“Everybody’s youth is a dream, a form of chemical madness. How pleasant then to be insane!” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, and Other Stories
Harmony Korine (b. 1973) counts among the few authentic artists working within American cinema today. Admired by Werner Herzog, who has named Korine a “warrior of cinema” and acted in two of his films, Korine has remained true to the promise of his acclaimed and controversial 1997 debut Gummo, a visually dazzling and richly archaic film poem about untamed, misfit youth made with a cast of principally non-actors and following an oneiric and associational collage structure. Channeling the creative spirit and visionary film language of Jean Vigo, Béla Tarr and Leos Carax, Gummo also announced Korine’s abiding preoccupation with radically dysfunctional families which has remained a major theme of his work and has made him, arguably, a secret heir of sorts to Nicholas Ray. In subsequent work such as julien donkey-boy and Mister Lonely, Korine has continued to define a brand of high art film quite unlike any other, alternately injected with melancholy and whimsy and pervaded throughout by a trance inducing, indeed at times almost hallucinatory, quality. A true independent in an age when “indie” filmmaking has become a deliberately false label and cover for formulaic mainstream pabulum, Korine’s films offer a sustained critique of the artistic vacuity effecting so much of contemporary American cinema. With his latest film, Spring Breakers, Korine offers a full-on siege of Hollywood with a delirious, ribald and ultra-violent teensploitation picture that upturns and explodes every rule of the genre, its extreme characters cartoon versions of sexual nymphs and villains that horrifically and hilariously embody the worst Bacchanalian and narcissistic tendencies in American youth and pop culture today.We are thrilled that Harmony Korine will accompany his films on two evenings at the HFA to discuss his provocative work. — Haden Guest
Directed by Larry Clark. With Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce,
US 1995, digital video, color, 91 min
Korine was a precocious eighteen-year-old when he wrote the taut and unflinching screenplay for Larry Clark’s still controversial semi-documentary about destructive New York City youth driven by unfettered hedonism and a quenchless thirst for drugs, skateboarding and spontaneous sex. Together Korine and Clark created a dark, alarming and deeply compelling cautionary tale about youth whose moral compass has gone fatally awry, drifting in a narcissistic and lonely fog, naïve to the world around them, and dangerously glib about the grave dangers of love in the age of AIDS.
Directed by Harmony Korine. With Jacob Reynolds, Nick Sutton,
US 1997, 35mm, color, 95 min
In his debut feature, Korine populates a dystopic heartland with amateur actors and shoots them in a gritty cinéma-vérité style that gives the work the feel of a documentary, although it is actually scripted and acted. Gummo is set in the real-life, deadbeat town of Xenia, Ohio, portrayed by Korine as a roach-infested, garbage-strewn hellhole, once ravaged by a tornado and now left with only its human wreckage intact. Devoid of a stated moral position and totally neutral in its depiction of the degradations inflicted on its subjects, Gummo chronicles the ways in which the local teens manage to inure themselves to violence, sexual perversion, and responsibility for their actions.
Directed by Larry Clark and Edward Lachman. With Adam Chubbuck,
James Bullard, Seth Gray
US/Netherlands/France 2002, 35mm, color, 96 min
Seven years after Kids, Korine joined forces once more with Larry Clark, channeling his vision of teenage angst and the impossible gulf between the adolescence and adulthood into an even more controversial screenplay, this time centered around the enigmatic on-camera suicide of the moody titular skater and the disaffected lives of his close friends. Kinetically intercutting the downward spiraling struggles of four ill-fated teenagers, Clark’s film delivers both an elegy of lost youth and an extreme, deliberately caricatured critique of abusive parents cruelly releasing their frustrations and anger upon their unwitting kin. Still unreleased in the US and banned in Australia, Ken Park hovers as a missing link, and fascinating endnote, in Clark and Korine’s careers.
Directed by Harmony Korine. With Ewen Bremner, Brian Fisk,
US 1999, 35mm, color, 100 min
Harmony Korine’s second feature presents a string of grotesqueries set in Queens, New York, where a schizophrenic (Bremner, of Trainspotting fame) lives with his pregnant sister (Sevigny), his cough syrup–chugging father (Herzog), his athlete brother, and his grandmother. One of the first works to fully exploit the hallucinatory, impressionistic possibilities of digital video, julien donkey-boy deploys a whole new palette of electric colors as Korine traces – sometimes comically, sometimes tragically, and always outrageously – his hero’s efforts to find a place for himself in an increasingly absurd, violent world. Print courtesy of Warner Bros.
Directed by Harmony Korine. With Diego Luna, Samantha Morton,
UK/France/US 2008, 35mm, color, 112 min
After not directing for several years, Korine’s career took an unexpected turn with his whimsical, fantastical comeback film, a floating dream narrative about family and utopian fantasy co-written with his brother Avi. Mister Lonely is loosely structured as a diptych whose first half focuses on a zealous priest- played no less by Werner Herzog- airdropping supplies to nuns, some with miraculous powers, deep in a remote South American jungle. The film’s second half offers a lush, unresolved fable about a community of celebrity doppelgangers living in the Scottish Highlands and played by an unusual all-star cast including Diego Luna, Samantha Morton, James Fox and Leos Carax favorite Denis Lavant. Largely misunderstood and dismissed by critics, Mister Lonely reveals a different gentler side of Korine, showcasing his full talents as a visual stylist through its haunting and painterly tableaux imagery. Print courtesy of IFC Films.
Directed by Harmony Korine. With Chris Hanley, Jordan Gertner,
US 2012, 35mm, color, 94 min
Korine's latest film is a subversive and exhilarating ride through the adjacent Florida underworlds of spring break saturnalias and drug smuggling gangsters, starring James Franco as Alien, a suave rapper bandit intent on corrupting four college women, runaways with a growing attraction to dangerous thrills. Poised as a teensploitation film, Spring Breakers tears to shreds the mainstream mantle of its "girls gone wild" theme by pushing to a bold extreme the film's sex and violence, brazenly highlighting its raciest moments in the bright neon of the girls' scanty bikinis and the flash of Franco's metal-clad teeth. The vertiginous cinematography by Gaspar Noé's regular DP, Benoît Debie, only accelerates the ambiguously spiraling course of the morally liberated Spring Breakers as they blaze a trail of gleeful destruction and set ablaze the candy colored fantasy kingdom constructed by Korine. Print courtesy of A24.
Directed by Harmony Korine. With Rachel Korine, Brian Kotzur,
UK/US 2010, 35mm, color, 78 min
A (not so) secret sequel to Gummo, Korine’s fourth feature returned once more to the Nashville hometown that was the indelible setting of his debut film, offering now a garish, nocturnal vision not of feral, feverish youth but of gothic geriatrics, rubber masked, hunch-backed caricatures of decrepitude lurking in alleys and under bridges to enact ritualistic, almost folkloric, decapitations of dolls and sexual release on the lumpy bags of garbage that are their objects of ecstatic fascination. Shot on ultra low-res video and gleefully rejecting any pretense at narrative structure, Trash Humpers drives a sharpened rusty spur into the flank of glib YouTube narcissism, offering its shimmering video imagery of degenerate “homeless movies” as an antidote to facile DYI cinema. Ralph Eugene Meatyard’s haunting photographic poems and William Eggleston’s cult video, Stranded in Canton, haunt Korine’s most ambitious and still misunderstood anti-cinema manifesto. Print courtesy of Drag City.