In February, when Billboard magazine announced that it was going to start factoring YouTube views into calculations for its Hot 100 pop singles chart, it wasn't validation just for YouTube and its staggering cultural reach but also, in part, for music videos themselves.
It wasn't that long ago that industry types were preparing to don funeral garb for the form. MTV had turned its focus to everything but music videos, and no real replacement for the channel yet existed or seemed to be on the horizon. Fast-forward to the present, with the music industry in survival mode, and music videos are perhaps as crucial as ever to breaking new artists (Carly Rae Jepsen, with "Call Me Maybe"), cross-pollinating global music cultures (Psy's "Gangnam Style"), building and sustaining audiences for indie acts and helping A-list pop stars hang onto their ever-dwindling market share.
At LAFF, however, the music video has long been venerated as a genuine art form. It's a mode of expression that has allowed film directors like Spike Jonze (appearing in an LAFF conversation with director David O. Russell on June 22), David Fincher, Michel Gondry and Floria Sigismondi to hone the aesthetic eccentricities and quirks that define their big-screen work. The festival's Eclectic Mix programs — each of which is a different set of music videos — annually sell out.
"I do tend to program more underground or indie artists, across genres, because those are the videos that I genuinely find more artful and inspiring," says Eclectic Mix curator Drea Clark. "Plus, they're often videos that haven't had a lot of eyes on them. ... I will include a well-known artist if the video is incredibly striking.
"This year I have Jack White and The Lumineers because those clips were really powerful and resonant, and the talent behind the camera is solid and new," she adds. "Counter to that, last year I didn't program a video that I was completely in love with — M.I.A.'s 'Bad Girls,' directed by Romain Gavras — because it had over 30 million views online. As much as I thought it was dynamic and incredible, it didn't need the exposure of the festival."
Watching the clips on the big screen, as opposed to on a computer or phone, is only part of the thrill for attendees. There's also the buzz of hobnobbing with the directors after the screenings ("They show up in a pack and hang out before and after the screenings together," Clark says) and having heady conversations about what they've just seen, something Clark loves to do.
"I am someone prone to read into music videos like the tea leaves of society," she laughs. "There seemed to be so much aimless wandering in the clips this year, so many protagonists who were on the road, moving away from something more than moving toward something else. In previous years, videos have had more inherent anger, lots of smashing and burning, but this year seemed to have a lot of clips following people who were uprooted in some way — discontented, isolated, roaming. That makes sense to me, in a non-election year, feeling impotent or frustrated culturally."
The Lumineers' "Stubborn Love," directed by Isaac Ravishankara, and Flight Facilities' "Clair de Lune," directed by Dave Ma, are gorgeously moody examples of what Clark describes. In "Stubborn," a mother packs up the family car with her daughter, leaving the crestfallen father behind, as they traverse the desert with the camera panning through expansive skies and barren landscapes. "Claire" is a nighttime sojourn by two female friends whom we see stopping at greasy spoons and crashing in motels.
"To balance that out," Clark says, "there was also a nice thread of directors who were experimenting with what they could make their cameras do, or what weird effect they could create in post, and then building an entire video around some very cool, fun techniques."
For instance, Passion Pit's "Cry Like a Ghost," by the directing duo named DANIELS, opens with a terrified young woman racing through the woods, seeming to impulsively break into a modern dance routine until we realize the footage is being run backward. Then there's Cloud Nothings' "No Future, No Past," directed by John Ryan Manning, in which an elderly man hovers inches off the floor of his home and is slowly being pulled along by an unseen force.
"Though, who knows?" Clark is quick to add. "Maybe discontent drove them to do that, too."
To see the list of videos in this year's Eclectic Mix programs, go to bit.ly/laffmusic.
Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes