After reaching the top of his profession as an experimental music video and commercial director, Michel Gondry made the natural transition to feature films, only to suffer a critical and financial failure with his first crack, “Human Nature” (2001). Prior to making his feature debut, Gondry turned his unique visual perspective to good use with the music video for Björk’s popular and award-winning single, “Human Behavior” (1993), which helped catapult the Icelander to stardom while breaking new ground in the medium. He also became an innovator in the commercial world, especially with a Levi’s ad called “Drugstore” (1994), which, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, became the most award-winning ad of all time. Following a highly successful decade of making videos and shooting commercials, Gondry was introduced to screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and helmed the interesting, but ultimately disconnected “Human Nature.” But the pair had much greater success with their next collaboration, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004), which won them the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Following a surprise turn to documentaries with “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” (2006) and the winsome fantasy “The Science of Sleep” (2006), the director was hired to make his first blockbuster movie, “The Green Hornet” (2011), proving that even creatively risk-taking directors like Gondry had their place in the Hollywood factory.
Born on Jan. 1, 1964 in Versailles, France, Gondry was exposed to the arts early in life. His grandfather, Constant Martin, invented the Clavioline, one of the earliest keyboard synthesizers, while his father was a computer programmer and his mother an accomplished pianist. Inspired to become either a painter or inventor, he stumbled onto photography at 12 years old and even made a prototype for a cartoon machine using a Meccano construction set. Also a fine illustrator, Gondry would amuse his schoolmates by teaching them how to draw naked women. Meanwhile, after finishing his primary and secondary studies, he attended art school to pursue graphic design. At 22, Gondry discovered filmmaking when he bought a camera at a flea market and began making short films to counteract the boredom of working at a print shop. Turning to music, he played drums for the mildly popular French pop group, Oui Oui, which featured his secondary school chum, Étienne Charry, on guitar and vocals. They released their first album, Chacun Tout le Monde (1989) and followed with their second, Formidable, only to have both go out of print following the band’s split in 1992. Because Gondry shot animated videos for his band’s music, it was only a short leap for him to begin directing music videos for other artists.
In 1993, he directed “Human Behavior” for Icelandic superstar Björk’s first solo single. Inspired by Goldilocks and the Three Bears and Yuri Norstein’s Soviet Union-era animated film “Hedgehog in the Fog” (1975), Gondry created a groundbreaking video that helped catapult Björk to stardom in the United States, while earning numerous award nominations. He also made videos for Lenny Kravitz’s “Believe” (1993), The Rolling Stones’ take on Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” (1995) and Sheryl Crow’s “A Change Would Do You Good” (1997). Gondry’s wide-ranging taste in music stretched to such acts as The Chemical Brothers, Radiohead and Wyclef Jean, which allowed him to explore new techniques, including the use of bullet time technology made popular by “The Matrix” (1999). Branching out into commercials, Gondry broke new ground with a spot for Levi’s called “Drugstore” (1994), a 90-second ad that featured a black-and-white Depression-era storyline with a thumping techno-pop score over it. The ad won the Lion D’or at Cannes and was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the most award-winning commercial of all time.
Gondry was at the top of his profession while shooting commercials for corporate clients, including Volvo, Citibank and Nike, and even had enough carte blanche to refuse work for products he abhorred, like the U.S. Arm or cigarette companies. Eventually Hollywood came calling, though he had trouble at first finding a script he liked; the ones he read were either terrible or boring. But when fellow director Spike Jonze showed him the script for “Being John Malkovich” (1999), Gondry was elated, but also saddened that his friend had the chance to direct it instead of him. The script’s writer, Charlie Kaufman, later handed him the pages for “Human Nature” (2001), which Gondry liked immediately. A Pygmalion satire of human behavior, the film starred Tim Robbins as a reclusive 35-year-old scientist and Patricia Arquette as a woman with a strange hormonal condition which causes thick hair to grow all over her body and has kept her out of civilization. Though given decent reviews, “Human Nature” was unable to capture the movie-going public’s interest, leading to a miserable performance at the box office.
With his second film, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” (2004), Gondry struck critical and box office gold. A cyclonic journey into the mind of a shiftless slacker (Jim Carrey) who undergoes a procedure to erase all memories of his former girlfriend (Kate Winslet) after she did the same to him, the film’s wild storyline could easily have run amok. Instead, Gondry and Kaufman wrangled the story and fashioned a warm, humorous and tightly structured story about two people who learn not to give up on love. Critical kudos rained down upon Gondry and Kaufman, as “Eternal Sunshine” became one of the most acclaimed movies that year. Both director and writer earned several prominent awards, including an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Meanwhile, Gondry directed his third feature – and his first without the heavy-hand of Kaufman – “Science of Sleep” (2006), a stylized romantic fantasy about an eccentric young man (Gael García Bernal), who develops an ability to control his own dreams, only to find himself held hostage by the manifestations he created.
Even though he had gained entry into Hollywood, Gondry continued to make music videos for such artists as The White Stripes, Beck and Paul McCartney. Back in the feature world, he directed “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” (2006), a documentary that featured the genesis and eventual culmination of the Comedy Central comedian’s idea to throw a free and unpublicized hip-hop concert in the Clinton Hills neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Gondry was invited by Chappelle to direct both the concert and the workings behind the scene, which opened the doors to an intimate portrait of the comedian. He next directed “Be Kind Rewind” (2008), a comedy of errors about a video store clerk (Mos Def) and his best friend (Jack Black), who recreate classic movies in order to replace all the videotapes that have been accidentally erased during the failed sabotage of a local power plant. After directing the 2009 episode “Unnatural Love” for “Flight of the Concords” (HBO, 2007-09), Gondry directed the long-awaited comic book adaptation of “The Green Hornet” (2011), which he first attempted in the late-1990s with writer Edward Neumeier.
Gondry has had an illustrious career, and has, arguably, left no stone unturned in his armory of past work. Hs is particularly noted for his inventive and creative visual style, and the manipulation of ” Mise en scene” , a French expression used to describe the design aspects of a theater or movie production. I think that, with Gondry having a massive list of music videos to his name, this kick started hist creativity. Music videos are traditionally very vibrant and unorthodox; they have to keep the viewer enthralled in the experience. Typically, the viewer will already have listened to the soundtrack, so the incentive to watch the music video is for the artist. Music videos also provide a large percentage of advertising revenue. Most labels will have a product placement deal with a company, in which the actors in the video will use to great extent.
Gondry was also at the top of his game while working in the advertising industry. He regularly shot commercials for illustrious clients such as Volvo & Nike. He even had enough carte blanche to refuse companies whose products he abhorred – such as commercials for cigarettes. Eventually, he was sought out by Hollywood, but he had difficulty finding a scripts he actually liked or didn’t find boring.