Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Sabotage, dir. Spike Jonze, 1994, approx. 3 minutes.

In choosing a short to review as a quintessential, I knew I wanted to return to one of my favorite units of the course: music videos. With the exception of certain TV commercials that could arguably fulfill the criteria of short film (IKEA comes to mind), music videos were my first exposure to shorts. One of my most vivid childhood memories is of watching the video for Nine Inch Nails “The Perfect Drug” and being terrified out of my 8-year-old mind.

My memories of Spike Jonze’s video for “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys are certainly more pleasant, which is why I chose to comment on Liz’s posting. As she describes, the video plays with the 1970s TV cop drama by parodying its moustaches, car chases, and melodrama. In this way, “Sabotage” is a particularly interesting case study: it’s a short film, but it’s a short film about television that also happens to be set to music. Jonze makes an effort to blend these three elements and achieves an equilibrium that makes “Sabotage” both brilliant and hilarious.

Stylistically, it is not immediately obvious that despite its faux-credits, “Sabotage” is not an actual television show a la Starsky and Hutch. As Liz mentions, the shots are typical of the genre, focusing on close-ups of sirens, hubcaps, and aviator glasses, all filmed on a handheld that makes the chase sequences reminiscent of an episode of Cops; the viewer feels like they are struggling to keep up with the band member’s exploits as their trigger-happy cop alter-egos. Thus, can “Sabotage” still be considered a short film if it’s so closely aligned with the conventions of television, and in addition, is produced for TV exhibition?

I would argue yes. One of the major debates of this course was whether or not intent and exhibition can alter the classification of a video as short film, television, or commercial. The Twilight Zone, though at first glance could be described as a series of short films, is still formatted for television; in contrast, most students gave a promotional video for Naomi Klein’s new book the privilege of being considered a short, due in large part to the fact that it was directed by Alfonso Cuaron. I don't think that it's constructive to use directors and style to classify a work, but rather the intent of its producers. So, even though "Sabotage" looks, feels, and behaves like an episode of a 70s cop drama on speed, the intent of both the artists and Spike Jonze was to create a music video that functions in the same manner as his other, equally groundbreaking videos.


Jen said...

i didn't have cable in the 90 so I hadn't seen this music video before, but i just youtubed it and you're right, it's hysterical! i had no idea that spike jonze directed so many of my favorite videos.

Anonymous said...

I wish I had something analytical to say, but Dukes of Hazzard + Beastie Boys = awesome. It's one of my fave vids too.


Rachel said...

Great write-up of a great video! I've never thought of music videos as short films before.

Anonymous said...

besides having one of the best opening riffs ever, "Sabotage" makes a great video too. Mike D is the best in this!!