Before we dive in, a bit of history;
In the twelve years since Harmony Korine first appeared on David Letterman’s show to promote his work on Larry Clark’s Kids, he has gone on to produce only two polarizing feature-length films of his own; Gummo (1997) and Julien Donkey Boy (1999), the latter of which was the first American film (and maybe the only one ?!?) produced under the rules of the Danish Dogme ’95 manifesto. Since this blog strives to keep things as personal as possible, I’ll come clean and say that I truly admired both films. Neither was an ‘entertainment’ and neither was (formally speaking) anything earth-shatteringly new (what in this day and age can be?), but in my opinion, both films showed a deep sense of feeling that is very, very rare in American movies; If you’re looking to understand the outsider and the deep sense of social alienation that exists on the fringes of American society, you could do a lot worse than Harmony Korine’s movies.
Of course, as any artist who is experimenting with the conventions and expectations in the cinema must do, Korine walks the razor’s edge between examination and exploitation (see my defense of Todd Solondz for more on this subject) and I think a lot of people make a classic mistake when watching Korine’s films, which is to paste their own feelings about the characters over the top of what is actually being presented on the screen. It is a very tough call to make, but when I hear people saying things like “what a bunch of freaks and losers”, etc. in relation to fictional characters, I always believe that these criticisms say far more about the predispositions and prejudices of the critic than they necessarily do about the subjects in the films themselves. Of course, exploitation does exist in film, but a lack of irony is always a tell tale sign to me; Without an ironic, non-literal sensibility, I think films generally run a much greater risk of transforming earnestness into exploitation. A lack of irony is never a problem for Korine, but I do think he is very much connected to and caring toward his characters; For me, he is a deeply compassionate filmmaker, who uses his characters and situations to both critique social norms and to express what I can only assume is a personal sense of isolation. His films are full of the feeling of being a stranger to the artificial social relations that make up most of what passes for human interaction these days; That handshake on the Letterman show really says it all, no?
Which is why, when I first heard about his new film Mr. Lonely, I knew simply from the title that the film seemed to fit naturally into Korine’s body of work; The title alone seems to be a perfect summation of his work so far. In 2006, I was lucky enough to have dinner with Werner Herzog in Sarasota, and he had flown in to our festival directly from Costa Rica, where he had just finished shooting his scenes for Mr. Lonely; Werner explained his role as a mad priest who flies a bomber and unloads a payload of bicycling nuns over missionary areas. He relayed the story with a grand smile; After his gas-masked cough-syrup induced hallucinatory role in Julien Donkey Boy, he seemed positively tickled about working on Harmony’s new film. Having read very little about the film in advance (because who you gonna trust on Harmony Korine?), I do know that the film is about a commune for celebrity impersonators which sounds like a terrific vehicle for Korine’s own brand of “outsider” art; People so alienated from themselves, they live out their fantasies of being important by pretending to be someone else. I am very much looking forward to seeing where the movie takes us, and how far Korine has come since 1999.
Like Mike: “Michael Jackson” (Diego Luna) Meets “Marilyn Monroe” (Samantha Morton) On The Champs-Élysées In Harmony Korine’s Mister Lonely.
Mister Lonely is playing at the 2007 Toronto Film Festival in the festival’s Vanguard section.
Tomorrow: Julian Schnabel’s Le Scaphandre Et Le Papillon (The Diving Bell And The Butterfly)