From Britney Spears in ‘Spring Breakers’ to Madonna in ‘Gummo’, these are Korine’s most standout sonic choices
Harmony Korine is a filmmaker whose style is inherently musical, from the hypnagogic rhythm of his editing, to the oddly inspired casting of Gucci Mane in Spring Breakers. More than that, his movies can be relied upon for a pitch perfect soundtrack – a ragbag of tunes, new and familiar, that transcend specific emotions and pull you into the characters’ often twisted world. These song choices shouldn’t work, but in the context of Korine, they do and act as pure escapism.
Musicians love Korine, too. He’s directed videos for Sonic Youth and Cat Power, written songs with Björk and Lana Del Rey, and is close buds with The Silver Jews’ David Berman. Plus, no one can forget the scene in Hype Williams’ Belly when DMX and Nas watch Gummo and respond, “What the fuck is this?” Here’s a rundown of Korine’s best musical moments. It gets trippy.
“CRYING” BY ROY ORBISON IN GUMMO (1997)
The triumphant ending of Gummo sees Solomon slurping spaghetti in a bathtub, two kids counting dollar bills, and a frivolous pre-Spring Breakers threesome in an outdoor pool. When Rob Orbison’s “Crying” rolls in, the ensuing catharsis and soothing melodies wash away the previous 80 minutes of anguish. Rumour has it that Korine, then 23, insisted the crew chase a particular raincloud, which was worth it if it’s the one yielding the accompanying showers. But when it shifts to amateur footage of a tornado, you realise it’s not a joyous moment, and actually Orbison repeating the word “crying”. It’s deservedly embedded in pop culture: when some guy nobody remembers did “Crying” on The X-Factor, even Simon Cowell knew it was from Gummo.
“LIKE A PRAYER” BY MADONNA IN GUMMO (1997)
“What are you doing lifting weights?” Solomon’s tap-dancing mother asks. The answer, not that she receives one, is in the boy’s choice of “Like a Prayer” on the stereo. Downstairs, in front of the mirror, Solomon pumps iron as if he’s dancing, and it’s all the more invigorating for the previous scene – he built the dumbbells himself by taping spoons and forks together because he can’t afford the real deal. When the DIY workout session’s buzz is extinguished by his mother switching off the music, you see Solomon self-consciously exercising in silence – it’s just not the same without Madonna.
“SUNDAY” BY SONIC YOUTH (1998)
The “Macaulay Culkin face” either refers to the open-mouthed gasp of Home Alone, or the lengthy close-ups from Korine’s Sonic Youth music video. Lured by indie cred, Culkin came out of early retirement, and his offbeat energy – a former child celebrity sensuously licking his lips – matches the discord of Sonic Youth’s wonky guitar tunings. Why Culkin? Korine commented, “I always wanted to videotape someone like him just 100 times over so it just becomes this big blob of blurry, slo-mo colour like a painting dripping.” For anyone too sober to reach that conclusion, there’s giddy pleasure in watching the unlikely duo of Culkin and Thurston Moore jamming side by side with floppy hair.
“HAPPY DAY” BY JIM O’ROURKE IN JULIEN DONKEY-BOY (1999)
Julien Donkey-Boy earned a “Dogme 95” certificate from Lars von Trier, despite breaking a crucial rule with its non-diegetic music. Understandably, Korine couldn’t resist, as he introduces characters with short bursts of audio – whether it’s Chloë Sevigny’s wannabe ice-skater practising to opera, or Werner Herzog drinking to sad folk music. For Julien, a bullied schizophrenic, he hears Jim O’Rourke’s avant-garde instrumental – a simple backing track, overladen with painful feedback. The ongoing hum is a shortcut into the misunderstood protagonist’s mind-set, combined with jerky camera movements and grainy footage. No wonder Julien’s so pleased to join a church choir.
“NO MORE WORKHOUSE BLUES” by BONNIE PRINCE BILLY (2004)
A set of abrasive mini-loops, Korine’s music video for Will Oldham defies its minimal budget by burying baffling images in the viewer’s mind. The hypnotic clips are similar to split-second GIFs or Vines, except driven by a mournful song about being a rich man or a grazing horse, depending on how literally the lyrics are taken. The video – starring the future Rachel Korine – appears to have an arc, although it’s more likely to be a mischievous filmmaker improvising on the spot. By the end, it’s apparent the movement of the back-and-forth post-production effect is to stamp these strange images repeatedly in your direction.
“LIVING PROOF” BY CAT POWER (2006)
Shooting another music video during his hiatus, Korine hooked up with Chan Marshall to document a major sporting event: the Cat Power singer in red latex, pinned to a cross, jumping hurdles and racing against a team of female Muslim sprinters. Whatever’s going on, other than pushing buttons, remember that Marshall has referred to the communal link between religion and music in interviews, and the slo-mo running reflects the song’s driven, melancholic mood. At the time, Marshall was evolving from her indie roots to grander, blues-like material, while still retaining a confessional edge. Here, she’s aided by Korine, another artist who exists in both worlds without selling out. Fun fact: it’s lensed by the cinematographer of Before Sunrise and Boyhood.
“BTOUM-ROUMADA” BY APHEX TWIN IN MISTER LONELY (2007)
Skydiving is supposed to be scary. For the nuns of Mister Lonely, it’s just a simple leap of faith, reflected by the sounds of Aphex Twin’s ethereal harmonium. Unlike the great parachuting moments of Point Break and Mauvais Sang, this sequence doesn’t revel in fear or piercing winds. Instead, Korine allows Aphex Twin’s tranquillity to take over, while the nuns smile and hold hands. They don’t need parachutes because God will save them – or so they believe. Regardless of whether religion softens their fall, “Btoum-Roumada” is a non-lyrical expression of jumping from the heavens and momentarily believing you can fly.
“SINGLE GIRL, MARRIED GIRL” BY THE CARTER FAMILY IN TRASH HUMPERS (2009)
Bashing genitalia against rubbish bins, though it won’t sell out arenas, is a musical performance, and the rest of Trash Humpers also invents its own rudimentary soundtrack. Early on, the grotesque garbage fondlers cradle a toy baby and deliver an a capella rendition of “Single Girl, Married Girl”. The folk song’s innocence is somewhat corrupted by association, especially considering what happens to the doll in the following scene, but music – as with the “Sleep My Darling” lullaby of the finale – is how these outsiders keep in touch with their past lives, and deep down they’re just the same as us. Apart from the trash humping, of course.
“GOLD ON THE CEILING” BY THE BLACK KEYS (2011)
Shot in between Trash Humpers and Spring Breakers, Korine’s music video for The Black Keys feels like an arresting amalgamation of both projects. The former’s faded VHS aesthetic is here, along with muffled audio that drops out entirely, but the frame is filled with bright party balloons and textual mantras like “WE LOVE BOOTY”. It’s already unsettling to see The Black Keys hang out with their doppelgangers (costumed like babies), so Korine plunges the knife with pulsating visual loops. When the song ends, the ATL Twins appear, saying something indecipherable about cheese, so yes, it’s just also a promo for Spring Breakers.
“EVERYTIME” BY BRITNEY SPEARS IN SPRING BREAKERS (2012)
“Y’all want to see my sensitive side?” James Franco growls through his grill. The Disney girls are in ski masks while clutching guns, and yet “Everytime” – the lyrics supposedly respond to “Cry Me a River” – is appropriate: the sun is setting, the ocean is glowing, and by chance a grand piano happens to be on the beach. They sing the sombre Britney ballad without irony by tapping into its core sweetness and pop power – as done earlier, with “Baby, One More Time” – by tapping into its core sweetness and pop power. The accompanying montage of robbery and assault becomes overshadowed by female friendship, a glue strengthened by a mutual appreciation of Britney opening her formerly Disney heart. Spring break forever.