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DVD Review: ‘The Hammer and Tongs Collection’

★★★☆☆

Anyone with even a passing interest in the world of film and music videos will no doubt be familiar with the work of director/producer duo Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith, a.k.a. Hammer and Tongs. Whether this be as a result of their more recent feature films such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005) and Son of Rambow (2007), or their hugely iconic music videos for the likes of Blur, Supergrass and REM, you will almost certainly have encountered some form of their work over the past fifteen years or so.

For the first time in their career, The Hammer and Tongs Collection (2010) sees the bulk of the pair’s efforts assembled over one disc, including an array of music videos, short films and a behind the scenes documentary thrown in for good measure. Whilst many fans of Hammer and Tongs, myself included, will simply be glad to see the release of such a collection, I feel that despite its moments of unquestionable genius, it is still, at times, a little frustrating. However, theses flaws, which I will touch upon later, are vastly outweighed by some of the most beautifully inventive and innovative music videos from the past two decades.

Some of the more obvious highlights appear in the form of Blur’s Coffee and TV (1999) and Supergrass’ Pumping on Your Stereo’ (1999), whose iconic images of walking milk cartons and gigantic, bendy bodies have firmly cemented their place among pop culture’s most memorable moments. This is also true of Fatboy Slim’s Right Here Right Now (1999), in which we see the beginning of time followed through to the evolution of man over the course of a three and a half minute song. Fairly ambitious I think you’ll agree.

There are also a number of slightly lesser known gems on this collection, which some may not be quite so familiar with. For instance, Beck’s Lost Cause (2003) is one of the most magically creative and deftly constructed videos in recent memory. Other notable pieces include Eels’ Last Stop This Town (1998) and Moloko’s Flip Side (1998), each possessing surreal, hallucinogenic qualities in equal measure.

Unfortunately, there are one or two forgettable moments. Radiohead’s Nude (2007) captures a slow-motion, dream-like effect, which grows tiresome very quickly, the final product being something close to the visual equivalent of a yawn. Not necessarily a bad thing, but hardly a memorable experience. Especially when placed alongside some of the above mentioned masterpieces. The Wannadies’ Little by Little (2003) and Pulp’s A Little Soul (1998) also fail to reach the same levels of quality found in the collection’s finer inclusions.

As mentioned previously, there are one or two other flaws to be found. The three short films included, Eiffel’s Blessing, Toast the Cat and Polish Plums, are all very short and extremely unremarkable. Avid fans might enjoy these as a rare treat and a look at the duo’s earlier work. Personally, I felt as though they were included solely to boost the number of features listed on the collection.

However, the most disappointing aspect of the DVD is the shabbily put together documentary. A seemingly random compilation of behind the scenes footage from a number of shoots from over the years, rarely provides any insight or information; a truly missed opportunity to take a glimpse at the inner-workings of one of the most talented partnerships in the business. What makes the documentary seem even more pointless are the hugely extended and unnecessary behind the scenes clips from Son of Rambow, which is not mentioned in any of the other features and appears totally pointless in the context of the DVD.

Still, these drawbacks, frustrating as they are, should not taint what is an absolutely outstanding collection of works from such a talented pairing. The inclusion of recent videos, such as the magnificent Cousins by Vampire Weekend emphasises just how relevant Hammer and Tongs remain, and furthermore, that there is more than enough potential for just as many great works to look forward to in the future.

Daniel Gumble