To coincide with our Modern Monchrome season, which kicked off last Thursday with a sold out screening of Noah Baumbach’s and Greta Gerwig’s loveable Frances Ha, we have put together a video playlist of some the most stylish and iconic black & white music videos of all time.
This isn’t the first time we’ve compiled a playlist – throughout last year we threw together several selections tenuously linked to our screenings and posted them through the Leeds Playlist blog.
We’ve previously considered the playlists to be a bit of fun, a tool to help promote screenings and something to play in the background as audiences arrive at events. However, as we look to expand and improve our programme over the coming year, we realise this is a great opportunity to push another aspect of film and video not already showcased through our monthly events.
Music videos, for the most part, are seen as little more than a promotional tool to push single and record sales. Yet, when crafted by the right hands, a music video can become it’s own ‘thing’, something bigger than the song, and something to be celebrated.
Beyoncé ‘Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)’ dir. Jake Nava – A mash-up of old school Bob Fosse choreography and urban J-Setting dance moves the video is instantly modern with a vintage twist, complimenting Beyoncé’s style and image perfectly. A simple concept with a distinct image, this video is a prime example of ‘less is more’ and one that leaves a lasting impression. Just ask Kanye West.
Madonna ‘Vogue’ dir. David Fincher – Before establishing himself as one of the best filmmakers in Hollywood crafting critically acclaimed features such as Fight Club, Zodiac and The Social Network, David Fincher was one of the most sought after music video and commercial directors of the eighties and early nineties. The video harks back to to the ‘Golden Age of Cinema’, which is referenced throughout the song, and, well, a Vogue fashion shoot, given an extra touch of class thanks to Fincher’s signature style and pacing.
Bob Dylan ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ dir. D. A. Pennebaker – Filmed during the making of the documentary Don’t Look Back, this sequence has come to be considered by many as the very first music video.
Red Hot Chili Peppers ‘Give It Away’ dir. Stéphane Sednaoui – The best music videos have always been extensions of an artist’s image or personality and ‘Give It Away’ may be one of the best examples of this. Director Sednaoui the video cut match the frenetic playing of the band and the camera movement to compliment those of the bands and become part of their performance. The key features of the piece are movement and energy, with the grain of the film used in shooting even appear to ‘alive’. The video played a strong part in the Chili’s growing popularity and profile in the early days of their career due to heavy rotation on MTV.
Arcade Fire ‘Reflektor’ dir. Anton Corbijn – Director Corbijn made a name for himself as a photographer for music magazines such as NME during the eighties before moving into the world of music video. After working with U2 and Metallica, Nirvana and Depeche Mode, he moved into feature film with 2007’s Ian Curtis biopic, Control. One of his few music videos since then, ‘Reflektor’ is possibly his most cinematic.
Chris Isaak ‘Wicked Game’ dir. Herb Ritts – Models have been cropping up in music videos since MTV first hit the airwaves. During the late eighties and early nineties, Supermodels and high profile videos went hand-in-hand. Naomi Campbell was busy gyrating with Michael Jackson for their ‘In the Closet’ promo, Billy Joel got busy fixing Christie Brinkley’s car in ‘Uptown Girl’, and George Michael couldn’t even get a look in for the Fincher directed ‘Freedom’, which featured, among others, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington and Cindy Crawford. Here Chris Isaak frolics on a beach with Helena Christensen and… doesn’t need to do much more than that, really.
Björk ‘Big Time Sensuality’ dir. Stéphane Sednaoui – The iconic City of York City has been the backdrop to many a great film. The same can be said for music videos as this one for ‘Big Time Sensuality’ proves. Thought up while stuck in traffic during a trip to Manhattan, much like ‘Single Ladies’ this offers a single distinct image and lasting impression.
Prodigy ‘Firestarter’ dir. Walter Stern – Filmed in a disused London Underground tunnel, this video’s imagery and lyrical content had commentators up in arms upon it’s release in March 1996. So much was the controversy that many UK broadcasters would only air it after the 9PM watershed.
G. Love and The Special Sauce ‘Cold Beverage’ dir. Mark Romanek – Romanek’s methodic planning and attention to detail coupled with the rich visual flair of cinematographer Lance Acord (Lost in Translation, Being John Malkovich) make this video more than just a band playing in front of a café. It’s smaller pieces like this video that would inform Romanek’s later, most critically acclaimed work, including…
Jay Z ’99 Problems’ dir. Mark Romanek – Jay Z wanted a video that presented his Brooklyn neighbourhood in much the same way as the black and white photography of some many artbooks that adorned the abundance of New York coffee houses. What he got was a week of filming in NYC that resulted in a representation of black culture that far surpasses the stereotype of ‘guns, bitches and bling’. Romanek’s and editor Richard Duffy’s extensive cross-cutting techniques allow for one of the most visually dense music videos of all time.
You can also listen to the playlist, and our previous lists, over at 8tracks now.
Have a favourite black and white vid that we haven’t included here? Let us know about it in the comments.