Jonathan Glazer on shades of black & pursuing perfection
Hit follows hit as surely as tick follows tock in the career of commercials and promo director-turned-cinematic auteur, Jonathan Glazer - but when you have the stringent criteria of a painter, perfection takes time to achieve.
“Good things come to those who wait” is the tagline to Jonathan Glazer’s most famous commercial – but it’s a maxim that applies equally to his legions of fans.
The multi-award-winning director certainly doesn’t rush his craft: in June 2017, four years after his bonkers-but-beautiful, Scarlett Johansson-starring sci-fi fantasy Under the Skin(itself ten years in the making), Glazer announced, finally, that there was a new film in the works.
Glazer’s promos for the likes of Radiohead, Massive Attack and Jamiroquai were truly mould-breaking.
“I have the stringent criteria of a painter. It’s an immersion. It’s like thinking your way through to a feeling. I read that Francis Bacon once spent six months mixing black. That makes perfect sense to me,” is how Glazer described his creative process to shots in 2007, and that obsessive dedication to filmic perfection shows no sign of wavering more than a decade later.
Above: Glazer's Under the Skin
Although his feature films number just three in 18 years, Glazer’s commercial and music video output has thankfully been more prolific. Part of the late 90s/early noughties directorial pack (Jonze, Gondry et al) behind the golden age of music videos, Glazer’s promos for the likes of Radiohead, Massive Attack and Jamiroquai were truly mould-breaking, from the raw, monochrome brutality of Radiohead’s Street Spirit (Fade Out) to distorting the laws of time and space in Jamiroquai’s multi-TV-award-winning Virtual Insanity.
Above: Radiohead Street Spirit (Fade Out)
As probably the closest thing that adland has to a superstar director, Glazer has shot for pretty much every big brand from Levi’s to Volkswagen; his cinematic approach paving the way for longer-form narrative commercials. Who could forget the epic comedy caper of a son dispatched to bring his father a deathbed pint in Stella Artois’ Last Orders? Or the visual magnificence of Sony Bravia Paint and its 70,000 litres of paintbombs exploding over a Glasgow housing estate?
The million-pound pint
Glazer has an entire beer oeuvre to his name, but it’s Surfer – the 1999 Guinness spot that likened the act of pouring the perfect pint to catching the wave of a lifetime – which really cemented Glazer’s place in the advertising hall of fame; after winning two Black Pencils and a gold Lion that year, it’s still topping best-ads-of-all-time polls today.
It also earned Glazer the moniker “the man who spent £1m in 100 seconds”. “I don’t really spend much time thinking about the budget but I do fight for the amount of money I need to get it right,” he told shots. Budgets may have shrunk since those glory days, but the main issue with advertising now is “not enough confidence and not enough character”.
I have the stringent criteria of a painter. It’s an immersion. It’s like thinking your way through to a feeling. I read that Francis Bacon once spent six months mixing black. That makes perfect sense to me.
For a man once dubbed “the next Kubrick”, it’s no surprise to find Stanley on Glazer’s list of heroes, which also includes David Bowie and Charlie George. Kubrick’s influence is clearly felt in work such as Blur’s Clockwork Orange homage, The Universal, but Glazer’s incredible versatility and vision put him in a directorial class of his very own.
Not that the famously private and modest Glazer – whose interviews are rarer than hen’s teeth – would ever see himself that way. Asked about the work he’s proudest of, he told us: “There are moments I think I’ve nailed, but overall I don’t think that way.”