I’ve got a love-hate relationship with music videos. Even the good ones, the artful, less kitschy ones, seem best avoided if one wishes for a record to remain a repeatable, imagination-stimulating experience: the more indelible the visual material in a music video, the harder it’ll be to extricate from the aural material. Images easily become fixed in my mind, adhered to the song they are designed to accentuate, not overwhelm. Without access to music videos on television I would not likely have discovered some of the weirder, wonderful music that helped make my suburban childhood tenable, but abandoning the regular watching of television, and thus music videos, at a fairly early age felt like a boon to my ability to listen to music untethered by excess associations.
Now allow me to contradict myself. I only really became aware of Tindersticks because of the use of the band’s music in various films by my beloved Claire Denis (Nénette et Boni, Trouble Every Day, 35 Rhums, et al). Denis’ fusing of Tindersticks’ music to her images—and sounds, and dialogue—is not subtle; rather, there are entire sequences that are difficult to imagine without their marriage of music and movie narrative. Still, for some reason Tindersticks is that rare group whose songs, even those specifically written for a film—the gorgeously swaying “Trouble Every Day,” for example—somehow manage the rare feat of feeling inextricable from their filmic purposing while feeling entirely autonomous when enjoyed on their own. So when Tindersticks’ new record, The Waiting Room, was recently released in a special edition supplemented by a DVD of films commissioned to accompany every song on the record—including one by Denis!—I did not grumble long about the inflated price. And, despite, or actually because of, the essential simplicity of most of these films, I was not disappointed.
The Waiting Room Film Project was made in collaboration with the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival. Aside from Denis and Stuart Staples, Tindersticks’ chief musician and songwriter, I don’t know the artists credited with making the films, but every one seems to understand that less is almost always more when it comes to creating films that contribute to a song’s power, functioning almost as another instrument. Staples and Suzanne Osborne’s introductory “Follow Me” consists solely of sunlight crawling across a closed door, bringing to mind another Tindersticks song, “Come Inside.” Christoph Girardet’s “Second Chance Man” weaves disparate images of passing trees, eyes in rearview mirrors, hands on steering wheels and gearshifts. All these images, it seems, were appropriated from old movies, their repurposing here giving added meaning to the title’s reference to second chances.
Gregorio Graziosi’s “How He Entered,” meanwhile, movingly sews together fragments of a black-and-white home movie of a wedding. But the dominant theme here is transience, from handsome Alex Descas wandering through a train station in Denis’ “Help Yourself” to the tourists wandering through an amusement park in “Hey, Lucinda” (a swooning duet with the late Lhasa de Sela), from the collage of oncoming freeways in Pierre Vinour’s “Were We Once Lovers?”—which feels like a companion piece to Leonard Cohen’s equally heart-rending “Did I Ever Love You?”—to the passing farmland seen through a rain-smeared car window in Staples’ “This Fear of Emptiness.”
Perhaps the strangest, most striking film in The Waiting Room is Gabraz and Sara Não Tem Nome’s “We Are Dreamers!,” which recalls Red Desert in its eerily framed images of a child holding a shovel standing in what appears to be a quarry, while colossal dump-trucks swarm around her. The film exudes a vulnerability and uneasy beauty that aligns elegantly with the feeling of the song—without merely doubling that feeling. Perhaps that’s the ideal for any music video: to complement or converse with a song, not conquer it. V