Jonathan Wells has been involved with music video since he was in high school, having started his own music video show when he was just 16 (as you do). A teenager in 1980s San Francisco, Wells watched underwhelming local video shows and “I thought I could do better than that,” turning hanging out at record stores into a career.
Wells founded the long-running and much-loved RESFest, the first film festival to profile music videos. Most recently Wells and wife Meg Grey Wells have curated Spectacle, an exhibition on tour from the US showcasing more than 300 music videos, from early “soundies” to online viral videos. Within an immersive environment, artefacts from famous videos, such as the Lego used in Michel Gondry’s video for White Stripes’ ‘Fell in Love with a Girl’ or hand-drawn sketches from A-ha’s ‘Take on Me’, are displayed near the relevant videos playing on loops. “We looked at these for so many years as a disposable pop culture,” Wells says. “We’re asking people to revaluate them and appreciate them as an art form.”
After being left for dead by the music industry in the early 2000s, music videos are experiencing an renaissance, all courtesy of the web. "Before it was a one-way communication. The artist would make a video and you'd watch it over and over again." Now, says Wells, people routinely remix and remake their own videos. Even more interesting are ambitious web-only "music videos" like The Johnny Cash Project. "That’s a new frontier. The idea that the music video is a linear piece of media that you watch on TV or the internet is changing, and we don’t really know where it's headed."
"When we announced the exhibition, some people made these comments like 'oh, well now we know it's dead because there's a museum exhibition'… but I totally disagree," says Wells. "It’s exciting to look at where videos have come from and offer some hints of where they’re going."
Image: OK Go 'This Too Shall Pass' (Rube Goldberg Machine version) 2010. Directed by James Frost, OK Go and Syyn Labs.