Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): The Favorites - Hyperballad (#39)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Favorites - Hyperballad (#39)


The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Hyperballad (1996/France/dir. Michel Gondry) appeared at #39 on my original list.

What it is • Bjork appears as an immobile sculpture, eyes closed in sleep - except when they briefly open - a tribute to the one moment of movement in Chris Marker's La Jetee? Simultaneously, she floats above as a sort of hologram, singing her song "Hyperballad" as the camera pivots around her form(s). Finally, most iconically, a video game avatar Bjork sprouts from the death mask-like visage and runs across the screen, the camera following her through a pixelated city, with the simple shapes of mountain peaks dominating the background. Michel Gondry's music video for this mid-nineties single touches on many of his favorite themes and motifs: simple, pleasing forms; a childlike sense of whimsy; multimedia interactions; the stark contrast of city and country. However, it also corresponds to the song's lyrics. Bjork sings a joyous ode to contemplating (and experimenting with) dangerous extremities each morning, before appreciatively returning to the security of her mountaintop home and the companionship of her still-sleeping lover. And the visuals reflect the gentle whirls and whoops of the electronic soundscape, a synthetic sound that feels organic. I only learned tonight, while reviewing a video I must have watched at least a dozen times, that all of "Hyperballad" was shot on a single roll of film, each layer of imagery exposed over the same frames. There's an incredible sense of natural movement to the effect despite the laserlike precision necessary to pull it off.

Why I like it •
I discovered all of Gondry's videos on The Directors label DVD in one sitting (except perhaps the Foo Fighters one, which I think I'd seen on TV years earlier). I was captivated from the first image, finding a sensibility that resonated completely with my dreams (day- and otherwise). Sensations of limbs growing out of proportion, juxtapositions of an urban world in immediate proximity to pastoral landscapes, a natural landscape unfolding like an industrial assembly line outside a train window, all of it perfectly tuned to the rhythmic beat of the soundtrack...I was discovering a genius in an underappreciated form. Although Gondry had already directed several films (I'd caught his most celebrated - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - in theaters earlier that year) and would continue to helm features for the following decade, it was always his music videos that shined the brightest for me. His collaboration with Charlie Kaufman, while brilliantly realized, still seems to belong mostly to the writer's conceits, and the films he wrote himself (at least the ones I've seen) feel a bit light. By contrast, his two- or three-minute shorts, commisioned by various rock and pop bands, are fully realized expressions of a dream state, at once magical and mathematical. Many of them are worth including on this list - most notably Around the World, the Daft Punk video that may be Gondry's quintessential work. Yet Hyperballad connects with me most deeply. Usually I'm absorbed with the camera's exploration of this virtual landscape but when I watched the video again tonight, I was struck most by the human figure at its center, the way Bjork restlessly tosses and turns while also rooted in her peaceful, slumbering form - a perfectly-realized vision of the duality of body and spirit (with the running woman as, perhaps, her roving mind, exploring new possibilities).

More from me • I wrote about Hyperballad, and several other Gondry videos, in one of my favorite pieces for this blog, "Cities of the Imagination", a prose/image meditation on Gondry, Jia Zhangke, and personal city-dreams. Clips from this and another Gondry video are featured at 1:32 in "Living in the Nineties", a chapter in my "32 Days of Movies" video clip series.

How you can see it • Available in several places on YouTube, this one appears to be Bjork's official channel (where she thanked all the viewers for watching earlier this year). The collection of Gondry's work is still available for DVD rental on Netflix.

What do you think? • What's your favorite Gondry video? What's your favorite Bjork video? In addition to Gondry's interest in dream-images, this song was apparently based on one of Bjork's dreams - have you had similar dreams yourself?

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Yesterday: Daisies (#41)
Tomorrow: Scarface (#38)

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