Short Rounds is a bi-weekly column dedicated to spreading the love of short film. Every other Wednesday we'll curate a number of flicks around a theme, from current Film Festivals to whatever is in the air. You know you've got the time
The line between short film and music video has always been a bit blurry. A distinction can’t really be drawn based on content: there are enough short films built around a single song to complicate that discussion. 15 years ago a point could be made about venue, back in the heyday of MTV when music videos were made for television and short films were mostly confined to cinemas. The internet has since completely changed the game, with both music videos and short films often finding the bulk of their audience on the web. Suddenly we’re watching these flicks on the same devices, usually on the same websites.
Many artists and directors have taken this as an excuse to charge forward and create work that would have been too long or conceptual to air on MTV, at least not in full. Lady Gaga’s work comes to mind, or the eerie 13-minute video that 30 Seconds to Mars made for Hurricane. Many of these are even advertised as short films, perhaps in order to add the sheen of high art to a musician’s image. That can certainly be said about Duran Duran’s new short film, released yesterday. Directed by the prolific Jonas Åkerlund, Girl Panic! is a 9-minute experiment in concept and vision that draws inspiration from music video classics while also pushing into the realm of 21st century short film. Let’s watch it, take a look at some of its forebears, and have some fun with the intersection between music and movies.
Girl Panic! by Duran Duran, directed by Jonas Åkerlund
Even if you don’t recognize the name, you’re probably very familiar with Åkerlund’s work. He’s been directing music videos since the late 1980s, though his first massive success wasn’t until 1997’s Smack My Bitch Up video for The Prodigy. Since then he’s collaborated with everyone from Madonna to Ozzy Osbourne, creating unique and provocative work that manages to stay fresh well after the songs leave the Billboard Top 100. Girl Panic! is no different, and is in some ways a departure from not only his previous work but also his music video style in general.
The concept is simple: Duran Duran is getting ready for a London performance, sitting for interviews with the press in the hours leading up to an evening concert. Yet there are two major and unexpected stylistic features that keep things interesting. Firstly, the members of the band are all played by familiar supermodels: Naomi Campbell, Helena Christensen, Cindy Crawford, Yasmin Le Bon, and Eve Herzigova. It’s an homage to a long history of models in music videos, going back to the 1980s when Campbell and Crawford themselves worked with George Michael. Running counter to this is the music itself, which serves more as a dynamic soundtrack than the centerpiece of the video. It’s a rare technique, one that turns the focus away from the song and onto the image of the band itself.
Freedom ’90 by George Michael, directed by David Fincher
Admittedly, the use of supermodels in music videos is a bit older than this 1990 hit from George Michael. There’s Robert Palmer’s 1986 Addicted to Love, the first in an iconic series that placed the singer in front of a back-up band populated entirely by sternly dressed models. One could argue the importance of Christie Brinkley in Billy Joel’s 1983 Uptown Girl video, though I won’t. Fincher’s collaboration with Michael is simply the most fun, taking the pop star out of the video entirely and replacing him with an array of gorgeous men and women. Setting his prior image on fire, in particular that in Faith, this inspired short remains influential. Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford even appear in both Freedom ’90 and Girl Panic!, an homage if there ever was one
Paparazzi by Lady Gaga, directed by Jonas Åkerlund
As for the aesthetics of Girl Panic!, it’s pretty easy to draw a glitzy line to Åkerlund’s earlier collaborations with Lady Gaga and Madonna. Paparazzi in particular is a fun example, a completely different song and video that nonetheless thrives in an environment of fancy hotels and ridiculous clothes. The two films also share a unique vision when it comes to little details, elaborate fonts for subtitles/intertitles and a creative approach to color and photography.
Rolling in the Deep by Adele, directed by Sam Brown
Before calling in some more distant connections in short filmmaking, it’s worth commenting on the absolutely crucial art of music video editing. The decision to keep the song itself in the background of Girl Panic! was a dangerous one. Without the constant throb of Duran Duran’s sound keeping things together, it’d be easy for the rhythm of this 9-minute film to collapse. The bravura editing keeps things going. In a weird way it’s evocative of the VMA-winning work that was done for Rolling in the Deep, editing that not only interacts intimately with the beat but also with the visual concept. It’s also an excuse to watch one of the best pop videos of the year
Momma Don’t Allow, directed by Tony Richardson and Karel Reisz
Perhaps the most interesting element of Girl Panic! is the way it engages with the song itself. Its indirect and contextual approach is rare in the world of contemporary music videos, and is more evocative of a concert film than anything typically bound for an MTV countdown. Duran Duran and Åkerlund are primarily interested in glamour, the media and all of the drama surrounding their music. I’d like to put that up against 1950’s Free Cinema, and this fun doc short by two British Film Institute directors. Obviously Girl Panic! is a far cry from anything entirely non-fiction; the rockers are played by supermodels, after all. Yet the way the new video looks at the bigger picture and uses the music primarily as a soundtrack makes me think back to this bit of classic experimental documentary. Part One:
Sensology, directed by Michel Gagné
Finally, I’ll make one last brief comment about that bigger intersection between music video and short film. Sometimes we forget just how crucial the relationship between sound and image really is for the world of film. There’s a reason silent movies were played with musical accompaniment, after all. Now that the internet has blown up all of our preconceptions about established forms and genres, I think it’s worth taking a moment to ponder this essential element. This tiny animation, inspired by Paul Plimley’s marvelous piano improvisations, takes the connection between sound and motion and gives us some beautifully simple cinema. This is how short film, music video, and everything in between can thrive. Take a look