Edgar Wright has always used music videos as a chance to workshop some of his most inventive ideas. We rank them for funsies.
Last month, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Edgar Wright for a few minutes to talk about Baby Driver and his love of bringing together music and action. The angle for my interview — the singular thing I focused on to try and tease out some element of insight — was his work on music videos, and it seemed like a really great idea, right up the point that Wright went quiet for a good 10 seconds as he tried to remember how many videos he’d shot. Ten seconds might not seem like a long time to you, but when you’re painfully aware of every minute you have to spare,10 seconds is an eternity.
The answer, ultimately, was 10, with three of those existing somewhere in a non-digital format. The remaining seven music videos span almost the entirety of the director’s career, from the low-budget video he shot when he was only 22 years old to the grand spectacle of the most recent Pharrell and Daft Punk collaboration. Like any director who moves between film and other media, it’s worth taking the time to poke around in Wright’s videology, to see some of the concepts and ideas he was toying with even before they found their way onto the big screen. Nominally ranked — it’s all in good fun — here are the surviving music videos of Edgar Wright and how they plug into the films we all know and love.
For more of the history here, be sure to check out his 2014 blog entry where he explains some of the challenges and costs of his music video career.
7. “Nomads” by The High Llamas (1996)
By his own admission, the music video for “Nomads” was directed when Wright was only 22 years old and “didn’t really know what the hell [he] was doing,” which pretty much ensured that “Nomads” would rank last on this list. Even this early, however, you could see some of Wright’s talent on display. Throughout the video, the band members of The High Llamas stomp their feet in rhythm with the music, often jumping between brightly colored raincoats in the process. Rhythm, primary colors, and a lightness that shows you don’t have to be self-serious to be entertaining? That’s not exactly a bad description of Wright in a nutshell. Plus, bonus points for setting part of the video during a dinner theater. That may seem like an odd choice, but it weirdly works with the High Llamas’ folk-tinged Britpop.
6. “Gust of Wind” by Pharrell Williams (2014)
Is this the closest Wright will ever come to making a studio film? Sure, there’s a little bit of the director’s flair on display in this video: the clapping hands in the foreground, the giant floating Daft Punk monuments, and the wuxia-inspired dance sequences all seem pulled from a cinematic mind. But the main impetus of this video seems to be to show off Pharrell around a bunch of dancing women, and that doesn’t seem to leave a lot of room for Wright auteurism. One of the things Wright mentioned in our interview is that there isn’t a lot of money to be made in music videos anymore, so directors make them more out of passion than anything else. This was Wright’s first one in nearly a decade, and while his films have gotten no less idiosyncratic over that same time period, this music video feels a little slight. Still, the song is catchy as hell, and Wright does get a chance to show off a forest full of women dancing with pajama sleeves. There’s worse ways to decompress after completing your Cornetto Trilogy, I suppose.
5. “Summer” by Charlotte Hatherley (2005)
If you come looking for a little bit of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in Wright’s music videos — what better place to work out some of your ideas for a modern rock band, right? — you’ll find what you’re looking for in his collaborations with Hatherley. While “Bastardo” really ramps the style up to 11, “Summer” still shows off some of the aesthetic rock band concepts that Wright would bring with him to that film, including more whip pans than you can shake a stick at, and the same animated sound effects present throughout Pilgrim. Plenty of directors would be thrilled to put something this animated and stylish in their portfolio, but given the naked ambition of some of Wright’s later music videos, this only lands as mid-tier Wright.
4. “After Hours” by The Bluetones (2002)
The first piece of Wright’s work that seems to draw inspiration from a recent mainstream music video — it’s hard not to see shades of Paul Thomas Anderson and Fiona Apple’s “Paper Bag” video in the theme of children masquerading as ’40s adults — “After Hours” is also the video that Wright says gave him the confidence needed to attempt tracking shots in movies like Shaun of the Dead. Wright has also perfected his penchant for cutaway reaction shots throughout Spaced, but they’re still on display here, with the two underage bartenders less-than-enthused reactions to the main character’s nod something even casual fans of Wright’s work would recognize. More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that the video just fits with the song. “After Hours” is world-weary lyrics delivered with all the infectiousness of a summer single; what better way to visualize this than a bunch of kids going through the motions of adulthood? Plus, those kids can fucking dance.
3. “Blue Song” by Mint Royale (2003)
Wright has talked this video to death in the months leading up to Baby Driver’s release, but just in case you haven’t heard the history: no, he didn’t turn this music video into a feature-length film, and yes, the idea was always meant to serve as the opening number of what Baby Driver would become. Wright mentioned in our interview that Baby Driver was a film he had been looking to make since his early 20s, and when he found himself short on inspiration for “Blue Song,” he pulled the opening sequence of Baby Driver out, dusted it off, and proceeded to give us one of the more intriguing ideas committed to a music video to date. If you haven’t already seen Baby Driver, don’t be surprised to see that Ansel Elgort’s opening sequence is almost a carbon copy of the “Blue Song” video. After all, they’re practically one and the same.
2. “Bastardo” by Charlotte Hatherley (2005)
On his blog, Wright claims that the music video for “Bastardo” only cost him $6,000 and that it exhausted him so thoroughly that he cannot bear to watch it today. I find one of those claims to be believable. Obviously, the comic book paneling that exists in “Bastardo” would go on to influence the visual effects of Wright’s work on Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but I think it runs a little deeper than that. The YouTube video series Nerdwriter has done a good job breaking down Wright’s penchant for transitions, and ignoring the comic book format of “Bastardo,” what we have is a sort of masterclass in that approach. Each panel in “Bastardo” contains everything you need to know about the progression of the story. It’s often funny and sometimes silly, but imagine each image as a short live-action sequence and voila! You have one of Wright’s famous elliptical sequences. The headache-inducing editing also serves as the perfect reference point for Baby Driver. Is Wright capable of making films that don’t exhaust him completely?
1. “Psychosis Safari” by The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster (2003)
Another video made between the conclusion of Spaced and the release of Shaun of the Dead, “Psychosis Safari” is a ridiculously fun piece of punk, delivering about 95% of the inventive visuals of Queens of the Stone Age’s classic “No One Knows” music video at a fraction of the cost. Wright has crammed his video with tons of creative effects — stop-motion animation, rotoscoping, and faux-3D special effects — that impressively give the video more cohesion, not less. “Psychosis Safari” seems like it would be a difficult song to direct to; not only does does the music move quickly from soft to loud, it also features a breakdown at the midpoint that might’ve derailed the work of a less imaginative filmmaker. Instead, Wright delivers a cartoonish acid trip about a hard rock band ruling the open road. I’d love to know exactly how much “Psychosis Safari” cost to make. There are plenty of filmmakers who would go bananas trying to mimic Wright’s low-fi aesthetic these days.