Reviews: The Films of Daft Punk

We review the films of Daft Punk. Check it out.

The French-based band Daft Punk, comprised of Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo in the form of robot stage personas, are among the most popular and worldly successful electronic music groups of all time.  From their breakout into the house techno scene with Homework to the blockbuster success of Random Access Memories, the dynamic duo revitalized the early 1980s synthetic sound perfected by the likes of Giorgio Moroder and Tangerine Dream.  Lesser known outside their devoted fanbase, however, were three films devised by the two in conjunction with their musical expression.  The first two followed in the footsteps of traditional music videos where their third and first official debut as writer-directors seemed to deviate from expectations.  Whatever your stance on this iconic purveyor of pop dance music is, here is our take on the very brief and unusual film career of one of France’s most exciting fusions of house and synthpop.

D.A.F.T: A Story About Dogs, Androids, Firemen and Tomatoes (1999)
Around the release of Daft Punk’s Homework emerged this unusual music video compilation which became known as D.A.F.T.: A Story About Dogs, Androids, Firemen and Tomatoes.  While many of the videos included in this set wound up in the Work of Director sets released by Palm Pictures for directors Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry, this was the first official music video collection released by Daft Punk.  Encompassing the videos for Da Funk by Spike Jonze, Around the World by Michel Gondry, Burnin by Seb Janiak, Revolution 909 by Roman Coppola and an exclusive video for Fresh marking an early directorial effort by Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo, D.A.F.T.: A Story About Dogs, Androids, Firemen and Tomatoes also contains exclusive mixes of some of their songs by Armand Van Helden, Masters at Work, Ian Pooley and Roger Sanchez. 

"Has anyone seen Howard the Duck?
I kinda wanna hang out."
The first video, Da Funk (renamed Big City Nights by Spike Jonze), depicts an anthropomorphic crippled dog carrying a crutch and a boom box blasting Daft Punk’s Da Funk.  Almost completely incongruent to the rhythms of the song, the video is a whimsical hunk of quirk following the efforts of the fully animated dog to date women, who don’t seem to make much of the fact that they’re carrying a conversation with an oversized hound.  Near the end of the compilation, the tale of the dog is bookended by the short video Fresh with the dog being directed on the set of a music video shoot by Spike Jonze before driving off with a new date.  In between is Michel Gondry’s choreography video for Around the World, with several robot-dressed dancers performing numbers that would make Bob Fosse blush.  The other videos for Burnin and Revolution 909 are really strange for starting out as dance videos taking place outside clubs before abruptly segueing into the lives of firemen or a montage of shots of a tomato patch. 

More of a DVD compilation than a feature film, although the menus give viewers the option to view them all in sequential order, D.A.F.T. represents the dynamic French electronic music duo in the early stages of finding their stage personas.  Multiple-angled footage of a live performance show the two onstage without the aid of their air conditioned robot suits they ordinarily perform in.  D.A.F.T. is essential to Daft Punk completests but also early enough in their career that the robot rockers weren’t as quick to announce themselves as stars of the show.  Years later, a greatest-hits CD/DVD compilation would include the much darker and disturbing videos for Human After All (The Prime Time of your Life is totally horrifying) as well as a new video for the remix of Robot Rock, but only included some of the videos and extras included in the D.A.F.T. set.  Still a cool thing for fans to have, and the remixes and exclusive videos make it a must have.


Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem (2003 – directed by Kazuhisa Takenouchi)
Daft Punk have always been a band who likes to try new things—both musically and with their music videos. With their concept album Discovery, the teamed up with iconic Japanese anime director Leiji Matsumoto (Space Pirate Captain Harlock, Galaxy Express 999) and Toei Animation to produce a full-length animated film comprised of all the songs. Kazuhisa Takenouchi directed the film, but the look is pure Matsumoto. There is no dialogue in the film (other than the lyrics to the various songs) and it plays out like an extended sci-fi themed music video.

"We are interplanetary Smurf whores.
Wanna party?"
Matsumoto’s character designs have a distinct look to them and he is fond of waif-like slender people with baroque-styled curls and swirls incorporated into their outfits and hairstyles. When most people think of 1970’s era anime, this look comes to mind. However, in Interstella 5555, Matsumoto takes a sleeker and more futuristic approach and it makes an interesting mix of retro and space-age fashioning.  The animation is somewhat limited, as is common in Japanese anime, but the art design and music makes up for the lack of frames and overall smoothness. Everything goes with the beat of the music and they did a great job of interpreting the themes of each song to the on screen action. 

The story itself is abstract, but everything moves along at a quick pace. The running time is shorter than normal because it only encompasses the album track length—they didn’t add too much side story and it goes straight from song to song with no breaks in-between. If you are a fan of Daft Punk’s music, then this will appeal to you more, as Discovery is considered one of their best albums. It signaled their transition from French house to the more pop-sounding disco house and every track is happy and catchy.  Anime or animation aficionados would probably enjoy it as well, but not if they are looking for a more complex or involved plotline.


Electroma (2006 – written and directed by Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo)
The creative team behind Daft Punk, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel De Homem-Christo, stepped back from their keyboards to behind the cameras for their first feature length film as a writing-directing team, a minimalist exercise concerning the duo’s robot personas’ quest to become human known as Electroma.  Largely filmed in an open desert, ala Michelangelo Antonioni’s The Passenger meets Gus Van Sant’s Gerry, Electroma is either one of the most original science fiction based music video films of the last decade or one of the most aggravating expressions of artistic pretension to ever hit the silver screen.  While yours truly is all for artists of all mediums trying their hand at something out of the ordinary, as with actors taking a hiatus from being onscreen to sitting in the director’s chair, Electroma represents that rare instance where the musicians behind Daft Punk should have stuck to making music.

"Ok. Things are just getting really
weird and really starting to
get kinda trippy. I wanna go home."
Opening on an elongated shot of the two robots driving in a desert before happening on a small town populated by other robots sporting the Daft Punk helmets, where they adorn grotesque human masks over their robot masks.  Told without dialogue or an overt plot, Electroma mostly consists of extended wide shots or tracking shots of the robots either being adjusted in an electronic facility or simply walking in the desert.  If this isn’t frustrating enough for seasoned Daft Punk fans, not a single iota of their music is used in the film.  Instead there’s a collection of various music pieces that barely sound electronic in the least.  There’s one shot of a robot walking into the sunset until it disappears as a mirage, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Vincent Gallo’s The Brown Bunny when the protagonist and his motorcycle disappear after driving off in the distance.  Although defenders will make the argument it’s an experimental work trying to tread off the beaten path, what’s the point of trying if it ultimately results in a messy lab of toxic chemicals from shattered test tubes?

While there are a couple of shots of one of the robots self-destructing that are kind of interesting, overall Electroma is like a Dadaist joke on the loyal fans supporting the dynamic duo ever since they hit the house techno scene.  When I saw this at the limited Main Art Theatre screening, I lost count of the walkouts of irate fans donning their Daft Punk apparel, others dressed for the dance floor, leaving in a disappointed huff.  People expected a sonic experience of some kind akin to listening to Homework or Discovery, and instead got this bone dry collegiate portrait of two robots taking a really long promenade that would bore even the most hardened Andrei Tarkovsky fans.  Thankfully, Bangalter and De Homem-Christo felt the vibes and returned to music with their massive blockbuster pop album Random Access Memories.  Originally Electroma was slated for a Blu-Ray release, but weeks before the film was released on DVD, the Blu-Ray was cancelled.  Maybe distributors felt the production costs of a Blu-Ray would be superfluous, as only the most devoted aficionados of the French electronic group would fork over their hard earned money for this flat stillborn. 


-Andrew Kotwicki
-Michelle Kisner