Not every moving cinematic statement is feature length, or even primetime comedy episode length for that matter, and in the past week or so I’ve seen an exhilarating sensory capsule that makes the absolute most of their limited time frame. For music videos, often the most overlooked film texts when not built up to Lemonade scale or scope, the tightened time frame makes for more focused results. The works of Spike Jonze are a stunning example of a filmmaker inflecting more electrifying energy in his short form work than he conjures in his more sentimentally driven features. There’s ostensibly not the burden of deeper expectations attached to works of greater length, but then that ought not cost him the livewire enthusiasm he displays in music videos like My Mutant Brain, an promotion for Kenzo World, The New Fragrance.
As vague a perfume advertisement as… well, every perfume ad, Mutant Brain spends the first quarter of its runtime on slow build set up. Margaret Qualley watches as an indistinct French speaker garbles through some senseless speech; others seem engaged, but the camera removes her from those in rapt attention. As she leaves the gala, the camera slowly settles on her visibly solemn, overwhelmed face. A minute is devoted to building a tone of heartache, of inexplicable sadness dawned out of nowhere.
And then Margaret goes totally insane. Like Andrzej Zulawski insane.
As the titular song by Sam Spiegel & Ape Drums, feat. Assassin, vibrates voraciously into the soundscape, the film abruptly shifts from the story of a disconsolate outsider to a voraciously expressive one. You could arguably start on that tone of berserk energy, but that darker emotional undercurrent not only amplifies the shock value of the revelation, but inflects it with even more vicious emotional fervor. This is a necessarily destructive and disruptive meltdown, breaking through the binds it constructed for itself in the gradual entrance.
Mashup editors haven’t missed the cosmetic connections between this and Fatboy Slim’s Weapon of Choice, but not only is Qualley a more naturalistic cipher for the viewer; she’s a far more ecstatic and astonishing performer. Mutant Brain requires an intensely controlled physical performance, isolating the elements of her body without any sense of rigidity or falseness. Every organic movement has both magnetic energy and casual flexibility. When the madness transitions to lasers beams destroying a museum, it feels like a natural progression of the complete freedom of expression Margaret’s unlocked for herself.
Beyond simply her performance, Jonze’s camera does its own extraordinary dance, fluidly synchronized to Margaret’s every spasm, split and shudder. It’s not entirely dissimilar from his work on Arcade Fire’s live music video for Arcade Fire’s Afterlife at the 2013 YouTube Music Awards, where Greta Gerwig turns a similarly broken emotional attitude into heightened enthusiasm, the camera gliding along with her dancing the way it pumps and swings to Qualley’s in My Mutant Brain. Jonze may put forth more astonishing work in the space of four minutes than he does across two hours, but maybe it’s just time for the rhythmically inclined auteur to do an out-and-out big screen musical.