singer (some real, others animated) with lights, models of the cityscape, and digitally animated clouds with disorienting results that surprise the viewer without trying her patience” (Goldsmith, 2004). This reflects some elements of Busby Berkeley’s works. For instance, Berkeley used several images of rows and rows of dancers. The dancers wore lavish dresses with the impeccable arrangement, which created large images of the dancers. Berkeley transformed dancing through his techniques in which dancers made geometric shapes and created images of infinite.
The viewers feel that such a craft can only exist in films. Others claim that Gondry applies many pointless electronic techniques in Hyperballad. Therefore, the audience interpreted the songs literally. However, Gondry aims for profound psychological interpretations of songs, which create irrelevant and capricious results. The songs manage to capture the audience’s attention with offbeat and perfect accuracy of presentations.
Studies have considered the works of Busby Berkeley as far removed from the real world. This argument emanates from the influences that Berkeley created with his works during the Great Depression to allow viewers to escape the realities of the world. Thus, Berkeley formalized his magic and enchantment. He achieved these effects by using a camera from “the narrow confines of the proscenium arch, soaring overhead, even swirling amongst the dancers, and juxtaposing shots from a variety of vantage points throughout the musical numbers” (Giannetti, 2001). Berkeley captured his dancers from odd angles.
The Showstoppers highlights how Berkeley applies colorful elements to illustrate the infamous American popular entertainment (Rubin, 1993). Rubin notes that Berkeley transferred his theatrical traditions to new directors of early music movies. Berkeley’s use of Dadaist, syncopation, and formation elements still dominate films today. Cameras have continued to focus on the audience’s side of view so that they have a good relationship with actors on the stage.
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Musical films tended to break the rule that required a dividing line between the stage and the audience. The director had to achieve this effect by using the movements of the camera. Consequently, Berkeley introduced his audience by cinematic techniques as texts and aesthetics of the music found their ways in camera and choreography of dancers.
A critic, Christopher Hyde claims that Gondry has a mind that can envision the musical works of Busby Berkeley by referring to works of Gondry, such as Skeletons, B-boy zombies, and Around the World (Hyde, 2004). Still, on the DVD, Hyde comments that Gondry uses basic and commonplace tools to trick and transfix the audience. Further, Hyde notes that Gondry turns Around the World into “a synchronous choreography of mummies, Melies-Esque skeletons, bathing beauties and space helmeted dancers that pay respectful homage to Busby Berkeley as it unfurls” (Goldsmith, 2004).
Gondry also displays his creativity as a director in the productions of pop music. We can claim that Gondry achieved that expertise due to his association with the neo-punk band as a drummer. He acquired the ability to combine visual images with music videos. For instance, in Around the World, we can easily notice Gondry’s approaches to synchronization of music videos. He matches visual attributes of films with sounds as mutating landscapes.
Some critics believe that Gondry is a short filmmaker rather than a music video director. This is because of his success in artful and short commercial productions. In this respect, others have considered Gondry as “an idiosyncratic auteur with a distinctive and personal body of work that happens to feature internationally famous pop stars as actors” (Goldsmith, 2004). At the same time, others have accused Gondry of being an egomaniac in his works.
As a result, such films fail to capture and convey fun and wonder the audience should experience. For instance, in the interview, Gondry says, “It was the first thing I wrote, I thought I’ll dig into that to tell my story. It’s not that I wanted to put myself front and center, I just wanted to do a movie that was crazy and personal” (Dellamorte, 2007). Therefore, critics have concluded that such comments, anecdotes, and videos portray playful and charming works with magic and influences of Melies. Such techniques have enabled Gondry to create eccentric and fascinating films.
Gondry claims that other traditional directors like Georges Melies and Busby Berkeley have not influenced his works. However, critics can notice elements of such directors’ works in Gondry’s films. According to Gondry, Berkeley and Melies are sources of motivation and inspiration to him.
The DVD of Gondry shows several inventive visual techniques of the director. We can identify consistent personal symbolism and technical manipulation of the films. The films also demonstrate creative possibilities, which are common in the films and animation that Gondry has brought to both in-camera and staging effects. The Work of Michel Gondry may appear as a commercial medium. However, we have to recognize the cinematic and aesthetics values inherent in the films. Gondry has been able to produce films that arouse intimacy and emotions among the audience. The fine distinctions of the camera tricks create visual representations of the films and evoke strong emotional reactions from viewers.
Dellamorte, A. (2007). Exclusive Interview – Michel Gondry. Web.
Ezra, E. (2000). Georges Méliès. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Giannetti, L. (2001). Understanding Movies, 9th edn. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Goldsmith, L. (2004). The Work of Director Michel Gondry. Web.
Gondry, M. (Director). (2003). I’ve Been Twelve Forever Part 2 Age 12-12. The Work of Director Michel Gondry [DVD]. Sleeping Train Productions: Palm Pictures.
Hyde, C. (2004). The Work of Director Michel Gondry. Web.
Rubin, M. (1993). Showstoppers: Busby Berkeley and the Tradition of Spectacle. New York: Columbia University Press.