“If you are the type of person that is prone to walking out, you should do it now,” Harmony Korine told the packed crowd at the New York Film Festival last night.
The crowd was there for the US premiere of Korine’s “Trash Humpers,” which debuted to an incredibly polarizing response at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. There, those prone to walking out did just that, which wasn’t surprising considering what “Humpers” entails. Described by Korine as “a film unearthed from the buried landscape of the American nightmare,” “Humpers” follows a small group of elderly, deformed sociopaths as they wander the back streets of Nashville, getting drunk, breaking televisions, and, yes, humping trash cans. Assembled with little narrative as if it was found footage, the film was shot without a script, and entirely on VHS.
But last night the audience – made up mostly of men in their twenties and thirties – not only stayed put, they seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves. After the screening, one audience member branded Korine “a distinctly American filmmaker,” asking him if he agreed. Korine admitted he liked the label and considers himself patriotic. “I would almost say I’m the most American director,” Korine smiled, “Except for Clint Eastwood maybe.”
The day before, Korine sat down with a decidedly less enthusiastic crowd at the film’s press conference. The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Richard Pena moderated the discussion, first asking Korine where exactly the idea for “Humpers” evolved from.
“I grew up very close to – and live now very close to – where we filmed it,” Korine said. “My wife bought this little dog and she made me walk it two or three times a day. So I would walk it in these back alleys, and generally I like to walk at night. And I would remember as a kid how I spent most of my life in abandoned parking lots and back alleyways and under bridges and things. They now are just littered with garbage and these large garbage bins. So sometimes when I walked through these alleys, the [garbage bins] would resemble humans to me – the way they would be laying or falling on the ground. And I don’t know what happened, but I just started imaginging what it would be like to hump them.”
Korine later elaborated on his childhood experience, explaining that when he was a kid, there used to be “a group of older people that would sometimes peep in windows in neighbourhoods.” He would often catch them peeping in the window of the girl next door.
“They kind of seemed like they lived in the shadows,” he said. “And I guess what it is, is that I live in a place that allows me to close my eyes and just dream and fantasize and let my thoughts go in certain directions. With this movie, I just started by putting these images and ideas together. It started out as photographs. I would dress my assistant up like these characters and go out late at night with these really bad disposable cameras and just kind of photograph him. I used these images as a kind of template for this movie.”
Korine started filming “Humpers” four months ago, and said that made for a much more liberating process compared to this last film, “Mr. Lonely.”
“The experience I had with my last movie was really terrible,” he said. “The making of it was great, but everything that surrounded it was awful – in how long it took and in how frustrating the process was. I wouldn’t say that movies need to change, but the way in which films are made, maybe, needs to change. It’s too slow. It’s too inhibiting. It costs too much money. There seems to be an opposition to experimentation. And so, I wanted to get to a point where I could just kind of have an idea. The way a painter would have an image that he could just quickly begin to paint. I wanted to do something like that with movies.”
Korine said he wanted to make “Humpers” as quickly as he could think up the idea. So he figured out some locations and gathered some friends to help him, and then started filming.
“Once I took these photos and I figured out what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it, the whole shoot was like a little over two weeks,” he said. “And it was kind of like real time. We were just out there wandering around. Most of the time we didn’t even have cars. We would just walk through tunnels and under bridges and swamps and go into houses, just knocking on doors. That was it. Once we were committed to those characters and that kind of psychotic behavior, it was more about losing yourself in it. So in the way it was directed – I would just close my eyes and say, ‘just go.'”
Korine cautioned that taking in “Humpers” under the expectations of what most consider a “movie” could be problematic.
“Maybe it’s not a movie,” he said. “I’ll be the first to say it. Maybe it’s something else. I wanted to make something that’s more like an artifact. Something that was unearthed. Something that was found. And you can imagine it buried in a ditch somewhere, and you just happen upon this old VHS tape. So, once the characters worked themselves out and we figured out how we were going to do it techincally, it became a kind of journey. What you see very much resembles the way we did it.”
“Trash Humpers” screens at the New York Film Festival again tonight. It currently does not have distribution.
[Eugene Hernandez contributed to this article.]