Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Depth of Focus: Bjork Pt. 2

In the post Post era, Bjork shows no signs of comprimising the free spirit and creative guts she first expressed in the early 90's. The videos are perhaps even stranger and more challenging than before as the artist gained more confidence and the music itself moved into further experimentation. Most significantly Bjork slowly tapers off her professional love affair with iconic MV director Michel Gondry, which defined her early video career. Yet the quality of these projects is by no means lessened since Bjork continues to recruit the top directors in the world and brings out the best in whomever she chooses to work with. What she ends up with are a collection of some of the most intriguing music videos ever made.

In case you missed it, you can check out Part 1 of Bjork's videogrpahy here.

NOTE: Some of these are what you might term "NSFW," though to participate in censoring this stuff is probably completely anti-Bjork.

"Yoga" Homogenic (1997)

dir. by Michel Gondry

Basically a composition of thousands of still photographs Gondry took while canvassing the Icelandic countryside, this was Bjork's tribute to her homeland and her friends there. But the jerky quality of the nature photographs spliced together also reflects the "emotional landscapes" of Bjork's lyrics. They break apart and skip beats, all while holding court with the rhythm of the song.

Though these are based on real photographs, the director and his crew have digitally altered most of the earthy images to add a surreal effect to the cinematography. Bjork laying out among the rocks is herself a landscape to be examined, and what we glide across is perhaps her own surfaces cracking open. The final shot finally reveals the "emergency" within; an island of loneliness.

"Bachelorette" Homogenic (1997)

dir. by Michel Gondry

A brilliant video that is one of Gondry's most influential and beloved works, it concludes the epic nature cycle that began with "Human Behavior" and continued through "Isobel." Some of the same stylistic ploys are retained just as the music holds something of a connection with both previous songs. This part finds Isobel preparing to leave her forest of safety and affect the modern world with her story.

But of course life is never the fairy-tale we imagine it to be, and the Bachelorette's story is fated to end in heartbreak. Though she finds love when her publisher reads her autobiography, she is soon troubled by the tug of nature. Perhaps this love, which seems to be based on the attention and pride the publisher places in Isobel, removes her from her roots and is thus inevitably doomed. Yet it is even more likely that the corruption and illogic of "human behavior" is too fake for a child of mother nature. The plays become increasingly smaller and meaningless until everything is literally consumed by forces emerging from Isobel's original forest. The imagery of trains and bright lights contrasts greatly with the black and white classicism of the early scenes and the entirety of "Isobel." Perhaps another comparison between modern culture and the natural world - two forces doomed to never peacefully coexist. Regardless I can't help thinking that Will Ferrel's recent Stranger Than Fiction was more than inspired by this video.

"Hunter" Homogenic (1998)

dir. by Paul White

It's hard to argue against a theory of self-referencing among Bjork's videos. The image of the bear has been directly tied to her since "Human Behavior" and appeared once more in the unused animated clip for "Army of Me." Here it is used to again represent the suppressed instincts of Bjork, who proves her mesmerizing charm is still more than enough to sustain a video. She is so convincing at times that I'll have to admit I am often more interested in what is going on, than the transformation that takes place on.

"Alarm Call" Homogenic (1998)

dir. by Alexander McQueen

Bjork is quite literally radiant here; a bonafide Amazonian queen who isn't scared of happiness at all. Joy is translated as pleasure as Bjork lays out in the open, in the dark heart of human wilderness, slaying beast after beast. But as the tune suggests, the singer is facing these fears to reveal the power and possibilities of humanity - there is no need to fear the unknown. Furthermore she challenges conceptions of traditional morality by embracing her sexuality quite explicitly. She is immersing herself in her natural form, and it does wonders for her skin.

"Unravel" Homogenic (Concert Video)

dir. by Lynnfox

This beautiful interpretation of Bjork's unraveling love pinpoints the clever and facetious nature of the song. In lamenting the slipping nature of her feelings the singer hopes to lure her lover back home, so that they might "make new love." The grin on Bjork's face as she weaves her poetry says it all.

"All is Full of Love" Homogenic (1999)

dir. by Chris Cunningham

This highly erotic robot romance is a testament to Bjork's belief in the overpowering presence of a certain force in every aspect of existence. She has said that the song came to her upon taking a walk one spring morning and being flooded with this feeling of hope - "The song, in essence, is actually about believing in love."

Cunningham's creations are not fully formed when they spy each other, instead they are beings who openly display parts of their incomplete insides. But as they embrace and share certain milky fluids, the camera pans out to reveal a silhouetted figure that is complete - almost heart-shaped . The lyrics are equally cheesy but the instrumentation and Cunningham's overall treatment prevent things from ever going over-the-top. The final pan downwards across the endless set of black wires, which culminate (or originate, depending on how you want to see it) in the robots embrace, implies that the entire point of this grand machinery was love itself, and that until the moment of that physical realization it had no real meaning. Which is undoubtedly a beautiful idea.

"I've Seen It All" Selmasongs (2000)

dir. by Lars Von Trier

Though not neccesarily a true music video, this clip made the rounds on music television and comes from Lars Von Trier's unforgettable musical, Dancer in the Dark. Not only establishing Bjork as a credible actress on the world stage, the film features some of her strongest tracks and vocal performances. It's also true that Von Trier chose Bjork as his star after seeing her sparkle in Spike Jonze's musical-inspired "It's Oh So Quiet" video.

This climactic scene finds the tragic heroine Selma coming to terms with her blindness and yet finding joy in merely being alive. Though you may not necessarily get it from this video, it's a really heavy and heart-wrenching affair.

"Hidden Place" Vespertine (2001)

dir. by Inez + Vinoodh & M/M (Paris)

If you scroll up a bit you will remember "Hunter," which features a seemingly nude and bald Bjork singing in front of a white background while weird stuff happens to her head. Here it's nude Bjork, with a full head of blowing hair, standing against a black backdrop while weird stuff happens to her face. And both are unsurprisingly about love and sex and all that jazz.

While the lyrics and these opening shots tread some familiar grounds, the directors take the rest of the video into some unfamiliar places. As tears roll down her cheeks and into her mouth, and then back up through her nose, there seems to be a sense of pleasure in the cycle. Bjork licks her tears repeatedly and finds some comfort in the reality of her feelings. But inside there is a "hidden" self which is projecting these images. The ability to keep this part separate, to have her very own enclave of feeling and happiness, seems worth risking the pain of holding back in the outside world.

"Pagan Poetry" Vespertine (2001)

dir. by Nick Knight

Bjork's most personal video to date uncovers all the implications of the past and reveals a raw and beautiful portrait of a woman in love. The actress herself does a wonderful job of expressing the hesitations and doubts that flood her mind as she finally admits to herself her feelings.

The strategic turn in the video from the water-colors of the first half to the blunt realism of the second is very powerful in elaborating the elation of the moment. Once again Bjork stands in front of the camera, but this time she intentionally avoids its gaze, and the songs invitation to sing along, for most of the video. When she finally does succumb to her emotions we see in her face how ingrained in love she already is. She has actually sewn a wedding dress into her body.

"Cocoon" Vespertine (2001)

dir. by Eiko Ishioka

Directors love working with Bjork because she is such an expressive performer. As we've seen, many of her best videos are minimalistic in both execution and design. Ishioka's attempt at uncovering Bjork is perhaps more playful than Knight's, but it still feels part of the same dialogue. Whereas "Pagan Poetry" attempts to reveal some deep unseen sides of the songstress, "Cocoon" slowly covers up what has been so abruptly shown.

The imagery in the song is palpable, and Ishioka picks up on the "magical" "boy" in her "bosom" and sets it free for Bjork to wrap herself in. Obviously these videos where too hot for MTV, but now seeing them in the context of her entire career we can appreciate the slow yet steady opening up of Bjork's artistic expressions over time.

"Nature is Ancient" Homogenic 'Japanese Release' (2002)

dir. by Lynnfox

Featured on the Bachelorette single as "My Snare," it was also recently released on Bjork's Family Tree project. This somewhat hidden track turns out to be a rather close-up view of the Adam and Eve fable. And while there is an element of retelling in this study, it's unclear as to whether or not anything new is being related - other than the neat visuals.

"It's in Our Hands" Greatest Hits (2002)

dir. by Spike Jonze

The scary beings of the night are yet again overcome by the confident light of Bjork. The decision to use nightvision to film her as she traverses a dreamland of creepy creatures and giant sunflowers produces some amazing images and suggestive tones, even if the overall experience can feel somewhat redundant by the end. It's a dark track with a bright center, and when Bjork begins "look no further" and Jonze finds her behind a tree - there is a moment of real electricity. I would also add that it works a lot better if you don't watch it in YouTube.

"Oceania" Medulla (2004)

dir. by Lynnfox

Lynnfox really like their jelly-like creatures. Bjork wrote this tune for the Olympics in Greece from the perspective of the sea looking over the country, and the directors here use the same concepts as a base. While Bjork here kind of reminds me of the evil creature from The Little Mermaid, she also symbolizes the point of origin for all of civilization. Whether the song is a reference to Orwell or simply a new term for the ancient depths of the sea, the video gorgeously orchestrates the evolution of humanity towards sunlight.

"Who Is It? (Carry My Joy)" Medulla (2004)

dir. by Dawn Shadforth

This reminds me a lot of Polanski's Macbeth, and with the references to "crowns" and the boys dressed in chainmail-like outfits that may be intentional.

With the huge bell-based outfit that Bjork adorns she turns her entire body into an instrument, which is precisely what Medulla the album was all about. The music becomes a "fortress" of protection just like the Kunmin guard dogs that Bjork holds by a leash. When she asks herself "who is it?" the answer could be god, a lover or some other vague force - but it could also very likely be our individual selves who never let us down.

"Triumph of a Heart" Medulla (2005)

dir. by Spike Jonze

In Being John Malkovich and Adaptation director Jonze fuses reality and fiction to create a sense of absurd possibility in the everyday. Here he does similar things with what is narrative and what is actually happening on the set of the shoot. The interweaving of the two settings are shown through suggestive cuts and costumes.

There are a number of different things going on in this story, including a deconstruction of the music itself. But everything from the nonsensical cat boyfriend to the drunken night on the town comes from the same source. The crazy fun that permeates this video is exactly the triumph of a heart that gives all.

"Where is the Line?" Medulla (2005)

dir. by Gabriela Fridriksd├│ttir

This disturbing and almost frightening video was the director's first, and it rightfully shows many signs of amateur skills. There are some creative ideas at the core which hinge on the song's dark theme of abuse and exploitation, but the treatment is less than adequate and ultimately fails to engage.


"Earth Intruders" Volta (2007)

dir. by Michel Ocelot

Bjork and first-time director Michel Ocelot invert our typical expectations of invasion by depicting a revolution that starts from within - these are soldiers digging themselves out of the very earth which they proceed to conquer. They are described as "intruders" only because they bring a "shower of goodness" to a world accustomed to turmoil, carnage and rambling.

The leader of this dance is Mother Bjork, calling on the spirits of her beloved land in the way only she can. The singer described the inspiration behind this track in a recent Pitchfork interview, "I mean, the human race, we are a tribe, let's face it, and let's stop all this religious bullshit...We're all fucking animals, so let's just make some universal tribal beat," and the video captures this particular sentiment of the song very well. The march here is not one of robotic acceptance, but a joyous and free-flowing rebellion. The shadowy figures take serious aim at the drudge of society, but have fun while doing so. After trudging through the muddy darkness of this "intrusion," Bjork stands content in the light of a new morning - the beautiful Earth resting clean behind her.

Back to Part 1 of the Bjork Depth of Focus...


Anonymous said...

You left Unravel out, if not any other also.

Anonymous said...

Unravel is not an official video release. It was created as a background visual, along with the videos for Pluto, Desired Constellation, It's In Our Hands (SPT Mix) and Nameless for her Greatest Hits tour in 2003.

Imran said...

we debated whether or not to post those, but since you guys mentioned it we decided to post "Unravel" since of the five it seemed the most compelling

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Kyle said...

Fantastic Bjork timeline. I don't know if I'm just reading into these too much, but I can't help but feel a Matthew Barney influence in the later videos... and I don't mean his clear presence in "Pagan Poetry". I'm talking about the "Cocoon" ribbons, the "Who Is It" leashed dogs (goats in Cremaster 3), and the final obvious liquifying wax reference in "Where Is The Line". Any thoughts?

Ronnell D. Porter said...

What was that video where Bjork's in some sort of spa/hot spring, and there are geisha's tending to her while she plays nude in the water? I liked the song in the vid, but I can't seem to find it anywhere...

Mergeti said...

I think you mean Possibly Maybe, possibly maybe?

Depth of Focus Videographies: Radiohead / Bjork / Michael Jackson / Bowie