Michel Gondry – French Visionary – Part 1
Born in Versailles, Michel Gondry was captivated by film as a young boy, crediting much of his inspirations to Le voyage en ballon. His grandfather Constant Martin was an inventor and created the Clavioline which was an electronic keyboard instrument that became the precursor to the synthesiser. With this level of craft in his blood and music being a key part of his family’s history it is no surprise that he would become a musician himself. He took up the drums and eventually formed the band Oui Oui with guitarist Étienne Charry, releasing their first album in 1989. From here they began to spread their name with more gigs and creating music videos. This is where Gondry took his first steps towards greatness. Directing several music videos for his band got him the attention of singer/songwriter and visual performer Bjork. Given a much bigger budget than he worked with on his own music videos, Gondry put together an inspired tale from the perspective of animals for the song Human Behaviour. The signature style of surrealism and use of animation can clearly be seen here as the colourful paper world shapes a reality of its own, a skill that Gondry has nurtured along his career.
From the success of the Bjork video came more offers from bands who wanted to get a taste of the creativity of Gondry’s brain. The list of artists that began tapping into the imaginative mind on the Frenchman soared, he soon worked with giant acts like Massive Attack, Daft Punk, The Chemical Brothers, Radiohead and Beck, many of which have a visual flair of their own which collaboration hoped to amplify. At this point Oui Oui had disbanded and Gondry was working full time in the visual arts. Working for commercials he also managed to shape the style of his craft, innovating the instruments he used (much like his grandfather) and helping the medium grow along the way. In ‘96 he shot a commercial for Smirnoff that used an adapted technique of merging footage taken from multiple camera shots all at once. Inspired by this and with some more tweaks this became known as Bullet Time and was famously used in the Wachowski’s Sci-Fi Epic The Matrix and Psychological video game Max Payne.
It wasn’t until 2001 that Gondry would try his hand at feature film. Human Nature was written by Charlie Kaufman known also for his imaginative sensibilities, which made Gondry a perfect director. The story of a female naturalist (Patricia Arquette) and one-track minded scientist (Tim Robbins) raising a caveman (Rhys Ifans) to become more of a modern man actually took many pages from the work on Bjork’s video. Focusing on the emotion of the characters, dabbling in the sets as well as allowing moments of humour to flourish, Gondry got his first taste of the big time here and received great feedback. But this was just the beginning of what he and his fellow collaborator were capable of, in their next effort things would become a lot more unhinged.