Lots of famous film directors have directed lots of famous music videos*, but in the 1980s a perfect confluence of talent, cocaine and nascent synergy produced some truly singular music video tie-ins, made by and often starring the directors of the film themselves. Sunglasses, mock(?) seriousness and an utter lack of self awareness, along with judicious re-use/seamless integration of movie clips** was the name of the game back then. Here are some of my particular favourites.
1. John Carpenter / “Big Trouble In Little China” by The Coup De Villes (1986)
There is no better example than this, in at number one – John Carpenter, the writer-director-producer-composer whose minimalist synth scores had put him at the top of the quadruple threat movie making list, proves that in the 1980s no matter how successful you were in your given career, you really just wanted to be the singer in a rock and roll band. Hence The Coup De Villes, Carpenter’s jam band who produced one full, not pretend album (Waiting Out The Eighties) and this, the theme tune to his perennially underrated Big Trouble In Little China.
2. William Friedkin / “To Live And Die In LA” by Wang Chung (1985)
William Friedkin’s To Live And Die In LA not only brought us the classic buddy cop “I’m too old for this shit” line, two years before Lethal Weapon, but also a none-more-80s soundtrack from none-more-80s band Wang Chung, who genuinely picked their own name, and not even as a joke. Friedkin cameos throughout with the novel application of the video’s central conceit – we are watching them record the music/make the music video! Kudos too, for the inclusion of one of cinema’s most vivid, apparently MTV-friendly, human eviscerations.
3. Ron Howard / “Gravity” by Michael Sembello (1985)
Another two or three boxes ticked – director cameo via an extended Ron Howard introduction AND he’s wearing sunglasses. In a darkened room. Then there’s the verite shot of the recording equipment at the start and the creative insertion of Cocoon footage into a minor masterpiece of cack-handed, 1980s neo-psychedelia. As Ron explains, “Michael loved Cocoon. He seemed to identify with it in an almost…unnatural way.”
4. Richard Donner / “Goonies R Good Enough” by Cyndi Lauper (1985)
A quintessentially 1980s barnstormer featuring practically the entire cast of The Goonies, with cameos from a range of WWF wrestlers (including Roddy “They Live” Piper), producer Steven Spielberg and even, as a trio of female pirates, the freakin’ Bangles. This, sadly, is the short version.
5. Tony Scott / “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins
Where a sweaty, apparently hungover Kenny Loggins variously wears sunglasses indoors, struggles to get out of bed, takes photographs of his penis and masturbates to flashbacks of Top Gun. Unlike the movie, there’s no homosexual subtext to the music video per se, but mechanophiliacs may empathise with Loggins’ passion for Tomcats.
BONUS: James Cameron / “Reach” by Martini Ranch (1988)
This is just a bonus, given that it’s not from a film soundtrack, but instead sees King of the World James Cameron direct one of his regulars, Bill Paxton, in an epic 7-minute promo for Paxton’s pleasingly 80s-sounding band, Martini Ranch. “Reach” also features a bunch of other Cameron regulars, embellished by cast members of Near Dark, Bud “Harold and Maude” Cort and human avatar of the period of time between 31st December 1979 and January 1st 1990, Edward Ernest “Judge” Reinhold Jr.
* Not counting the many that came up from music video directing – Anton Corbijn, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Michel Gondry, Jonathan Glazer, Spike Jonze, Mark Romanek, Tarsem Singh et al – here’s an inexhaustive list:
Michael Bay (“I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” by Meat Loaf)
Kathryn Bigelow (“Touched By The Hand Of God” by New Order)
Tim Burton (“Here With Me” by The Killers)
Sofia Coppola (“I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” by The White Stripes)
Brian De Palma (“Dancing In The Dark” by Bruce Springsteen)
Jonathan Demme (“Genius Of Love” by Tom Tom Club)
David Fincher (“Cradle Of Love” by Billy Idol)
John Landis (“Thriller” by Michael Jackson)
Spike Lee (“Fight The Power” by Public Enemy)
David Lynch (“I Predict” by Sparks)
Gaspar Noe (“We No Who U R” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds)
Sam Peckinpah (“Valotte” by Julian Lennon)
George A Romero (“Scream!” by The Misfits)
Martin Scorsese (“Bad” by Michael Jackson)
Gus Van Sant (“Under The Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers)
And a special mention for Simon “Con Air” West who is responsible for “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley (on its way to 100 million views thanks to the rickrolling phenomenon).
** An honourable tradition continued in Julien Temple’s 1991 clip for Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”, and which reached apotheosis with Paul Thomas Anderson’s video for “Save Me” by Aimee Mann (1999).