Today is the 53rd birthday of Mark Romanek. Though he's a perfectly legit Hollywood director of great films like One Hour Photo and Never Let Me Go, he is also responsible for some of the greatest music videos of all time.
For 20 years he has worked with top-level performers, and today we celebrate his ten best videos.
10. Keith Richards, "Wicked as it Seems."
1991 is when Romanek started really developing his trademark style, and this collaboration with Keith Richards shows a lot of the same tricks that later went into Nine Inch Nails' "Closer."
9. Madonna, "Rain"
One of Romanek's more light-hearted and definitely the most... purple of his work, "Rain" is a fascinating treatise on the act of creating a music video itself.
8. k.d. lang, "Constant Craving"
Romanek used "Constant Craving" to recreate the Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot, using the both to symbolize the hunger of desperation. It won the VMA for Best Female Video in 1993.
7. Jay-Z, "99 Problems"
There's probably a law against following up k.d. lang with Jay-Z, but here we go. "99 Problems" is one of Romanek's highest-rated works, with four VMA wins and two nominations, and features some amazing breakdancing choreography and motorcycle acrobatics in addition to controversial scenes of dog fighting and Jay-Z being gunned down in the finale.
6. Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians, "Madonna of the Wasp"
Something that is neat about Romanek's videos is he occasionally tries very hard to tie into the artist's album cover, something he did perfectly in one of his first outings with Robyn Hitchcock.
5. Eels, "Novocaine for the Soul"
"Novocaine for the Soul" has one of the most random openings of any music video ever, with E plugging headphones into an old fashioned record player then suddenly lifting up into the air. Romanek was inspired by Mary Poppins.
4. Fiona Apple, "Criminal"
Though his black and white work is great, Romanek is at his best when he really explores the color palate, and "Criminal" is brilliantly focused on bizarre and stark contrasts like the bright primary outfits Apple wiggles out of against her pale skin as she lies on a hideous garish carpet.
3. Nine Inch Nails, "Closer"
Romanek and Trent Reznor set out to recreate the Brothers Quay's stop-motion masterpiece Street of Crocodiles, and basically ended up redefining music videos forever.
2. Michael Jackson feat. Janet Jackson, "Scream"
Nothing shows the clout Romanek has a music video director. Not only did Jackson hand over the project to him to develop personally, something he rarely did preferring to set basic production ideas personally, he was also given one of the largest budgets in music video history. I personally like to hope one day Romanek will make a Captain EO sequel based off his "Scream" vision.
1. Johnny Cash, "Hurt"
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There can simply be no comparison to Johnny Cash's last music-video project. Romanek turned Cash's cover of "Hurt" into a living epitaph that summed up the fading Cash, as a life lived hard began to catch up to the Man of Black. "Hurt" is not only Romanek's best music video, it may be the best music video ever filmed.