The science of sleep 2006
The Science of Sleep 2006 Michel Gondry
It was over 10 years ago and I was driving to work listening to a radio interviewer sucking up to a rock star of some sort. They were chatting about a recent tour of America. The rock star guy mentioned that during the long road trips in the tour bus (obviously not an overly successful rock star) the band had been listening to a particular album. On repeat.
That album was The Bends by Radiohead. He said it was amazing and would almost certainly influence his song writing.
So began my long relationship with Radiohead - a band who play music so full of angst and anger it's surprising they all still exist. I went straight out and bought the CD (maybe it was more than ten years ago) and played it on repeat. For two months.
Then Radiohead released OK Computer and my life was complete. This album saw me through the breakup of my marriage (along with Annie Lennox's Diva), the sale of my first business (along with Listen Without Prejudice Vol.1) and the emergence of a fascination with archaeology (along with Pink Floyd's Division Bell).
OK Computer was the recurring theme in my personal soundtrack for the next 10 years. It accompanied my iron-age fort digs, my wanderings across mainland Greece, field walks across Abruzzo looking for vanished Italian tribes.
Radiohead overlaid the subsequent budding of my art practice which started as all good practices do with Plaster-of-Paris, string, bandage, chicken wire and spit. By the time Radiohead released Amnesiac in 2001 I was honing my drawing skills and developing an eye for movement and colour.
I was making video and I was post-productioning the life out of them. I was also doing grown-up work in Cumbria in North-West England where the UK government was busy slaughtering all the cows and sheep in the county.
Which is pretty apposite as Michel Gondry (the Director of The Science of Sleep) made a music video for Radiohead's 'Knives Out'. Which is about a slow loss of focus when death prevails. It's lyrics are brutal.
I have to admit here I don't listen to lyrics much. I'm more interested in the sound of Thom Yorke's voice - the way he uses it as an instrument is spine-tingling. Don't get me wrong, I can sing along to all Radiohead's tracks although I do sound like a Russian who learnt his English from Beatles' records - meaning I don't understand what I'm singing, just what it sounds like.
When I went to Art College the next year, I found it hard to make work that didn't have both a visual and an auditory aspect. I got a Synth keyboard for my PC and spent hours on Logic Pro creating multi-layered compositions which bounced off visual cues. Art College blew the top off all my perceptions / conceptions. I learnt how powerful free expression can be when guided by experiment. Meaning we were encouraged to do whatever we wanted as long as we strove for integrity.
I was surrounded by (mainly) kids who had few or no preconceptions about form and function and who hadn't had opportunity knocked out of them by Education. Eggs became condoms and cars were reptilian. Anything went and often it did - straight into the skip. But sometimes by happy accident, something amazing happened.
Less exciting was my move to an Honours Degree at Nottingham Trent University. The kids (less so now) were more studied and serious. Some even looked a bit scared. Gone was the rampant exaggerated enthusiasm of art college to be replaced by self-analysis and an over-arching concern for a future as an artist.
We were still encouraged to make stuff out of cheese and mucus, but now we had to explain why. Which was a bit tiresome. But it did develop my skills at critique.
Going back to Gondry's music video of Knives Out, the aesthetic is all Art College and Roobarb. It's set in a small cardboard room with cardboard furniture with a cardboard TV showing the singer and a woman on a cardboard train. Thom Yorke moves from the TV into the room and back again, or maybe he is watching himself. There's lots of movement in the room with other characters moving in and out randomly. Visual judder is provided by Stop-Motion technique and by the cartoony feel of Roobarb (and Custard).
It's good. It is appealing visually although the colours are rather drab.
The jumpy cardboard aesthetic is the impermanence and non-linear manner of life and the inevitability of entropic death. The movement from TV into life and back again blur the boundaries of reality.
Thom Yorke dreams of skeletons playing guitar whilst roasting his feet in an open oven. I think this is a good music video. The sounds and Thom's strange look make it work. It suceeds because it's an art school video and it's fun.
Gondry made The Science of Sleep 5 years later.
In between the Music Video and this film, he made Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. That is a fascinating film up there with Matrix in challenging the ideas of boundaries affecting reality and the subconscious. It was a seamless and smooth broken-chronology film with good writing and cinematography.
I don't know why he needed to recycle the elements of a music video into a 2 hour film. In The Science of Sleep Gondry is again addressing issues of boundary definition - boundaries between childhood imagination and adult reality. The protagonist, Stephane, is an imaginative young man who's had an emotional blow and is retreating into childhood whilst at the same time developing an adult relationship with his neighbour. Which done well could be fun and a challenging watch.
Unfortunately I developed no sympathy at all with the characters - in fact the neighbour played by Serge Gainsburg's daughter just annoyed me with her cardboard acting and sickly English voice. Stephane too was badly written, the metaphor for his subconscious overused to little narrative benefit - except for one scene where Stephane is having an advice-inspired internal dialogue which is represented by his advisors sitting in his subconscious having a round-table discussion. It's a shame there wasn't more of this.
With poor writing, poor acting and poor direction, this film would struggle to make it out of the door of my art college and certainly wouldn't survive a student critique at Nottingham Trent: There is no progressing of theme, no development of technique and no sympathy with character. But…
I do want you to see the cardboard stuff, the string and glue. I want you to see the humour in Gondry's Stop Motion visual. I want you to see his inspired material substitutions and his visual metaphors. I want you to experience the wonder of childhood invention.
So go to YouTube and search Gondry Music Video and pick a band you like. Do watch his Radiohead Knives Out video. You will see an impressive product of his creative mind and you'll see his enormous skill with metaphor and creativity. All in 4 minutes. And you'll have fun doing it.
And the soundtrack will be something memorable.
And you'll have 1 hour 41 minutes left over to do something else.
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