“Hairpin Turns” dir. Mike Mills, music by The National
The news that Mike Mills would direct a 24-minute short film (starring Alicia Vikander) in conjunction with The National’s new album I Am Easy To Find was, to most, a fun side note to the excitement of The National making a new album. But those people are tragically mistaken, as Mills returning to something resembling narrative filmmaking is as much an event as any Avengers movie. As an appetizer for I Am Easy To Find, Mills has directed videos for two National singles. The first one, “Light Years”, is a three-and-a-half-minute highlight reel of the short, but the second, “Hairpin Turns”, is a completely original production, making it his first music video since 2006.
As I mentioned in my second of three Mike Mills pieces, towards the end of his music video days he began stripping down his video concepts to near-nothing, culminating in his quartet of Blonde Redhead videos being static shots of a rainbow, people crying, a summary of the “Like a Prayer” video, and Miranda July posing. “Hairpin Turns” largely continues that minimalist direction; Mills isolates the individual elements of the track (lead vocals, background vocals, guitar, drums, keyboards, and programming) in their own separate frames, denying the viewer the pleasure of the band jamming together but calling their attention to the efforts of everyone involved.
What makes this different from Mills’ past videos is that he made 20th Century Women in the meantime and his filmmaking style was completely changed as a result. This video shares no personnel with Women besides Mills (it’s shot by unknown Australian cinematographer Adric Watson and edited by Spike Jonze collaborator Stephen Berger), but it’s instantly recognizable as being in the same style. As with Women, almost every shot in this video is a dolly shot, the camera traveling across the set in ignorance of how the shot’s subjects are moving (my Roma hot take is that its similarly non-diegetic camera movements don’t have shit on Mills’). And then there’s dancer/choreographer Sharon Eyal, who gets a freedom of movement far beyond July’s “one pose per second.” Mills’ otherwise restless camera slows down when following her, letting her do the moving as she performs an interpretive dance that seems to operate entirely separate of the song accompanying it. Women showed that Mills has tremendous respect for dancing as a form of communication, and here it speaks louder than Matt Berninger’s words. Mills says that Eyal serves as the “shadow self” to Vikander’s character in the short, but even viewed in isolation, this is an arresting performance in the middle of an arresting clip.
Stay tuned for a full-length article on I Am Easy To Find at some point soon after it comes out.