Paula Abdul has had the kind of comeback career that shouldn't've happened, from Laker Girl/video choreographer to pop star in her own right to a “whatever happened to?” figure to American Idol judge to whatever it is she'll be doing with Simon Cowell on The X-Factor. We presume it'll be a lot like this, though:
But stepping back to the pop music days — when she first started breaking out huge in the late '80s, she had a big assist from director David Fincher, rapidly emerging as an American go-to guy for video work and a couple of years away from starting his increasingly successful movie career. “Straight Up,” “Forever Your Girl,” “Cold Hearted” — all him (little surprise that the MC Skat Kat duet wasn't).
So you'd think that when she came back with her second album Spellbound and its high profile debut single “Rush Rush” that the even more high profile video would have been him as well. 'Cinematic' from the start, a soft focus retelling of the James Dean classic Rebel Without a Cause in five minutes, Keanu Reeves as the costar — clearly it wasn't going to be handed over to just anyone. But he's not the only director out there, after all, and for whatever reason on his or her or the record company's part, someone else got the nod…
Part of the whole lore of George Lucas is that he stepped away from directing between the original Star Wars and the prequels to produce the Indiana Jones films and various other projects, grow the overall Lucasfilm business empire and figure out ways for robots to dance in 3-D with Michael Jackson for Disney. (Hey, somebody had to.) But after a random exchange with a friend today on Twitter that prompted me thinking about “Rush Rush” for the first time in a long while — and I'm plenty old enough to remember the big debut of it on MTV — I called up the video on YouTube, idly went over to Wikipedia and found the claim that the video was directed by the man himself — normally not enough to go on, except that there were several linked citations saying that very thing.
Keep in mind the original release of “Rush Rush” was in the days before director credits regularly appeared on MTV, not to mention well before themed video collections for directors like Spike Jonze and Anton Corbijn; much like commercials, in order for the general public know the name of who did a video, assuming they weren't already famous, there had to have been some sort of tipping point in fame. Already-high profile directors were a different story, granted — and this was George Lucas, and one would think they would have trumpeted that to the skies.
Still, 20 years on and maybe it was just a historical curio, one of those “oh yeah” facts that somehow had settled into the popular consciousness without troubling it all that much. Add in the fact that he had long since did his own tribute to a car-happy 50s/60s era with American Graffiti, it almost made sense — almost.
Initial bemusement and incredulity among myself and various friends took many forms, not least because this now seemed to be the bridge between one of the most highly successful and respected films in history and, in the form of The Phantom Menace, something that…wasn't. As fellow music writer Chris Molanphy put it on Facebook: “Pillaging of the hallmarks of a previously
beloved movie, check. Casting of an undercooked pretty-boy actor, check.
Wooden acting by the lead female, check. Yup, this was a dry run for
the prequels, no doubt.”
Others understandably wondered if it wasn't Fincher after all, but the credits for him were pretty clear — the previously mentioned videos, yes, but not this one. Meantime, the Lucas-as-director citations that turned up were all of a secondhand nature — nothing went back to Lucas's own sites or to his IMDB entry, but articles on The Hollywood Reporter and TV Guide and elsewhere happily repeated the claim.
The break came with a repost of the video (with bonus 90 second prelude!) on Irvine and Justin Timberlake's new favorite site, Myspace, where the poster had mentioned this: “Some sources say the video was directed by Steven Würnitzer, and
produced by Karen Rohrbacher for Lucasfilm Commercial
Productions, others say the video was directed by Star Wars
director George Lucas for Lucasfilm Commercial Productions.”
Steven Würnitzer? Google had next to nothing, while a quick check of IMDB turns up an entry for him which lists…”Rush Rush,” the sole credit.
I was beginning to think that what we had here was a case of pseudonyms at work — not quite the notorious Alan Smithee, but something that allowed Lucas to supposedly slum a bit and get an itch out while wondering whether or not an Indiana Jones TV series was a good idea. It also seemed pretty unlikely, to put it mildly, that such a major project — again, Paula Abdul was legitimately huge, this was her big return, the whole nine yards — would have been handed over to some anonymous person with no other credit at all before or since. Then again, if all they were going to do is a quick remake of a film with bonus Keanu, maybe it made sense to stay anonymous.
Twitter helped start the hunt and it also helped end it, thanks to the good folks at the All-Ages Movement Project, representing a nationwide grouping of youth-focused and run music, art and studio venues and ventures. They've had a whirlwind day of their own thanks to getting a White House invite to a panel on youth civic engagement so we also have to credit their excellent multitasking.
Having chimed in on my feed confirming the Würnitzer/Lucasfilm Commercial Productions credit on a VHS tape copy, whoever's behind their Twitter account found an article, or at least the start of one, from 1990 confirming Würnitzer's signing with Lucasfilm as well as noting he was an Austrian director who, much like Fincher and many others, had made his initial mark strictly with commercials. The brief snippets of other stories on that page mentioned later signings and efforts of his, while it turns out a further key lay in something I missed at first but which All-Ages picked up on more quickly — the director's first name is actually spelled Stephan or, sometimes, Stefan. Leave it to America to try and make the guy sound less European.
With that as a clue, turns out he has apparently four commercial videos to his credit, of which “Rush Rush” was the biggest. Two of the others, a US version of Lisa Stansfield's “Change” and Jermaine Jackson's “You Said, You Said” have pretty well disappeared down the collective memory hole in general but All-Ages turned up a real standout — En Vogue's 1992 hit “Giving Him Something He Can Feel,” with a similarly nostalgia minded but worthy video in its right, not to mention hot as hell, period.
Würnitzer may well have done more videos but he seems to have gone back to commercial work in general, as this 2000 report on a TWA ad mentions. The relative anonymity combined with the all-too-understandable assumption that anything filmwise, even a video, from Lucasfilm would be from the hand of Lucas himself resulted in a mini-urban legend that can be happily squelched. So one mystery less in the world — and as another friend on Twitter said about “Rush Rush” before the identity question was cleared up, “Better than the last 3 Star Wars movies!”