Music Video Directors: Michael Haussman

Michael Haussman
Michael Haussman – even this portrait shows how cinematic he is.

Welcome to the second in the series I’m doing on my favourite music video directors. Micheal Haussman was a bit of a revelation to me. I’ve been a fan of a lot of his work for many years, without knowing that many of my favourite music videos were all directed by the same man. He has, in my mind, directed some of the most cinematic music videos ever. Which is why it’s all the more puzzling why he isn’t more well known.

He is, as my friend Sepha calls herself, a multi-artist. A Music Video Director, Commercial Director, Short and Feature Film Director, and Artist. He recently had his short film, “The Audition” play Venice Film Festival, and his art installation “Gravity” is featured in the playlist below.

I’ve divided his notable works into two phases; the first phase, I believe represents a more innocent world; and the second phase, represents innocence lost. You might argue that something like “Hazard” should be in the second phase, however, I would argue that the world this character inhabits is an innocent one, no matter what he may or may not have done. Compare this to something like the phase two video for “Do it again”. While the two boys are innocent, the world they inhabit is anything but.

Phase 1:

Martika “Love, Thy will be done”/Richard Marx “Hazard”

Martika’s “Love, thy will be done” and Richard Marx’s “Hazard” both came out in 1991, are both ballads, are both in black and white, both have a water and house motif. While both videos have similar elements, they are used to different effects both times. To represent a kind of hot, mysterious sexiness in Martika’s video, and to represent a kind of “In cold blood” true crime tale in Richard Marx’s video. Both videos actually have this kind of hot, dry (despite the water motif), summer sexy feel to them. Which becomes a trademark in his later videos and films. What makes the Richard Marx video better in my opinion, is that it tells a far reaching story, a true crime novel, in four minutes. Whereas the Martika video is a more traditional music video, showing the main character in a brief moment in time, capturing the moment of acquiescing to love’s invitation to leap off the cliff, and have faith that there will be open arms at the bottom to capture you as you fall.

Madonna “Take a Bow”/”You’ll see”

In Haussman’s work for Madonna, which would later inspire Justin Timberlake to use the director on his video for “Sexyback”, he creates epic sweeping drama and cinema. The kind of work that set the stage for Madonna to take on arguably her greatest role as EVITA. “Take a Bow” and it’s sequel “You’ll see” are set in Spain, in the world of the Bull-Fighting. Each time the world serves as a backdrop to the story of a woman at first, the breakdown and end of a relationship, then in the sequel, leaving and remembering the relationship. Each video is incredibly shot, both in their intimate moments, and the grandiose ones as well. So, while the stories are melodramatic, the videos never dissolve into camp. It has the feeling of something like “The Leopard”, or “Laurence of Arabia” – these are big epic stories, told in a grand fashion. Haussman would later go back to Spain to make a feature documentary on the world of Bull-Fighting.

For more information on this video, take a look at this Rolling Stone article >>

Paula Abdul “My love is for real”

While the Madonna videos had an element of “Laurence of Arabia”, in “My Love is for Real” Haussman is in full blown homage mode. After the success of Paula Abdul’s “Rush, Rush” video (which was directed by Stefan Würnitzer) where she does homage to Rebel without a cause (minus the gay subtext), she would do homage again with the lead single from her third and final album (again minus the gay subtext). Here the story is told from the viewpoint of Abdul, a lonely woman living in an exotic Harem in the desert. The video combines sweeping cinematic shots, which by now are Haussman’s trademark, with Abdul’s expert choreography – her trademark. Needless to say, this meeting of the minds creates a career high watermark for both. Like the best music videos, the storyline is kept simple. We see Abdul longing for love in the Harem, and a man searching through the middle east. By the end of the video, the two unite. What really makes this video work is that it’s the cinematic equivalent of a snake-charmer. It is slow and sensual, drawing the viewer into a private, secret, exotic world. In that sense, the film is a travelogue. To promote the video, it was played in front of the film “Clueless” throughout it’s cinema run. It ended up being a smart decision as it reintroduced Abdul to her target demographic after an almost 4 year absence, but I wonder how the audience who had bought tickets to a smart high school teen romance, reacted to this exotic world.

Phase 2:

Chemical Brothers “Do it again”

After an absense from Music Videos while directing features and commercials, Haussman returns for phase 2 of his music video career. And one thing is different, the videos are noticeably grungier. Whereas Martika, Abdul, and Madonna were represented as very glamorous women, Phase 2 sees a return to the grunge of Richard Marx. We still have the hot, dry desert, but here it is repressive – not exotic. Could this be the influence of a post September 11 world, or just a change in direction for the artist?

In this video we return to the middle east, only this time we have the story of two kids, one getting backyard dental surgery (which considering how awful going to the dentist is even with money… must be awful). This video takes us back to the moral greyness of the Richard Marx video, where the hero of the story is possible murderer. Here, we are cheering for the kids to use the music to hypnotise people so they can steal the money to pay for proper medical treatment. That said, looking at the video on a deeper level, I believe the true villain in the story is a world where children would need to steal in order to get proper medical treatment. While you might say it’s just a fun dance video, I would argue that the grittiness of the beginning of the video says otherwise. The “fun” aspect of the video is just the sugar to help the medicine go down more easily.

Shakira (feat. Alejandro Sanz) – La Tortura

This has got to be one of the most sexy videos of all time. It probably should be mentioned for any of you who might want to accuse this video of getting inspiration from James Bond’s recent film “Quantum of Solace” – but to you, I say, this video came out three years earlier. The point of the video I’m talking about is Shakira belly-dancing while covered in what appears to be crude oil. It’s almost as if Haussman decided to give himself (or more to the point, Shakira) a challenge. Namely, could she make crude oil, chopping onions in an ugly kitchen in the middle of the ghetto, and a very ordinary looking man – sexy.

The answer is yes.

Jennifer Lopez – Qué Hiciste

Here we find Haussman in a pared back style. As always, this video feels like it’s been ripped straight from a movie, but here there is not the excess of a video like “My love is for real”. Here we find Jennifer Lopez on the run. We do not know what she is running from, and at the end, Lopez’s haunting face hints that what we are seeing is only act one.

To me this video is the perfect epitome of a music video. It matches the drama of the song without ever going over the top, and the sense of drama and foreboding never once leaves the video. Perhaps this is because Jennifer Lopez is an incredible actress, and here Haussman was able to focus on the mysteries of the human face through Lopez’s performance. I would argue, that while we do have exploding cars and sweeping desert landscapes, it is Lopez’s face that tells the story, the way they used to back in the silent era. In this sense, you do not need to be able to speak Spanish in order to understand the drama of this song. And to me, that is what lifts this video from just a great, well-executed video into the realms of perfection.

Simplicity. Perfection.

The sad thing about this video is that it leaves you with a yearning for more. And more was planned. According to his wikipedia, Haussman directed the video for cancelled Lopez single, “Brave”, the best song from the eponymous album. Now I’m left wondering what could have been. A Maltese Falcon of a video, a lost masterpiece that I know is out there somewhere, but I and the world will never see.

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