Inside the White Stripes' "Girl" Video Block Party
Remember how psyched you were as a kid to build a little car or a castle
out of Lego pieces? Bet you never fashioned a fully functioning punk-rock
duo and a kaleidoscopic world where they could swim, ride bikes and whale
on the drums, though, did you?
Don't feel bad. You probably never got that sophisticated, but pioneering
director Michel Gondry did, thanks to the White Stripes.
In the eye-popping video for "Fell in Love With a Girl," a
two-minute blast of O.P.P.-like fantasy, the candy-colored pair from Detroit
strum, jump and sprint their way through a building-block realm that could
only come from the twisted mind of this whimsical 38-year-old Frenchman.
This is the same guy, after all, who had Björk getting her teeth
checked by a primate dentist in "Army of Me" and turned Radiohead's
Thom Yorke into a mouse for the "Knives Out" clip.
"As soon I heard the album, I loved the energy and kept playing
['Fell in Love With a Girl'] over and over," Gondry said of the infectious
single from the Stripes' third LP, White Blood Cells. "There's something
charming and naive about their use of black, red and white imagery. I
made a parallel between that and the basicness of the color of Lego blocks."
It's not hard to see why the unconventional director would be attracted
to the White Stripes. The band's decision to limit its image to three
basic colors, its melding of garage rock and gritty blues and the media
prank the duo pulled by suggesting they were formerly married might have
been enough to sell him. But how did Gondry persuade the group to go for
his out-there idea?
"One day he came to a restaurant and he had Jack's head in Lego,"
explained drummer Meg White.
" 'This is what I want to do for the video; it's perfect, really,'
" Jack White said Gondry told them. "You couldn't argue with
that. When someone brings a Lego sculpture of your head to dinner and
says this is what the video's going to be, you pretty much say, 'That's
it, go ahead.' "
A rabid fan of Lego blocks since childhood when he and a cousin
built a rudimentary zoetrope cartoon viewer from their combined Lego collections
Gondry was obsessed with the idea of rendering the pair as blockheads,
not realizing how time-consuming the task would be. The process took 15
animators more than six weeks to complete.
The resulting clip is a bit disorienting, just like the dirty punk blues
song's disjointed lyrics, which find the singer torn between seeking true
love and longing after someone else's girl. Images of figures running
down the street melt into shots of the rockers swimming in a pool and
back into blocky Jack strumming his guitar.
Gondry whose mind-bending feature film-directing debut, "Human
Nature," was recently released in the U.S. was determined
to render the brother and sister team in a boxy world while still creating
the effect of fluid movement and real world detail. So when Jack forms
a perfect "O" with his mouth while singing, you can spot his
tongue wagging, and when Meg is bashing her blocky drums to bits, you
can see the cymbals shimmy realistically.
In a scene that must have surely turned heads, Gondry shot the Stripes
performing the video's physical stunts on the streets of London in exaggeratedly
heavy makeup (to make sure their black eyes and red lips showed up once
the film was pixelated). Gondry also shot the pair against a special effects
blue screen, then picked the highly contrasting images that he thought
could be rendered best in Lego.
The pixelated images were printed out on paper at a rate of 25 sheets
per second of film, with each sheet corresponding to another Lego model
that had to be built, set up in front of the camera and filmed.
"It was a long time, but I wanted it to feel like a children's program,
which is why I didn't make it too slick," explained Gondry. In fact,
the acclaimed director good-naturedly said that if you were to see the
non-Lego rough footage he shot of the Stripes in London you might think
you were seeing the rudimentary work of a first-time director.
The Stripes, whose latest album was picked up by V2 in February after
its original release on indie Sympathy for the Record Industry, will kick
off another U.S. tour May 22 with a pair of shows in Royal Oak, Michigan.
Gil Kaufman, with additional reporting by Gideon Yago