The Work of Director Mark Romanek

Directors Label

Music videos have been around for a while, but their consumption outside of MTV and cable television is a relatively new thing. Record companies started bundling DVD videos and on-disc bonuses as “extras” to entice customers to buy their records after customers flocked to file-sharing services.

Bundling these videos with CDs cost record companies little. After fast-forwarding past the introduction of the iTunes Music Store and the video iPod, the public now sees music videos becoming their own cottage industry for a product that used to be strictly a promotional tool.

The Director’s Label is a DVD collection of music videos and short films by auteurs including Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham and Michel Gondry that capitalizes on this new trend. Jonze and Gondry have gone on to direct major motion pictures, but these collections are reserved for music videos, commercials, and other short films.

Mark Romanek’s work in music videos is compiled in Vol. 4, “The Work of Director Mark Romanek,” and makes his most impressive videos available as an entire body of work rather than stand-alone commercials for Jay-Z, Janet Jackson or Weezer.

Such a collection allows film and music fans to access an artistic medium that is largely looked over in a lot of commercial instances. His videos, including Jay-Z’s “99 Problems,” “Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer,” Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” and Weezer’s “El Scorcho” are videos many have watched but few have seen pieced together as components of a larger body of work.

This allows fans not just to compare Romanek’s work over time side-by-side, but to listen to the commentaries by the artists he shot them with. These commentaries are the real gem of the DVD. As an anthology, the DVD should praise Romanek’s accomplishments, and collaborators do praise his genius, but they also complain that he can be huge jerk on set. This a dimension of the process that viewers would never see when they watch Romanek’s videos. But in the anthology commentaries, fans are allowed some insight by Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo as he tells a hilarious story about their artistic differences on set over what “El Scorcho” should look like.

Jay-Z and Trent Reznor also tell stories about how Romanek essentially badgered them into trusting his vision so he could shoot whatever he wanted. As a complete volume, there is a comedy to the pattern of uncompromising artistic style that Romanek creates, even if it is at the expense of what the artist or (in the case of the Janet and Michael Jackson epic, “Scream”) financial backers wanted.

While the DVD documentary and commentaries reflect Romanek’s bullishness, he says it best: “somebody could feel limited or awkward but if it works for the camera, that’s all that really matters.”

The package also comes with a nifty booklet of photos and an interview with Romanek done by Adaptation director Spike Jonze. The booklet is cool, but it’s sort of like getting the little prize at the bottom of a box of Lucky Charms – it is little more than slight perk of the purchase. Music enthusiasts and auteur buffs alike will see the value of a music video director showcasing his work.

For my money, the insights from Jay-Z, Weezer, and collaborator/pal Rick Rubin are enough to sit through a lot of these videos more than once.

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