Anton Corbijn has worked with some of the most iconic musicians in history, and his unmistakable surrealist style has helped to augment the sonic soundscapes of all those he has collaborated with.
Perhaps the most famous music video he has produced is the opaque and nightmarish accompaniment for Nirvana’s 1993 single ‘Heart-Shaped Box’, and the image of the little girl in the KKK uniform is one that has been etched into our memories forever. However, he’s also made so many more visual pieces of artwork that are regarded as masterclasses in music video creation.
These include Depeche Mode’s ‘Enjoy the Silence’, U2’s ‘One’, Bryan Adams’ ‘Do I Have to Say the Words?’ and even Coldplay’s ‘Viva la Vida’. It’s a testament to Corbijn’s work that he has been the creative director of the visual output of both Depeche Mode and U2 for over 30 years. Via their promotional and sleeve photography, he has helped them cultivate the iconic images that we all know well.
Whist Corbijn’s work has leant heavily on music for much of his career, he is also an accomplished creator of feature films and has delivered a small but varied assortment of captivating flicks.
These are the celebrated Ian Curtis biopic Control, the George Clooney thriller The American, A Most Wanted Man starring Philip Seymour Hoffman based on the John le Carré novel, and Life, the story of Dennis Stock and James Dean’s friendship. He has an aptitude for making affecting features, and it would be a blessing for cinema if he were to return with another one in the near future.
Even though Corbijn’s career has given us a treasure trove of wealth, perhaps his most important but consistently overlooked work is the short film Some Yoyo Stuff, which he made for the BBC in 1994 about Captain Beefheart, AKA the enigmatic Don Van Vliet. Shot in monochrome, it is a portrait of an artist like no other, and the most candid account of Van Vliet ever released.
In the film, we hear an ageing Vliet, who is suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, talk about his life and career as he sits in front of a screen, with a montage of Corbijn’s footage rolling in the background, and you can’t help but draw parallels between it and the video for ‘Heart Shaped Box’, particularly given the presence of the crow and the tree, as the essence of death permeates it.
Touted as the last time the public got a real insight into Vliet’s life before becoming a recluse, it is brimming with golden takes, including: “The fish I used in Trout Mask Replica stank so bad it was just a cut off carp’s head. Hopefully, animals are smart enough to stay away from human beings because they’re too nice. Humans are so mean that they try to experiment to see what makes them tick.”
Watch the film below.