STONES AND BROKEN GLASS BOUNCE against the rusted belly of an unmarked taxicab, while a cup of volcanic coffee rests precariously between my upper thighs. There aren’t many trees to speak of in this part of Brooklyn, even fewer as the car drives deeper into the ramshackle neighborhood of Bushwick. “Ever seen King Kong?” the driver asks. I haven’t, but Jack Black is reliably entertaining. “Not Kong, little man,” he italicizes from the front seat, his outstretched arms revealing a palimpsest of fat that betrays the memory of muscles past. “King Corn! It’s a documentary about the importance of corn. I’m in it for about eight minutes. People still recognize me on the street.” Pride emanates from the reflection in his rearview mirror.
“People have a tendency to be their own salesmen,” says Michel Gondry, two hours later. “In America, especially, everyone constantly promotes themselves. You never end up meeting the person, you just meet their image.” Sitting close to one another on a couch, crossing and uncrossing our legs as Fats Waller imitates Vincent Price on a nearby television, it’s clear that we’re now miles from the cab driver and his celebrity reveries. Gondry is still wearing the button-down shirt and brown jacket with corduroy pants from his rooftop photo shoot, an outfit he’s decided to keep. “It’s really upsetting that I have to wear clothes that aren’t mine to be on the cover of a magazine,” he says. “So I solved the problem in a really selfish way, by not giving them back.” A smile spreads across his face, making him look puckish, almost childlike.
While preparing for our conversation, days turned into nights spent revisiting the visionary’s earlier works, taking stock of the cinematic whimsy that secured his reputation as this generation’s most provocative creative genius. But in person, the 45-year-old French filmmaker seems, well, sort of normal. When urged to talk about himself, he is deprecating and funny, worlds apart from the self-aggrandizing cabbie and his celebrity reveries. Gondry wears jeans. He speaks with a thick, soupy accent. He makes eye contact in spurts, his electric blues pole-vaulting from one place to another, as if trying to find something worth finding in his line of vision.
Gondry began his career directing music videos, starting with the moderately successful band Oui Oui, for whom he played drums. He was then commissioned to direct Björk’s “Human Behavior,” a bizarre combination of killer teddy bears and humans in white straightjackets writhing like worms in a bird’s nest. Later, he brought building blocks to life with the Lego-motion video for the White Stripes’ “Fell in Love with a Girl,” in addition to working with acts like the Rolling Stones, Daft Punk and Beck. It was the reigning Icelandic queen of peculiar pop, however, who first introduced him to the mainstream. She eventually held open the door to Hollywood, where Gondry would define and hone his creativity with cerebral but heartfelt films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, The Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind.
With each new outing, Gondry has been thrust further into the spotlight and, he adds with a groan, closer to lazy journalists. “I hate when the interviewer doesn’t do his work. They read the press kit and always ask the same questions. Even worse is when you answer their question and they go straight to the next one on their sheet. That’s not even a conversation.”
With that, he fixes his eyes on mine, and runs the tip of his index finger across two pursed, paper-thin lips, as if daring me to unearth a list of prepared questions. I stare back, exercising my peripheral vision to see if the tabbed, highlighted notes sticking out from a nearby bag are visible from his position on the couch. They aren’t, and from this point onward, they might as well have never been written.
- to read the rest of this article, pick up Issue 4 of Corduroy by clicking HERE.
Edward Del Rosario
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