‘Transcendent Beauty and Bloemfontein’s Alternate Realities: Music, Masculinity and Desire in Skoonheid’

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract

Abstract / Description of output

The musical underscore to Oliver Hermanus’s Skoonheid, a film which won the so-called ‘Queer Palm’ Award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, has a highly circumscribed role; with just four cues, the music is only ever associated with the central character’s obsessive gaze at a younger man. These are long, voyeuristic sequences in which the musical flow seeks to pull the spectator into an immersive dream-like state that mirrors the protagonist’s reveries. Strikingly at odds with his compartmentalised and dissonant life as a ‘straight’ white middle-aged Afrikaans man in a small post- apartheid South Africa city, these transcendent moments also provide a shocking contrast to the un-scored, sexually violent climax of the film.

Taking Mark Slobin’s framing of film music practices as essentially ethnomusicological, this paper considers how a score might provide a film with a more abstract musical ethnography, in this case for an alternate reality conjured by the protagonist. While one of music’s roles in Skoonheid (released as Beauty in the US and UK) may be conventional – a hypnotic conduit for the audience’s recognition of and identification with the character’s feelings – I argue music in the film simultaneously charts a parallel universe, at odds with the film’s setting in Bloemfontein, one of the last outposts of conservative white Afrikanerdom in South Africa. Music is an analogue of the protagonist’s desire, a desire not just for another being but for another way of being.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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