Friday 26 November 2010

Hammer and Tongs Collection: review

Out now on DVD is this new compendium of work from the master music video makers, Hammer and Tongs.
More after the jump...

I am an unashamed fan of music videos from around the late 90's, and along with Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry, the Hammer and Tongs guys are a large reason why. This collection of Hammer and Tongs' work includes some quality videos from that late 90's period that bring back some great memories, along with some videos from the archives that I've never seen before (Supergrass' Low C and The Eels' Cancer For The Cure were completely new to me).

There's also their more famous and recognisable videos included too, so if you're a fan of Blur's iconic milk carton video for Coffee and TV you can hear Graham Coxon's feelings on how the video might just have been foreshadowing his downfall within the group. Also included are the incredibly inventive pair of videos they've created recently for Vampire Weekend, proving that they've not lost their knack or given up on music videos since branching out into feature films. Mind you, that's easily noticeable from the jokey DVD menu that inflicts increasingly cruel punishments on Garth and Nick.

The potential problem for this collection is that since most of these videos were made, the internet's invented this little thing called YouTube, where all of these videos can be found (Vampire Weekend's A Punk is currently approaching 15 million views). So why bother forking out on this collection when you can just watch them for free there? Well...

The highlight of the disc is listening to how the musicians feel about their videos (often over a decade later). But how do you arrange audio commentaries with the musical artists when their songs are only three minutes long? Simple. Just sit Garth Jennings down in his kitchen and get everyone else on the phone for a brief chat. Some are clearly old friends that consider the Hammer and Tongs boys to be creative kindred spirits (Bentley Rhythm Ace, Supergrass), whilst others don't shy away from being critical (E from the Eels, the complete absence of Beck's involvement).

They've even managed to rope in Maurice Colon to provide a livewire commentary for his interpretive dance featured in The Wannadies' Little By Little video. Like a cross between Uri Geller and Wayne Sleep, Mr Colon is sounding more and more like Adam Buxton these days. It's also nice to hear Badly Drawn Boy's Damon Gough reminisce about working with the team during the high point of his popularity. He clearly has some fond memories that their videos were a big part of.

You can't learn too much about their craft from this collection, mainly because some of the videos included would take a lot of explaining. The sheer technological planning used in R.E.M's Imitation Of Life video is mind boggling. I wouldn't have minded seeing some talking heads from the guys about compiling this collection and how they feel about looking back on their career, although Garth Jennings does cover some of this ground during his commentaries.

Along with a few shorts that show how much they've grown since being students at St Martin's, we're also treated to a 30 minute documentary, 'Home Movies'. Made from behind the scenes footage from their early videos and onto the makings of their feature films, Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy and Son Of Rambow, it's nice to see the humble Garth Jennings walk on stage to present Son Of Rambow to a Sundance Institute audience and shake Robert Redford's hand. I'd have appreciated to see more from the making of their film projects, as I'm a fan of both films and the short snippets left me wanting to see more.

If there's something that this DVD is certainly lacking, it's any of the TV advertisements the team have made over the last decade. A lot of these are available on the Tongsville website, and whilst I can imagine they would have been a nightmare to get clearance for, it would have been nice to see at least some included.

It's a complete joy to watch these music videos and reminisce about them, and this collection proves that there really are genuinely unique and visionary artists working in the commercial video world. It also shows that Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith can't make another feature film soon enough. This is a must buy for all fans of Hammer and Tongs.


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