Death Cab For Cutie - Directions DVD Review
by Patrick Muldowney
Once in a while there cannot be enough good said about a band and their products. Death Cab for Cutie is one of those bands. A few weeks ago, I may have, while still enjoying Plans, believed that my appreciation for the band was past its heyday, and its best work was in the rearview, but today I know that's wrong. Directions, is a DVD which makes me shamefully realize all the brilliance I missed in merely owning Plans. In a time where people are as likely to closely listen to an album as they are to closely read literature, I, against my own ego, became an immediate gratification consumer, and on the surface the album seemed good so I left my opinion there. If Plans were only 3-star, as I recall reading in a top mag, it would be very difficult to produce a markedly better companion, because the videos would be limited by the songs, but Plans is not slightly above average, and the videos in Directions illuminate this point.
Like many gems, the existence of this disc seems to be a happy coincidence in itself. Rooted in an offhanded remark by Olivia, head of marketing for Atlantic, as she spoke to Nick Harmer about creating a video for their internet site, Directions grew from weekly video interpretations for computer fanatics, to a tangible plastic-wrapped creation for all to enjoy. Death Cab for Cutie, in genuine surprise, recalls the process through the featured interviews. They started by gauging the interest of friends and familiar agencies in making a video for each song on the album, but as word spread they found themselves sifting through many more offers than imagined. Directors were not put off by the lack of significant capital, and the rule that no member of the band could appear in any of the videos. In fact, some directors went so far as utilizing favors owed in the industry, and/or going over the budget to ensure the integrity of their vision. By watching this, you can tell that everyone was not just involved, but invested, in what became Directions.
The disc, as a visual companion, moves in the same order as Plans. The first video, "Marching Bands of Manhattan", immediately shows the seriousness with which this project was met. Paul Brown, a high profile director, who has worked with Marilyn Manson among others, provides a vivid image of loneliness, as a fearful character escapes into his empty world. As he pokes his face out of a brown paper bag (covering his head), the soiled whiteness of the empty room, which purveys the video, shifts to the beach, where a new age damsel lays also bag-headed. As he joins her, the tide washes away their bags, effectively ending the fantasy until he leaves the vacant room he entered just as the disheveled beach girl simultaneously exits a room across the hall. The video shows, like many of Gibbard's lyrics, that when we feel most lonely, we may be most in touch with humanity, and our romantic notions may be possible if we acknowledge the real possibilities rather than the storybook.
This idea is similar in "Your Heart is an Empty Room", where Jeffrey Brown, in his first attempt at animation (previously known for graphic novels), shows, through a colorless video, a couple who breaks up over the boyfriend being anti-social to company. Interestingly, a motif of a robot and rhinoceros fighting appears throughout the video, beginning as a video game, while later forming in the clouds, and as hand puppets. The boy, being the rhino, finally defeats the robot, his ex, in the end, symbolizing the defeat of the artificial world she constructed for them. He is content with this victory, knowing that his depression did not result from losing his possibilities with her, but rather the "possibilities to not be alone".
Nick Harmer speaks, during the interview feature, about his hopes that people have impassioned conversations about which video is their favorite. This should not be difficult considering I've already had such discourse in my head, without needing the company of others. There are so many reasons to like each video. "Different Names for the Same Thing" is great because Autumn de Wilde actually got a middle school band to play the song, which you can hear in the extras, and the energy of these children is pure. Most could only wish to have a daughter as beautifully expressive as the singer and the pianist in the song. "Soul Meets Body" is awesome because it reminds me of the old videos from Merge Records. Basically, you are watching fragmented images of American life apparently from home videos, and the poor lighting is a welcome change along with the unforgettable image of a mounted deer's head bobbing while singing harmonies with Gibbard. "Summer Skin" perfectly shows the loss of innocence, as a playground is inundated with file cabinets and desks while formally clad youngsters operate a business, until one kid pulls a starfish out of his briefcase, restoring playfulness. "Crooked Teeth", another animated video, shows DCFC as a 3-piece featuring a Robot singer, Pirate bassist, and Dragon drummer. In between shots of playing the song, they each go on an adventure that turns into "nothing at all". Pirate finds a treasure with an IOU note, Dragon fights for a damsel who turns out to be a cardboard cutout, and Robot travels through space until he is shot down by some other alien. This is easily the funniest video.
Through all these possibilities, my favorite video is one not mentioned by any of the band members, "I Will Follow You into the Dark." Monkmus, who directed Badly Drawn Boy previously, states, in the director's notes, that the video is a simple concept, but one that would bring a tear to anyone's eye. The video delivers on this, matching the beauty of the lyrics with a trip through a sketchbook, which traces two rabbits as they provide protection and companionship for each other. Nothing I can say could give the life to the sketches that Monkmus and Gibbard's lyrics do, but if you truly listen, and watch, it is impossible not to consider this genuinely beautiful, as both song and video.
My original intention was to sit down and write a review of this DVD which left it a half-mark short of perfection based on the desire that the DVD be a bit more user friendly during navigation. I watched the disc repeatedly before realizing the only way to get to the director's statements and other extras, like alternate endings and behind the scenes footage, was to click on the individual songs. I thought clicking on them only allowed you to watch videos individually, and kept using the "play all" feature instead, because I liked all of them. Stupid me, I guess. After watching Directions once more though, this project will provide two firsts which make any less than a perfect rating inconceivable: 1.) I can never recall wanting to watch the extras on any DVD so intently. 2.) I have never imagined watching anything in my collection over 100 times until now. Directions brings Plans to life in ways I never expected, allowing it to ascend from the realm of good album to incredible album, thanks to the visions of geniuses who obviously see deeper than myself. If you appreciate Death Cab for Cutie, you'll love this DVD. If you watch music videos, you'll love Directions. Frankly, if you are a human who lives, breathes, and thinks, you should love this project. Death Cab for Cutie has transcended our own constrictions of gender, age, and genre, with the release of Directions, and they've done so without intending to be so well received, once again showing that this band exists for all the right reasons.
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