There once was a Golden Age of Music Videos, when you could see your favorite bands lip-syncing the words to your favorite songs while they walked through city streets/fields/abandoned homes, an age when the making of the videos was an actual art form. Plus, there was a channel where you could watch all of them day and night, over and over again. Ahh, MTV how we miss the music.
The videos that played during this amazing time were, and still are, incredibly entertaining companions to the songs they depict. They helped sell albums and give bands obnoxious popularity. One such band consisted of three New York Jewish boys who somehow managed to turn the burgeoning rap/hip-hop world on its head. The Beastie Boys had already established their stamp on the music video medium with the iconic No Sleep Till Brooklyn, and with the release of a new album and new sound, they wanted to make sure it was permanent ink. The first hard-hitting and gritty single needed a hard-hitting and gritty video to accompany it. They enlisted the help of upcoming filmmaker Spike Jonze for their next single, Sabotage.
Up to this point, around 1994, Spike Jonze was known mostly around the skateboarding circuit for promo and highlight videos he made for skateboard companies and enthusiasts. It was on one fateful assignment, where he was sent to photograph the Beasties for Dirt magazine, that Jonze took a liking to the boys. According to an article in Empire magazine, Jonze really enjoyed what the band was doing with their music: They were operating outside the record label, doing whatever they wanted to do. They would just have an idea and make it.
Later, Jonze agreed to work with the Beastie Boys on Sabotage. The now iconic send-up of ’70s cop shows became incredibly popular with MTV fans and helped push Ill Communication to the top of the charts. The band, as well as DJ Hurricane, played multiple characters, all with terrible mustaches and wigs. Later down the road, on the group’s Beastie Boys Video Anthology, they donned the costumes again when they were interviewed in character by Jonzes then-wife Sophia Coppola.
The video was a huge hit on MTV, though it did not win the coveted MTV Video Music award for Best Video. Instead, the honor went to Aerosmith for Cryin (gross). Surprisingly, and in an action that long predates the whole Kanye West Moment of 2009, Beastie Boy MCA bum-rushed the staged dressed as his Sabotage character, Nathaniel Hornblower, and took the mic from R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe after Sabotage had lost not only Best Director but Breakthrough Video to Everybody Hurts by R.E.M.. As a matter of fact, Sabotage lost in every category for which it had been nominated. However, the video eventually received the proper accolades when in 2009 – what a strange coincidence, huh? – it received an award for Best Video (That Should Have Won a Moonman).
Not only did the video help out the Beastie Boys, but it also pushed Spike Jonze into the limelight. In the next few years, Jonze would direct such iconic videos as Buddy Holly and The Sweater Song by Weezer, Its Oh So Quiet by Bjork, and Its All About the Benjamins by Puff Daddy, all within the three years after he directed Sabotage. He then went on to direct other videos like Praise You and Weapon of Choice for Fatboy Slim and Get Back by Ludacris. Oh yeah, and the feature films Being John Malkovich (where he was nominated for an Oscar), Adaptation, and Where the Wild Things Are. Small things.
Who would have thought that the guy who made skate videos — and one silly video for the Beastie Boys– would become one of the most sought-after and creative directors in film today? Probably the Beastie Boys.