Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Films I Love #28: Come To Daddy (Chris Cunningham, 1997)


Come To Daddy was the first music video that director Chris Cunningham created for eccentric electronic musician Richard D. James, AKA Aphex Twin. It's a miniature masterpiece of audiovisual assault, marrying one of James' most demented, frantic tracks to an appropriately warped visual sensibility that mingles horror with absurdist humor. There's something simultaneously unsettling and hilarious about the way Cunningham clones James himself, placing the musician's demonically grinning visage atop an army of cheerful kids and later grafting his face onto a hellspawned creature who crawls, Videodrome-style, out of a TV set to scare the wits out of a passing old woman. It's a marvelously deranged piece of work, frightening and ridiculous, and possibly a bit perverted — a tendency Cunningham and James would pursue further in their equally outrageous follow-up, Windowlicker, a rap video parody with a chorus line of ass-jiggling, bikini-clad Aphex Twins.

"Come to Daddy," the song, joins James' usual frenetic, inhuman beats to a trashy, static-laden pseudo-metal vibe, with James' chanted vocals seemingly beamed in direct from Hell: "I want your soul/ I will eat your soul." Cunningham takes the lyrics at their word, and visually interprets what it might look like to see James devouring souls, whether he's incarnated as a strangely creepy midget child, or as a towering demon birthed from the television. The pace of the editing matches the energy of James' beats, and Cunningham establishes recurring patterns within the chaos: repetitive loops of James-faced little brats storming through an abandoned building, assaulting anyone who gets in their way as they pay tribute to their televised master. It's a disturbing, unforgettable few minutes, a reminder of the tremendous and often underused capacity of the music video as a medium for experimentation.

12 comments:

Fox said...

Awesome, Ed.

I still remember seeing this video on MTV (during the day!) while I was in college and just losing my head that I just saw something like "Come To Daddy" on my screen.

Do you remember when MTV had that electronic-music video show called Amp? Well, I remember seeing Cunningham's video for Autechre's "Second Bad Vilbel" on there and just loving it in it's simplicity. As bizarre as that video is, it feels like the perfect visual interpretation for the music.

I'm not a fan of all of Cunningham's videos ("All Is Full of Love" kinda creeps me out), but I would love to see him direct a full-length feature one day.

Ed Howard said...

Yeah, I never watched much MTV even before its increasing turn away from videos and towards obnoxious nonsense, but I do remember catching some of Cunningham's videos on there and being blown away. Considering the awfulness of most videos, his work tends to be a real oasis of weirdness and brilliance. Some of his stuff is better than others, but I always really enjoyed the creepy, chilly video for "All is Full of Love." What's not to like about robot Bjork?

I agree that he is overdue for branching out from videos at this point, though I admit I find it hard to imagine what exactly a Cunningham feature would be like. Impenetrable and off-putting is my guess, but probably in an interesting way.

Fox said...

What's not to like about robot Bjork?...

It's the weird sex-with-machine vibe it gives me. I think it looks cool (aesthetically it's similar to "Second Bad Vilbel") but there is something about the pumping of the rods and pistons that makes me feel icky.

Joshua said...

When I used to DJ I used to put this on the projectors and have it all over the place on huge screens. Then I'd play the Little Lord Faulteroy mix because I found that hilarious.

Ed Howard said...

I think a lot of Cunningham's work is meant to make you feel icky. He's really good at it, too; certainly the video for Windowlicker is really uncomfortable in all sorts of ways, especially sexually and racially.

And thanks a lot, Joshua, now I have that song stuck in my head. "Oh you dirty little boy..."

Bob Turnbull said...

Ed and Fox, you just summed up Cunningham's Aphex Twin videos - icky. But in an enormously awesome way.

I love those Palm Pictures Directors Label sets of Cunningham, Gondry and Jonze - probably some of my most prized possessions. The following four releases (Romanek, Glazer, Corbjin and Sednaoui) didn't quite hit the consistency of those first three, but all have their interesting and stunning moments. Man, I wish they would continue the series...

Ed Howard said...

Thanks, Bob. Agreed about those Directors Label boxes. I never checked out the later sets, but the first three are certainly great, packed with great videos. The only thing I don't like is that the Cunningham one is so light, and leaves out so many of his videos. That's apparently what Cunningham wanted, but I still think it's a shame -- they could've put a lot more of his work on there.

Joshua said...

Ed, it's your own fault. I was wandering around my office in the middle of the day making drumming noises and being like "BAM DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN DUN IIIII WILL EAT YOUR SOULLLLL."

Ed Howard said...

AKA How to Lose Friends and Frighten Your Coworkers...

Sam Juliano said...

Well Ed, I'll admit I know nothing of this at all, but your typically astute prose and those jarring screen caps do have me interested, not to mention your "Films I Love" banner, which carries a lot of weight. Two of the last ones scrolling down of course (with that mutant shrieking at the old lady are something!) But you note these images may be 'demented' or 'perverted.' Count me in!

MovieMan0283 said...

Glad to see you exploring music videos. They are a lost art form - it's disheartening how reliant the form was on MTV, and how it has pretty much died off in the wake of that channel turning over whole-hog to reality programming. Music videos may have the most tragic art of any branch of filmmaking.

I would love to see the internet, You Tube, and the like providing a resurgence in music videos but it just doesn't seem to have happened; I wonder why. There wasn't even really a decline here - the video seemed to be hitting its artistic peak at the exact moment MTV pulled the rug out from under it.

Anyway, I have enormous respect for Cunningham, but find his work somewhat offputting in relation to Gondry and Jonze. This may sound kind of obvious, but I don't just mean it in terms of the disturbing imagery. There's something about his editing rhythms which generally don't provide the satisfaction, release, and transcendence that Gondry and Jonze do.

MovieMan0283 said...

That should read "tragic arc" not "tragic art": "Music videos may have the most tragic ARC of any branch of filmmaking."