Gondry’s self-made autobiographical documentary I’ve been 12 forever brings us as close as possible to the man behind the films that contain his unique personality. Using his own son as an actor, he recreates key childhood moments that brought him to be the man he is today (or the child he still is). He explains one such moment to be intrinsically linked to his love of music and performance. Once when walking through a shopping mall as a child he stopped with his family to watch a man selling organs demonstrate. The demonstrator recognised the famous jazz organist Lou Bennett walking past and invited him to play. Gondry’s father, a musician himself, told Michel that the difference between the two performances was that Lou Bennett possessed more inspiration than the man before him. Gondry claims that since this moment he has been obsessed with inspiration; how to define and capture it. There is something scientific about his conscious effort to explain the unexplained, to take abstract concepts like inspiration and pick them apart. The workings of dreams is also a prevalent theme throughout his work.
The documentary also showcases many of the short animations Gondry made to represent these key moments childhood moments. One of the most charming is Tiny, a hand drawn animation made in 2004, inspired by the moment in which his adolescent crush rejected his invitation to dance, claiming he was ‘too tiny’. The film is accompanied by eerie music written and performed by Michel also. It is almost as if he is trying to piece together his past and document it to make sense of his present.This tragic little film exposes Gondry’s insecurities but more poignantly, it exposes the man with the nerve to bare his soul. There are many more examples of Gondry injecting his private life into his art. He repeatedly parodies a recurring childhood nightmare in which his hands grow to gigantic size, an event that could only be resolved by his mother massaging his hands; an act that brought him back to normality. In a music video for the Foo Fighters, (Everlong) Dave Grohl grows the characteristically large hand to crush his enemies in a series of interweaved dreams. The video was nominated for the best Rock Video in the 1998 MTV Video Music Awards and in interview Grohl claims it to be the best music video they ever made.
Before making many of his feature films, Gondry was renowned for his work on commercials and music videos. He directed ‘Drugstore’ for Levi’s which became the most awarded commercial of all time. His first productions with Bjork, with whom he formed a long lasting creative relationship, and videos he created for his own band (Oui Oui) of which he is the drummer began to get noticed in the early nineties. Favour for Gondry began to catch on with such electricity that suddenly every successful musical artist at the time wanted to work with him. His collaborations with artists like Daft Punk, White Stripes, The Rolling Stones, Chemical Brothers, Beck and many more gave him the freedom to explore his experimental ideas.
The music video was the perfect platform for Gondry to be innovative in a purely visual way. Let Forever Be by the Chemical Brothers is perhaps his most ground-breaking video, quintessentially capturing the Gondry style. The video follows a woman in a series of her dreams that interlace her everyday life. The transitions into the alternate reality are fluid. Gondry ingeniously orchestrates these transitions so the transition becomes the reality. For example when the screen multiplies into a dozen alarm clocks (a typical ‘tacky’ effect) we realise that they are actually real and that there are also multiple choreographed dancers, dressed identically and playing the same woman. Pitchfork Media ranked the video at number 7 in the list of ‘Top 50 Music Videos of the 1990s’.
In Gondry’s most recent feature films he has relied on a ‘DIY’ animated style to aid the storytelling of live action. He uses fabric puppets, cardboard cut outs and cellophane in La science des rêves (The Science of Sleep 2006) to ornament the dreamscapes of his protagonist Stéphane, hopelessly in love with Stéphanie played by Charlotte Gainsbourg. Like Gondry, Stéphane fancies himself as an inventor and hosts an imaginary television show in which he cooks up his own dreams live by adding ‘memories’ and ‘relationships’. La science des rêves, written and directed by Michel Gondry, is therefore his closest reproduction of his own philosophies in film. Also his protagonist inhabits so much of his own behaviour. In interview, Bjork makes references to Gondry’s neuroticisms which she claims to find charming. She likens him to a Woody Allen-type figure, always on edge and thinking the world could end at any second. But it is only from his obsessive tendencies that his inventive streak can be born. Gondry seeks to explore himself and create art wholly from his experience; that is what he sees to be true. He lives through his past but seeks productive means from it.
Article by Mara Frampton (Norwich Film Festival Volunteer)