Sound And Vision: Harmony Korine

Contributing Writer; The Netherlands
Sound And Vision: Harmony Korine

In the article series Sound and Vision we take a look at music videos from notable directors. This week we take a look at several music videos made by Harmony Korine.

When you watch a music video Harmony Korine made, you can immediately pinpoint them to what point in time he made it. His first music video, for Sonic Youth's Sunday (below), is an ode to teen angst, starring Macauley Culkin shedding the last of his youthful glow. It is very much cut from the same cloth as films like Kids (which was co-written by Korine, but directed by Larry Clark), Julien Donkey-Boy and Gummo. Whereas the VHS-thetics of The Black Keys' Gold On The Ceiling (also below) fit right into the art school wannabe no-budget performance pieces of Trash Humpers. And Rihanna's Needed Me? It's basically a sequel to the Florida-daze high crime hedonism of Spring Breakers.

Korine has been known to court controversy, and the same goes for some of his music videos. There is a reckless, youthful abandon to his imagery, in both his films and music videos, that wants to offend and displease. In the case of Cat Power's Living Proof (also below), that means hitting on imagery of religious disparity in America, by having a cross-bearer and hijab-wearing women run a track on a course. It feels slightly hollow in its appropriation of another person's religious practices or cultural habits, in the same way that something like his shorts Umshini Wam and Snowballs seek to offend by deliberate cultural appropriation.

Your mileage may vary when he crosses the line, but I find his music video for Bonnie Prince Billy's No More Workhorse Blues to be inexcusable with its use of blackface. It's a galling, gaudy, grotesque piece of work, equally off-putting in style and content. It's surprising there is not more being said about the way Korine seems to reduce others cultures to signifiers at times, or how hollow and thin the imagery can seem. Especially in his crime films, which are full of imagery borrowed from gangster rap's cultural sign posts, Korine often reduces the black actors to stereotypes and props, like again in Rihanna's music video for Needed Me (also below), where the black women who aren't Rihanna are mostly shown twerking. No face of them in sight, just twerking asses. It feels like a reduction of one's personhood to just one body part.

Still, there is a sense that Korine loves hip hop and the cultural signifiers of gangster rap, in a way that goes further than just fronting. Especially in his recent collaborations with Travis Scott, Korine proves himself to be equally a fan and collaborator of Scott. The collaboration started with Korine co-starring as being part of Gucci Mane's posse, together with Travis Scott, in the music video for Gucci Mane's Last Time. That music video was helmed by David M. Helman, but Korine seems like a natural fit in the setting of a rap video. Korine took a much larger part, this time behind the camera, in the making of Scott's album film Circus Maximus (finally below), which was the visual companion to his album Utopia.

Circus Maximus might be the largest album film ever made, as Korine isn't the only director of stature being involved. Other segments are directed by the likes of Gaspar NoƩ and Nicolas Winding Refn (among others) themselves bad boy auteurs with a penchant for colorful neon-lit ultra-violence. The Korine-segment, though, is the largest one. It is the concert film part of the proceedings, blocking at least half of the runtime.

Korine uses drones and an extravagant light show, to let Scott showcase the album in a semi-live setting in the ruins of an amphitheater in Pompeii. It's over the top, it's maximalist, it's a circus. But it is also the most lived-in music piece Korine has done, where he feels in his element instead of an interloper. Where he feels like he owns the place, and camera, and light show, instead of using grandstanding provocation to get a reaction. He matured and mellowed. His new film Aggro Dr1ft, on the other hand, seems like it is cut from the same cloth as Spring Breakers, this time with the added effect of having shot the entire thing through heat cameras. It stars Travis Scott, again, continuing a collaboration that stills feels fruitful. Korine is in his Scott-era, it seems, in the same way he was in a Teen Angst-era, a VHS-era and a Florida Crime-era. I can't wait to see what he does next, and what the soundtrack to it will be.

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