Spike Jonze was born Adam Spiegel in 1969. After growing up as a skate-kid in Maryland, he began work as a photographer for a skateboarding magazine. His first attempt at video was a documentary entitled Video Days which featured skateboarding stunts accompanied by a characteristically unorthodox soundtrack which included the The Jackson Five. Years later it is regarded by many as the greatest skate video of all time.
This early work earned Spike fans within the music industry and his skateboard footage was used in videos for Sonic Youth and the Beastie Boys. Working with such well respected artists meant that he could soon establish himself as the video director of choice for America's leftfield aristocracy.
After developing a friendship with the Beastie Boys, Spike was given the job of directing their 'Sabotage' video. The result was the opening sequence of a seventies cop show that never existed. The Beasties played a variety of characters, chasing each other through LA, kicking doors down, and bouncing around in cop cars.
For Weezer's 'Buddy Holly' video, Spike decided to shoot a performance of the band playing in an epsiode of the TV show Happy Days. The video was set in Al's Diner and featured the band interacting with footage from the original series. He even hired the guy who played Al to joke with the band as they left. The video won an MTV Video Music Award.
1995 brought Bjork's 'It's Oh So Quiet'. It opens with her washing her face in a grotty bathroom before walking out into a street full of dancing pedestrians, ending with her being lifted high above the action. It suited the song perfectly, and paved the way for all those dumb GAP commercials.
Spike has also done work on commercials for most youth-orientated multinationals. My favourite was a Sprite commercial in which a family is shown drinking orange juice when the 'Sun-Fizz' character on the box jumps off it and tries to say hello, terrifying the family in the process before chasing them around their house. When I found out it was directed by Spike, I wasn't suprised.
I couldn't write about Spike without writing about his family. The Spiegel family is wealthy. Very wealthy. The Spiegel family possess the kind of wealth that makes people question the validity of capitalism as a socio-economic system. We're talking about and income of a few billion dollars a year from the family's catalog business. Adam Spiegel stands to inherit that fortune. See the desire for an alias?
Speaking of aliases, I believe the final masterpiece of nineties music video was Richard Koufey's promo for Fatboy Slim's 'Praise You'. Richard Koufey was yet another monicker adopted by Spike just for this video (he has threatened to sue anyone who claims it to be his own work). The video featured Richard leading his Torrance Community Centre Dance Troupe in a display of wonderfully kitsch choreography which incorporated moonwalking, and Vogue poses while the song played on a boom-box and a bemused crowd looked on. MTV lapped it up, and Spike played the role of Richard at the MTV Video Music Awards to perform the routine. All this praise is very impressive when you consider it was shot on handheld cameras in one ten minute take, and in front of actual pedestrians - MTV does Dogme 95!
The 'Praise You' video was an example of how Spike (along with others such as Michel Gondry and Chris Cunningham) has taken advantage of a trait common in European dance artists - they don't like being photographed. Other examples of this are his video for Daft Punk's 'Da Funk' in which a guy with a broken leg wearing a dog head stumbles around New York while the song plays on his stereo, and the Chemical Brother's 'Elektrobank' which centres around then-girlfriend Sofia Coppola as a gymnast in a competition. The star's reluctance to take part allowed Spike to do whatever he wanted with those videos, producing micro-movies in which the soundtrack sometimes took a back seat.
1999 was also the year that Spike's feature length directorial debut appeared. After successfully talking John Malkovich into appearing in 'Being John Malkovich' - the tale of an office worker who discovers a portal into the mind of Malkovich - Spike created a work that could appeal to someone with an attention span greater than a few minutes. Although Charlie Kaufman's script is pure idiosyncratic gold, it was kicked around Hollywood for years before anyone was brave enough to take it on board. Poor distribution prevented it from making much of a commercial impact, but anyone who did see it will be hard pushed to find fault with the askew humour and narrative logic apparent throughout.
The future looks bright for Spike - he's already begun his acting career with 'Three Kings'. He also made an impact in TV with the original idea for MTV's Jackass, and still stays in touch with his skateboarding origins by regularly working with skate companies such as Girl. And even if Hollywood does drop him from a great height, he's still got that mountain of an inheritance to break his fall.