Salute Your Shorts is a weekly column that looks at short films, music videos, commercials or any other short form visual media that generally gets ignored.
Because he wears so many different
hats, a lot of things come to mind when thinking of Spike Jonze.
Music-video auteur, skate-video mastermind, postmodern trickster of
film—all of those are pretty much de rigueur for any article about
his works, and do a good job illustrating just how varied those works
are. That the same person can make a film as deeply moving as
Being John Malkovich and also be the producer behind the fun but
ultimately vacuous Jackass series has always been part of his charm.
Still, one thing that rarely gets spoken about is Jonze the respectful
and attentive documentary filmmaker, even though his works in that genre
have been if anything more consistently brilliant than in anything else
he’s worked at.
Maybe it shouldn’t be too
much of a surprise, though, that Jonze began dabbling in documentaries
back in 1997. In a sense, his career was founded on them.
Both the photography and early skateboard videos he took were documentary
in nature, and while he at times grafted plots and stunts onto them,
at their heart, skate vids are just sports documentaries with a different
focus. The tools of the trade are still the same. Jonze’s
skate vids use on-location shooting with video cameras and cheap microphones,
allowing him to shoot anywhere at any time with minimal notice.
The Jackass movies and shows he worked on are little more than
taking the same skate vid techniques and filming stunts of a different
type. This guerilla filmmaking, without permits or much planning,
became a trademark of Jonze’s in music videos during the ensuing years.
While he later moved on to
much more ambitious techniques, many of Jonze’s earliest music videos
took his guerilla method of filming and used their rough footage in a direct confrontation to the sort of slick videos by Michael Bay and David
Fincher’s that were currently in vogue. In “100%,” his
skate footage was shot exactly how his videos had been and then was
edited in to add an element of realism to things. The highlight
of his early semi-documentaries was definitely “Sabotage” for the
Beastie Boys. On the one hand, it had Jonze and the band dressed
up as 1980s TV police officers, running amok on fictional criminals
with their created personas. On the other hand, though, all the
footage was taken out in the streets with no permit or warning to anyone
passing by. The whole video was shot in quick succession with
little planning other than the purchase of a couple impressively fake-looking
wigs. The ensuing chaos is a pretty amazing semi-documentary,
a landmark for copycat music videos to follow.