Biography of Michel Gondry

Michel Gondry is a film, music video, and commercial director as well as an artist and a screenwriter. He was born and raised in Versailles, France. His parents were musicians and hippies. His grandfather was inventor Constant Martin, who perfected and successfully commercialized radio sets, most famously the Clavioline, a precursor to the synthesizer. Gondry's parents encouraged him and his brother, Olivier "Twist" Gondry, also a television commercial and music video director, to pursue their artistic interests. At a young age, Michel Gondry would create animated short films using his father's Super 8 Camera and complex flip-books. After high school, he enrolled in an art college in Paris.

Gondry started his filmmaking career while living in Paris by directing music videos for his rock band, Oui Oui (he was the drummer). His work caught the attention of Icelandic songstress Bjork, who selected Gondry to direct the music video for her debut single "Human Behaviour" in 1993. Like the song, the video is inspired by British broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough. It is about the relationship between humans and animals, and Gondry shot the video from a bear's point of view. The video debuted to much acclaim and Michel Gondry moved to London and started directing commercials. In 1997, he relocated to New York City, despite his limited understanding of English. Nevertheless, Gondry became one of the most sought-after music video directors in the business, collaborating with bands like Daft Punk, The White Stripes, The Chemical Brothers, The Vines, Stereogram, Radiohead, and Beck.

In 1998, while directing a commercial for Smirnoff Vodka, Gondry developed the "bullet time" special effect, which creates as slowed-down version of an unfilmable event, like a bullet flying. Later that year, the Wachowski siblings adapted this technique for their 1999 smash hit film, The Matrix. Gondry's 2004 commercial for Levi's 501 Jeans holds the title for "most awards won by a TV commercial" in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Michel Gondry segued into feature film directing in 2001 with Human Nature, a quirky comedy-drama written by Charlie Kaufman and starring Patricia Arquette, Rhys Ifans, Tim Robbins, and Miranda Otto. It had its world premiere out of competition at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival and was released in the United States by Fine Line Features in April 2002. The film was a box office disappointment and garnered mixed reviews from critics, who nonetheless appreciated Gondry's quirky style.

Kaufman and Gondry collaborated again to make Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which opened in 2004. It became one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, and Kaufman, Gondry, and Pierre Bismuth won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Star Kate Winslet was nominated for Best Actress for her performance as Clementine Kruczynski, but lost to Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby. In 2010, critics for periodicals and websites like Empire, Premiere, Time Out New York, Entertainment Weekly, and The A.V. Club revisited [Eternal Sunshine] calling it one of the best films of the decade.

In 2005, Gondry directed Dave Chappelle's Block Party, a musical documentary about the comedian's efforts to organize a large, free concert in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Gondry's next narrative feature film The Science of Sleep, came out in 2006. The film, which Gondry wrote, was based on a 10-year-old's bedtime story. It combines elements of surrealism, science fiction, fantasy, and comedy and was generally well-received by critics. He used design elements from the film to create an installation called "The Science of Sleep: An Exhibition of Sculpture, and Pathological Creepy Little Gifts" at Deitch Projects in New York City. From 2005-2006, Gondry was an Artist in Residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In the mid-2000s, Gondry tried his hand at television, directing an episode of HBO's Flight of the Conchords. In 2008, he wrote and directed Be Kind Rewind, a $20-million comedy starring Jack Black and Mos Def as video store clerks who must re-create the store's entire catalog of VHS films after a freak disaster erases the tapes. It performed fairly well at the box office, earning approximately $30 million worldwide.

The documentary A Thorn in the Heart, which Gondry made about his Aunt Suzette and her son Jean-Yves, came out in 2009. In 2011, Gondry took on his biggest budget film to date, The Green Hornet, a comic book adaptation starring Seth Rogen. The reviews were fairly dismal (especially in comparison to Gondry's previous work). Additionally, the film's inflated budget and rushed 3-D conversion drew the ire of viewers and critics alike and it performed tepidly at the box office. Gondry went back to his independent, quirky roots with his following feature film, The We and the I, which screened as part of the Directors' Fortnight at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. It has thus far only been released in France.

To date, Michel Gondry has directed close to 100 music videos for a diverse array of artists like Paul McCartney, Kanye West, Cody ChestnuTT, Lenny Kravitz, The Rolling Stones, Sinead O'Connor, Belinda Carlisle, Wyclef Jean, Sheryl Crow, The Foo Fighters, The White Stripes, The Polyphonic Spree, and Kylie Minogue. His commercial portfolio includes spots for Adidas, Coca-Cola, Fiat, GAP, Heineken, Motorola, Nike, Polaroid, and Volvo. He continues to be a visual innovator, making short films and releasing them on his Vimeo channel. Gondry's son, Paul, has followed in his father's artistic footsteps, directing music videos and creating art. They live in Brooklyn, New York.

Study Guides on Works by Michel Gondry