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Girl Gangstas :: Harmony Korine on ’Spring Breakers’

by Jake Mulligan
Contributor
Tuesday Apr 2, 2013
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Harmony Korine’s films have always been about eccentrics on the outskirts of society; but now he’s made one about the eccentrics who define the mainstream.

His latest, "Spring Breakers," is a hodgepodge of youth culture’s most pervasive obsessions - vapid pop music, gangsta rap motifs, the color pink, debaucherous vacations, retarded sexuality. Yes, his last film was "Trash Humpers;" but "Spring Breakers" is the true work of trash-art.

It’s also meticulously crafted, infinitely pleasurable to watch, and dense with social commentary. Hell, Korine’s fifth film is a paradox: at age 40, this enfant terrible grew up, earned widespread critical respect, and released his latest work nationwide, in a theater count that dwarfs the release of all his other pictures combined. And he did it all by making a movie that feels truly, sincerely, young. How does that happen?


I don’t know, and I’m not convinced Harmony does either. Speaking to him over the phone a few days after his film’s national release - once its success has been ratified and confirmed - he still seems reticent to commit to anything about his approach or his aims. It’s probably just an offshoot of his place in the art world; but he seems a bit more interested in deflecting questions than in answering them.

It’s probably for the best. The whole beauty of "Breakers" is the unrelenting unexplainable-ness of it all - the way a bunch of familiar elements, like the stars and the music and the cultural signifiers, all coalesce into something at once unfamiliar and entrancing (it’s a pacifier that we didn’t know we needed.)

Reports place Korine hanging out at multiplexes in Nashville, catching repeated screenings of the film while greeting patrons. The idea of a Harmony Korine film in multiplexes - and, also, of Harmony Korine in a multiplex - seems exciting to everyone, including the man himself.


Hanging out at screenings

EDGE: So I hear you’ve been hanging out at a local Nashville theater, saying hello to people as they come to see your movie.

Harmony Korine: Yeah. I’ve been doing intros, because the theater is right by my house. It’s nice.

EDGE: It gets me wondering - do you actually go to the movies, see general releases at the multiplexes?

Harmony Korine: Yeah, definitely. I definitely go to films.

EDGE: I ask because it definitely feels like ’Spring Breakers’ is riffing on things like ’Project X,’ or B-action movies, but I have trouble imagining you sitting down to watch any of those.

Harmony Korine: Well, when I made that movie [’Spring Breakers’] - well, when I make movies in general, I stop watching movies. For the most part, about a year beforehand, unless there’s something specific that I feel relates to what I’m trying to do. But for the most part, I just shut off. Almost just to ... dream, and get into my own mind.


Music integral

EDGE: Something you do in this movie is employ rap music and also electronic music in an integral way; as part of the fabric rather than as a patch over a scene. Is that partially because they’ve been underused in cinema up until now?

Harmony Korine: Well.. yeah, kind of, actually. But it was also because... it just felt right. It related specifically to the culture of the film, the characters, the storyline.

I wanted to make a film that was a physical experience, that was related to music in a very specific way. I wanted the movie itself to feel like electronic music - hook based, with certain things that repeat like choruses and hooks. In Sunny and Cliff’s score... there was something relentless and beautiful about it.

EDGE: Speaking of the youth culture, that’s what most critics seem to be latching onto here - the music, the subversion of the American dream, all that. But to me, this seems a film much more preoccupied with concepts of race than with those other ideas... is that reading too much into things?

Harmony Korine: Yeah, well, you know. It’s all by design. The patchwork of the film, it’s a cultural mashup. Race, and racial appropriation... that’s definitely a theme. I won’t talk too specifically about it because I want people to come up with their own... I want people to... look, I will say, it’s all in there.


Infuriating audiences?

EDGE: All this - the music, the stars, even the controversial aspects - you seem to be consciously making an attempt to strike the zeitgeist. Putting this movie in multiplexes - does that come from a sincere desire to expand the audience, or is there at least a little bit of perverse pleasure coming from springing this movie on the type of people it satirizes?

Harmony Korine: Well I just feel happy that it exists in that arena. I never wanted to limit the films. It was always just - for whatever reason - the movies that I made in the past kind of played in the more selective way. A rarified, stranger way. I never liked that. I always wanted the films to be seen by as many people as possible. It’s terrific.

EDGE: Because look, I spend a lot of time in multiplexes, and half the people walking out love your movie; but the other half seem infuriated.

Harmony Korine: [Legitimately giggles.] You know, I don’t go for any specific reaction. I just hope that people are entertained by what I’m doing.

"Spring Breakers" is in theaters.


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