[This article is part of our Radiohead Fanatic Fortnight — check out our box set giveaway here.]
With great bands often come great videos, and Radiohead is one of those bands that matured quickly and garnered talented directors early on. Some directors set out to create a good marketing tool and simply made the members look cool. Others were as cutting edge as the band whose songs they set to the moving image. Here’s a look at some of Radiohead’s more memorable videos and the directors who shot them:
Director: Jake Scott
Video: “Fake Plastic Trees” (1995)
Scott, son of Ridley Scott (and nephew of Tony), seems to have more influences, education and inspiration to draw from than he actually knows what to do with. His film debut, the 1999 feature “Plunkett & Macleane,” may satisfy the urge to indulge in a roguish period picture, but it was also almost terminally frenetic. You’d never guess from watching it that four years earlier Scott directed the video for Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees.” His other standout work, R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts,” shows more stylistic parallels with “Just,” a Radiohead video from another director [see below], with subtitles moving a mysterious narrative along.
Scott likes the close-up, favoring gratuitous shots of his subjects talking, singing, strumming and striking poses with their heads. But that’s what the kids want in a video — to get closer and more intimate with the rock stars they idolize. “Fake Plastic Trees,” with its whitewashed, saturated colors, may still be his best. Can’t forget that long, bright look at Thom Yorke’s fascinating face. (On the film side, Scott’s next feature, the upcoming “Welcome to the Rileys,” looks to be a considerably calmer drama that stars Kristen Stewart.)
Director: Jamie Thraves
Video: “Just” (1995)
Thraves has done videos for bands like Blur and radio titans Coldplay, but none of his videos has caused more stir than Radiohead’s “Just.” It epitomized the look of rock cool at the time. He nailed it with the Elvis glasses, Yorke’s wardrobe and the hot shots of Jonny [Greenwood]’s string-bending solo. But what’s kept fans talking on forums and blogs over the years is the weighty statement made by the man on the sidewalk that makes the crowd lie down with him, just as the subtitles stop. People have gone so far as to watch it in slow motion with lip-reading experts to determine what the line is. The results? Inconclusive, since the shot cuts away to the band anyway. Neither Jamie Thraves nor the band will say, even if there is actually something to say, since they feel it would defeat the point of the art. But fans still keep asking the question, anyway.
Director: Michel Gondry
Video: “Knives Out” (2001)
Gondry’s wild, fantastical style is apparent throughout all his work, particularly his features “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Science of Sleep.” But the French-born director got his start in music videos, and his filmic language, while evolved, remains rooted in the short form. Playfully toying with the viewer’s frame of reference is a Gondry signature. In his video for “Knives Out,” the camera eventually moves into a TV screen that shows Thom Yorke and a girlfriend (played by actress Emma de Caunes) in a train car. As the couple fight and Yorke eventually offers her an engagement ring, a hand is shown beneath the TV set hitting the VCR’s rewind button to show their relationship play out in reverse through the train window. The scene bears a striking resemblance to the opening of Gondry’s “Be Kind Rewind,” which depicts the real-life jazz musician Fats Waller dying in a train car, as the window reveals a model of the train itself parked at a station outside. The same stylish mind-boggle plays out continually in the video, and indeed in much of his work.