Spike Jonze is one of the most celebrated film directors of his generation, an artist who is the creative mastermind behind the likes of Being John Malkovich and Where The Wild Things Are. However, before he made it to Hollywood he was the man behind some of the most iconic music videos in history.
Jonze started directing music videos back in 1992, a time when he was just 23 years old, and he quickly immersed himself within the New York post-punk movement which was thriving at that time. Word soon started to spread about his eye for creating magic and he soon started working with the likes of the Beastie Boys, R.E.M. and Daft Punk — throughout the ’90s Jonze could work with just about any artist in the world that he wanted to. His life would change following the release of Being John Malkovich in 1999, a moment in which he would shift his focus to feature films and move away from the world of music—although he occasionally still dips his toes in the musical waters.
“Going from music videos to features was definitely scary because I didn’t know how I would do in terms of working with actors,” Jonze said to Mentorless in 2014 about his career shift. “But that was the main thing I wanted to focus on, was the performances and learning what it meant to direct actors.”
He added: “The other thing that helped was all of my friends that I’d made working on music videos with came and worked on our first movie together. And Acord, KK Barrett, Casey Storm, Thomas Smith our first AD, Eric Zumbrunnen our editor, that made it a lot more comfortable and it felt like the first day on set was not as shocking as I thought it would be because I was like “oh I know all, you guys.”
Music videos were the breeding ground for helping Jonze hone his skills as a mercurial director, one who has gone on to create long-form masterpieces as well as music visuals that feel cinematic and more often than not feels like a piece of art that’s much more than ‘just a video’. To celebrate Jonze’s great talent, here are eight of his finest music videos.
Spike Jonze’s 8 Best Music Videos
Weezer – ‘Buddy Holly’ (1994)
Spike Jonze apparently came up with three ideas for the music video for ‘Buddy Holly’, according to former Weezer bassist Matt Sharp who also said that two of the ideas “weren’t great”. The band were hesitant about Jonze’s vision which would eventually become the iconic video but went ahead with it anyway and their trust in him would pay off emphatically.
The video was filmed at Charlie Chaplin Studios in Hollywood over a single day and portrays Weezer performing at Arnold’s Drive-In from the 1970s television show Happy Days, combining footage of the band with clips from the show. The Happy Days theme that Jonze came up with could have been disastrous but, instead, it captured the mood of the song perfectly and it remains a classic video.
‘Buddy Holly’ was also met with acclaim from critics and at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards, it won Best Alternative Video, Breakthrough Video, Best Direction and Best Editing, and was also nominated for Video of the Year.
Beastie Boys – ‘Sabotage’ (1994)
This is a hilarious loving parody of 1970s crime drama shows such as Hawaii Five-O, The Streets of San Francisco, S.W.A.T. and Starsky and Hutch. The video for ‘Sabotage’ is presented as the opening credits of a fictional 1970s-style police show called Sabotage in which the band members appear as the show’s protagonists and the delivery was hilarious.
The video transcended music and became a mark of real cultural significance thanks to its tongue-in-cheek approach, one which was unlike any videos that came before it. That said, many have arrived afterwards by those who have poorly tried to replicate the Jonze method. Actress Amy Poehler reviewed the music video in the 2018’s Beastie Boys Book and lovingly said that “there would be no Anchorman, no Wes Anderson, no Lonely Island, and no channel called Adult Swim if this video did not exist.”
Björk – ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ (1995)
The music video for ‘It’s So Quiet’ which Jonze directed was shot in San Fernando Valley, California and he intuitively based it on Jacques Demy’s 1964 film Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. The film features everything in slow motion and set in a Broadway musical style as Björk sings the verses. However, when the song arrives at the furious chorus, everything returns to regular speed and everyone around Björk her dances along.
Jonze’s video for ‘It’s Oh So Quiet‘ was another critical success and it received six nominations for the MTV Video Music Awards for 1996 including Best Female Video, Best Art Direction, Breakthrough Video, Best Direction in a Video, International Viewer’s Choice Award — MTV Europe, and Best Choreography in a Video, winning in the latter category.
Daft Punk – ‘Da Funk’ (1995)
‘Da Funk’ is one of the track’s that put Daft Punk on the map and laid out bare their sound, one which the world fell head over heels for. That said, one issue for a director tasked with filming the masked duo Daft Punk is that they can’t show their faces. It was a factor that meant that Jonze was forced to think outside of the box and he managed to pull off this challenge perfectly.
The film focuses on the character Charles, a dog with all the traits of a human, who has a leg in a cast and is dressed just like any young New Yorker in 1995. The film follows him as he is walking around with a boombox playing ‘Da Funk’ at a high volume. In the film we see Charles get mocked by children, his boombox annoys a bookseller and it stops him from going on a date that he’d arranged. Charles later reappeared in the video for ‘Fresh’ which was released years later and he had become a successful movie star who is now living with the girl he was meant to go on a date with.
The Pharcyde – ‘Drop’ (1996)
This was the only video that Jonze directed in 1996 and The Pharcyde’s ‘Drop’ video features footage of the hip-hop group performing the song backwards, replayed backwards, which works perfectly when combined with the beat of the song and is another example of the director’s masterful way of combining visuals with music.
The Pharcyde worked tirelessly with linguistic experts to recite the entire song backwards and it paid off in dramatic style. Jonze’s old friends, Ad Rock and Mike D of the Beastie Boys, also pop up to make a much welcomed albeit brief cameo.
Fatboy Slim – ‘Weapon of Choice’ (2001)
This video is the most iconic on the list, which is some achievement. It should need no introduction, but for anyone who somehow hasn’t seen this incredible piece of filmography, it consists of ‘Weapon Of Choice’ taking over Christopher Walken and immediately awakens him from a nap in an empty hotel lobby. The actor begins to dance then fly around the area before sitting then and returning to his nap once the song ends.
The plans materialised after Walken approached Jonze to film him dancing, the director then suggesting that he stars in the video. Fatboy Slim had also been scheduled to have a cameo role in the video, replacing Walken in the harness shots but was unavailable that weekend because his wife was giving birth. They shot the video over just two days at Los Angeles’ Marriott Hotel before Christmas in 2000.
In 2018, Jonze appeared on the Nine Club podcast and spoke at length at how the collaboration with Walken came about: “I had known he could dance somehow, I think I had seen him on Saturday Night Live or something and I also love making dance videos. I did a Fatboy Slim video for his record before for ‘Praise You’ and so I wanted to do dance again but I didn’t want to do lo-fi amateur dancing, I wanted to do like a real dance production thing.”
Jonze then went on to speak about his casting methods for the video and how Walken sprung to his mind from nowhere: “From like years ago I remembered Christopher Walken from Saturday Night Live and I was like that would be amazing. So I talked to Norman Cook from Fatboy Slim and said ‘my idea is basically just filming Christopher Walken dancing‘ and he was like ‘Sure if he’ll do it‘.”
Arcade Fire – ‘The Suburbs’ (2010)
This video is a slightly different one for Jonze as it was a shortened down version of his film Scenes from the Suburbs which he made to go along with Arcade Fire’s album of the name. It manages to encompass the feeling of the song perfectly as the film follows a group of adolescents in a town which deliberately could be absolutely anywhere which matches up with the universal title of the track.
It features this group of friends as they try to find some way to kill the infinite amount of time which they have on their hands which starts off fun and then unsurprisingly leads into a disaster. Scenes from the Suburbs also features short cameos by Win Butler and Sarah Neufeld as police officers.
Kanye West ft Paul McCartney – ‘Only One’ (2015)
Due to the demand, It has to be a special project for Spike Jonze to perk his ears up and listen nowadays. However, nobody on earth could possibly say no to directing a video to a track by Kanye West and Paul McCartney.
The video was shot on Jonze’s iPhone and in the minimalist style that West had been continuously using. It sees West walking through a wet field in the middle of nowhere with his daughter, North, who was 18 months old at the time, with the two of them caught in a shadow fog. ‘Only One’ is one of West’s most poignant tracks and Jonze manages to capture the feeling of it perfectly.