Gondry’s use of in-camera effects to create “visual music” in The White Stripes’ The Hardest Button To Button video clip is a comprehensive exploration of stop motion that is derived, but not duplicated, from Méliès’ original substitution splicing technique pioneered in The Vanishing Lady in 1896.
In The Vanishing Lady, Méliès “filmed beyond the point where he planned to introduce the substitution, then cut the film at the appropriate place and spliced it very carefully…to the next piece of film containing the new image” (Ezra, 2000, p.28) to create the disappearance of a woman. Although Méliès’ special effect was created post-production, Gondry was able to replicate the vanishing technique mostly in-camera using modern digital equipment to stop/start recording, while moving the scene around between each capture in The Hardest Button To Button. Some post-production editing gave the music video a final polish.
Gondry playfully combines the rhythm of the music with the appearance/disappearance of drum kits and amps, while changing the scenery throughout the clip and allowing the musicians a fair bit of movement between frames (which also are timed to the music). This jaggedness, movement and musical timing is quite different to the smoothness and simple central focusing of Méliès’ earlier films, but it is important to note that both directors use consistent locational and positional references to establish narrative progression and continuity in their work.
A distinctive example of Méliès’ influence on Gondry can be seen in Méliès’ 1903 film Extraordinary Illusions, where an empty magic box suddenly appears in the magician’s arms under cover of an umbrella, and also when the magician “conjures” sheets out of it. This addition of objects to a scene through special effects is creatively duplicated by Gondry throughout the whole White Stripes clip, but is particularly striking when the colourful drum sets appear in time to the music outside the truck repair shop, 2:20 minutes in.
Printscreen of drum sets appearing in The Hardest Button To Button.
If Méliès is considered the pioneering magician of film special effects (Ezra, 2000, p.24), then Gondry is the creatively gifted maestro. Gondry’s original and visually imaginative contemporary works are almost a tribute to the cinematic techniques discovered by Méliès, without which, the world would have been far less entertained.
Bangs, L. (2009). The White Stripes – The Hardest Button To Button . Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/7442369
Ezra, E. (2000). George Méliès: the birth of the auteur. Manchester: Manchester University Press
Change Before Going Productions. (2011). The Vanishing Lady (1896) – GEORGE MELIES – Escamotage d’une Dame au Theatre Roubert Houdin . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7-x93QagJU
Kaufman, G. (2003). The story behind the White Stripes’ ‘Hardest Button’: Lens Recap. Retrieved from http://www.mtv.com/news/1479718/the-story-behind-the-white-stripes-hardest-button-lens-recap/
Partizan Official. (2014). I’ve been twelve forever (Side B) – short film – Michel Gondry (2004) . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zF8kN-M2XNY
Project Muybridge. (2017). Extraordinary Illusions (1903) – Dir Georges Méliès Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruv2VsxHRMY
shuffletoeheel. (2011). Busby Berkely clips . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=druwpau_LcM
silentfilmhouse. (2011). The Haunted Castle 1896 George Melies Silent Film . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPmKaz3Quzo