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Harmony Korine Talks ‘Spring Breakers’, Narrative Freedom & Why The ATL Twins Make America Great

Harmony Korine Talks 'Spring Breakers', Narrative Freedom & Why The ATL Twins Make America Great

After opening in New York and Los Angeles last Friday, this weekend, U.S. audiences will get to see the latest fucked-up cinematic opus from enfant terrible Harmony Korine. “Spring Breakers,” featuring James Franco alongside an unlikely young cast including Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson, tells the story of four bored college coeds (the aforementioned three actresses plus Rachel Korine, the director’s wife) who rob a restaurant to fund a booze-and-drug-fueled trip to Florida, only to fall in with Franco’s Alien, a rapper and gangster who loves spring break (calling it “the American dream”) almost as much as he loves
the four females leads, and their brazen acceptance of the criminal lifestyle.  

In his review of the film from Venice last year, The Playlist‘s Oli Lyttelton quite nicely stated, “midnight movie programmers of the future will undoubtedly give it a long life years after it’s gone from first-run theaters.” This writer agrees — it’s probably my favorite film of 2013 so far. Regardless of whatever arbitrary rating you want to slap on “Spring Breakers,” it’s thrilling, hilarious, original, weird and stylish as hell, everything we’ve come to expect from Korine, just in a shiny new package. In his 20-year career thus far, the self-professed “soldier of cinema” has constantly surprised us with bold, sometimes perplexing but always distinct choices every time out, proving that while most American filmmakers are happy to turn right or left towards tried and true (and often safe) routes in their careers, Korine basically flips off all sides and continues to carve his own path. 

With “Spring Breakers,” I left the theater feeling how accurately you nailed the juxtaposition of the spring break experience: the fun, wild, craziness of it all along with darker, nihilistic and disgusting aspects.
Harmony Korine: Oh yeah, it’s just that sometimes things are both, right? It’s weird, in some ways it’s not meant to be a movie purely about spring break. Spring break is a metaphor for the rest of the story and some ways representative of that dream that you’re talking about. Things seem perfect at first, for one day. The longer you go, the more horrible it gets, and then it veers closer to the feeling you experiencing in the film. But yeah, I wanted the movie to have that feeling; be a reinterpretation of that world.

When you make something more accessible and “mainstream” like this, especially when you work with bigger actors, there are limitations to that. What do you think working under these confines did for you as a filmmaker?
It was fun because all the actors worked at their job, they all did their part and played their roles, they all were willing to take it to the extremes. All of the actors and actresses were at a point in their lives where they were ready to do something more extreme, more graphic, a different kind of acting style. So I don’t feel like I had to make any concessions working with them.

The editing by Douglas Crise is amazing. It’s as if the film itself is hung-over, like trying to remember a few wild nights of partying and seemingly random pieces will pop up out of nowhere in that memory.
Yeah, we wanted the film to have this boozy, liquid narrative vibe to it. I wanted it to be images and sounds coming back, this kind of propulsive, frenetic and murky narrative. It was more about capturing this specific energy, something more wild and more closely replicating a drug experience. Something that was more hallucinatory, transcendent, more physical, emotional, you know, and at the same time make it exciting.

As a filmmaker you’ve never really been interested in narrative, so what would your response be to some critics of the film who say “Spring Breakers” is thin on story?
I wouldn’t respond because I’m fine with that. I think with narrative, if that’s what people are looking for, like a Tom Clancy novel or something, that’s not what I do. I’m not interested in that. This film does have a distinctive and specific narrative, and a simple narrative, but also there’s a lot of complexity that surrounds it. I’m welcoming and open to all interpretations.

Have you been influenced by Gaspar Noe since becoming friends and working with him? You employed his usual DP Benoit Debie on this film, and he captured a similar look with this and “Enter the Void” as far as the colors and the hallucinatory feel.
Yeah, Gaspar is a really good friend of mine and I wasn’t sure how I would shoot it. Benoit is very, very inventive, and again, I wanted something outside the realm of a traditional narrative film, something more epic, almost like a video game or a pop song. Benoit is incredible when it comes to making things like the colors you mentioned and a total dimension, and, yeah, he’s one of the best.

You’re 40 years old now, and it seems like you’ve really mellowed out with age. It’s maybe not totally fair to say you were confrontational in interviews at a younger age, but that element of your persona seems to have mellowed a bit.
Yeah probably. In some ways that’s probably the case. I try to filter all the aggression in to the films, in to the work. All that gnarly energy goes in to the movies and the artwork and stuff, so it’s all there but I just try to put it out in a different way.

Can you talk about the influence from your father, Sol Korine, on your work? From what I understand he produced documentaries for PBS in the ’70s and was interested in colorful, Southern characters, which seems like a very direct inspiration.
Yeah he’s great. He’s a filmmaker that made some really amazing documentaries in the ’70s and early ’80s with his partner Blaine Dunlap. They were always attracted to something with a distraction in it as well as the more marginalized characters, a lot of Southern eccentrics like moonshiners, carnies and fire breathers. I spent a year of my life living with a carnival, traveling through Florida as a kid. They were drawn to those types of characters so growing up around that stuff and watching them make films, you know, for much of my life, I got to see a lotta good shit. It definitely shaped my worldview.

Talk about working with the ATL Twins, who appear as James Franco’s sort of henchmen, for this film.
I mean, the ATL Twins are what makes America great. They’re just like the most perfect scumbags to ever exist. They’re pure delinquents, almost like non-human. Their whole philosophy has been distilled in to this idea of the power of the double penetration, a double dick. That’s basically how they’ve distilled all their beliefs, into that idea. They don’t even drink water, they just live off of vicoden and Red Bull and menthol cigarettes and they just piss kidney stones all day. They’re kind of like first class citizens. They’re unbelievable. How could you not be drawn to that?

Any other up and coming freaks or outsiders we should be on the lookout for who you’ve discovered and are waiting to use in the future?
Ceddy Bu Da Rap Sumo

Will “Fight Harm” ever be released?
I don’t know, I have to wait and see. It’s one of those things I go back and forth on, whether it’s more powerful as an idea or whether I should show knife fights. Only time will tell. It’s difficult for me to make that decision to show it. It’s just brutal. And it’s also hilarious, but it’s hard for me to go back and look at that. It was pretty intense. 

A few years ago you mentioned you were working on something involving a voodoo tap dancer, is that a reality, is it something we’ll ever get to see?
You mean the video that’s like an instructional voodoo dance video? Yeah, that’s something that will probably come out. My only fear with that is I’ve shown it to a few people and it’s fucked them up really badly, like they go in to almost a trance. It brings out some really weird shit in people. The hard part is trying to get them out of that experience and be able to dance in reverse.

You’ve directed James Franco in “Spring Breakers” and collaborated with him on some art projects as well, will you work with him more in the future?
Oh yeah for sure, I think this is just the beginning. He’s one of America’s great actors. We’re friends, we always talked about working together. It was just a matter of finding a character. I feel like at heart, at his core, he’s a great character actor and he’d never been given the chance to play someone like this, to explode onscreen…it’s gonna be hard for him to top this shit. 

“Spring Breakers” is an incredibly subversive film, and a lot of that stems from lead actresses. Was that the idea from the beginning, to subvert expectations and even confuse the audience expecting something else from these actors?
Totally, I was really excited by the prospect of fans coming to see this film and having this type of experience outside the realm of stuff that most of them have seen. That was definitely a bonus.

“Spring Breakers” opens in wide release on March 22nd.

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