Anton Corbijn had gained Depeche Mode’s trust with his instincts and artistic vision, however weird his ideas seemed. That, in and of itself, was surprising, considering that Corbijn, known more for his still photography, was a novice at directing music videos. Time and time again in the commentary included on the all-encompassing “Video Singles Collection,” members of the trailblazing electronic-pop act expressed their faith in his abilities. They’d been burned before.
In discussing many of the 55 groundbreaking videos found in this beautifully packaged three-DVD collection (which also serves to chronicle the band’s musical progression), the trio of David Gahan, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher are candidly revealing, devastatingly funny and insightful. For their part, the threesome cringe with embarrassment over their “acting” in “See You” and the incongruous nonsense of early arty pieces filmed for “Just Can’t Get Enough” and “The Meaning of Love” – relics from a time when Vince Clarke had them making bubblegum music with synthesizers. With “Get the Balance Right,” they’d hit a “low point,” according to the band, and the awkward dancing in “Master and Servant” amuses them to no end.
As the art form evolved, Depeche Mode’s videos became more sophisticated, cinematic and stylish. The same could be said of their music. They collaborated with such auteurs as Julien Temple, D.A. Pennebaker, Martyn Atkins, John Hillcoat and, of course, Corbijn, whose masterful, evocative work on “Strangelove,” “Never Let Me Down” and “Behind the Wheel” creates theatres of the absurd in stark, black-and-white imagery. There’s a touch of Fellini’s madness in them, just as Corbijn’s surreal “Walking in My Shoes” updates the artistry of Hieronymus Bosch with its wonderfully strange, colorful display of bird-like characters and “Personal Jesus” artfully pays homage to the gritty Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone.
From the 101 documentary comes a rousing concert performance of “Everything Counts,” vividly filmed by Pennebaker, and Atkins enhances the moody intrigue of “Little 15.” Later on, Hillcoat goes more organic, sumptuously surrounding an increasingly warm and soulful Depeche Mode with natural, rural environs to connect with the common folk on “Freelove” and “Goodnight Lovers,” while the visuals of Uwe Flade’s animated version of “Enjoy the Silence ‘04” flower in tripped-out ecstasy.
Still, it’s Corbijn’s “Enjoy The Silence” that leaves the most lasting impression. It was he who suggested that Gahan dress in kingly robes and wear a crown while wandering alone through a series of jaw-dropping landscapes across the world, surveying his unpopulated realm. The existential emptiness is palpable. Gahan comments on the video’s technical innovation and how he initially questioned Corbijn’s sanity, but went along with it. After all, he’d never let them down.