The Work of Director StÇphane Sednaoui
Despite several high-profile videos, StÇphane Sednaoui is not the most known of directors; one of the younger directors in this series, he’s alternately praised and dismissed. Unlike most of the others in this series, he has never made a feature film, and his sense of cinema is at the least underdeveloped. In fact, he got his start in fashion photography, a deficit (or benefit) that is evident in his work.
One of his first (and most-lauded videos), Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away,” was filmed in B&W, and the results play like a collage with minimal camera motion. Filmed in B&W, the body-painted band members engage in Neanderthal rituals depicted by a parade of blended shots. However, the charisma of vocalist Anthony Kiedis overwhelmed the director until he felt pulled to participate in the show; he ad-libbed rhythmic camera rotations and zooms as a part of his “contribution” to the audio-visual experience. Later videos show his blooming ability with camera movement, as in the colorful and dizzying cut of Massive Attack’s “Sly,” or U2’s hedonistic, Near East video for “Mysterious Ways.”
Elsewhere Sednaoui’s choice of artists, reportedly his favorite musicians, also reflects fashion potential, such as Tricky looking snappy in a white suit; he also finds an appealing sexuality in a shirtless, emaciated and bald R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe. However, his videos often become showcases for the artists themselves while his talents are subdued. Examples are the decidedly dull-colored, visually arresting videos for Garbage’s “Queer,” (though Shirley Manson’s interview commentary is priceless) and Bjîrk’s “Big Time Sensuality,” which features a cathartic dance performance on a New York-bound flatbed truck.
Color can also be a weapon for good, though, and all the color videos are at least stimulating. The video treatment of “Disco Science,” a breakthrough for Mirwais, is appealing aesthetically and sexually, and is one of the few videos in Sednaoui’s oeuvre both use vary imagery and maintain a common motif.
The DVD lacks one of Sednaoui’s most popular, Smashing Pumpkins mega-hit “Today,” featuring the now classic “ice cream truck in the desert” visual pun. But you can (probably) see the same desert in RHCP’s “Scar Tissue,” which gains poignancy from the “10-years-after” theme and the fortuitous happenings between it and “Give It Away.”
There are a few real duds; as much as I enjoyed hearing “Ironic” (Alanis Morissette) after a few years of absence, the dippy ’90s cinematics are still a pain, and NTM’s b-boy lite is just embarrassing. It seems that Sednaoui’s place in the pantheon of music videos is not yet secure: I would argue that of these videos, only “Give It Away” is as culturally relevant (and not even as imitated) as the best work of Jonze and Gondry, but praise is due to the curators of this series for giving Sednaoui a chance.