Harmony Korine first transplanted his exuberant style to Florida with “Spring Breakers,” but his next movie is likely to cement his status in the Sunshine State. In “The Beach Bum,” Korine chronicles the quirky antics of a wandering Florida poet named Moondog, played by Matthew McConaughey under a flamboyant blonde wig. While Neon will release the movie in March 2019, Korine finished it earlier this year, and spent some time over the weekend at the Key West Film Festival sharing anecdotes from his experiences.
After Korine received the festival’s Golden Key award from Florida Keys Film Commissioner Chad Newman, I moderated an hourlong conversation with the filmmaker. Korine provided new details about his offbeat stoner comedy and shared a clip. He also explained his decision to move to Florida year-round, screened a recent short film, and revealed a snippet from a long-lost project that fans have obsessed over for years.
McConaughey Peed a Lot
As Moondog, McConaughey plays a carefree man whose ambling adventures suggest The Dude from “The Big Lebowski” stumbling into a Cheech and Chong picture. Moondog may be a stoner, but he drinks a lot, too. That presented a unique challenge for the production, which Korine shot all over Key West and Miami, with one recurring motif finding Moondog drinking and urinating off various boat docks. “A lot of the time we were just filming him drinking and peeing,” Korine said. “That’s probably one of the purest things you can do simultaneously as a human — drinking and peeing. So we wanted to tap into that, the essence of his character, someone taking in and putting out all the time. Sucking in a world and peeing it out.”
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With reports of the production circulating in local newspapers, locals and tourists often noticed McConaughey in character, wandering the scene. “You’d get a crowd around the schlong,” Korine said, laughing. He declined to elaborate on the explicitness of the scenes, and demurred when asked if McConaughey wore a prosthetic or exposed himself on camera. “That, I’m not getting into,” Korine said.
In “Spring Breakers,” Korine sought out established cultural figures whose images he could rework, providing subversive new material for pop star Selena Gomez and Disneyfied teen stars Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens. By bringing McConaughey back to his stoner roots in a post-McConaissance era, Korine said he hoped to achieve a similar effect. “I always like playing with the real actor persona, the pop persona, what’s authentic to the person, and then push it out to the stratosphere,” he said. “He plays with the idea of what people imagine him to be, and kind of takes it into another radical direction.”
Snoop Dogg Is…Lingerie
In the clip from “The Beach Bum” screened at the talk, Moondog is seen speeding to his daughter’s wedding, which is officiated by Snoop Dogg, who explains to the groom that “this family is fucked up.” The collaboration recalls Korine’s earlier work with fellow rapper Gucci Mane, who played the villain in “Spring Breakers.” Korine originally wrote the role for the rapper to play himself in the movie, but Snoop had some other ideas when he signed on. “He called me and said, ‘I have one change,’” Korine said. “I want to be called Lingerie. They call me Rie, short for Lingerie, because I’m smooth and silky. I was like, ‘That’s a great idea.’” The change did create one ripple on the set. “His clothes actually say Snoop on them in the movie,” Korine said. “I was gonna correct it, but I just liked it.”
More Fun With Cast
Despite McConaughey’s central role, “The Beach Bum” is actually an ensemble work, with a number of Florida locals cropping up in various scenes (some of whom showed up at the festival talk). The cast also includes bit parts for Zak Efron and Jonah Hill, but Korine was especially excited about a supporting role for Martin Lawrence, who plays a character named Captain Wack. “Martin is one of my favorite comedic actors ever and I knew he hadn’t done much in a while,” Korine said. “So when I wrote the character of Captain Wack, I was so thrilled to have him. He’s a comic genius.” Korine wanted Lawrence to drive a neon jeep covered in coconuts that Key West locals know well; its owner sells coconut water around the island. “I was going to use the coconut car, but it could only drive a quarter mile,” Korine said. “We had to replicate it. We turned it into something else, but the coconut guy was pissed.”
Korine also managed to write in another supporting role for musician Jimmy Buffett, whose relaxed tropical melodies are in tune with Moondog’s ethos. “I’ve always loved him,” Korine said. “He’s never done anything like that movie ever. I had no idea if he’d do something like that. He’s like a hero of mine. We went out to Jimmy and he’s in the movie. It’s like a dream when I see him onscreen.”
A Different Approach
While the trailer for “The Beach Bum” hints at a familiar comedy subgenre, Korine retained his unorthodox approach to the production, which was shot by “Spring Breakers” cinematographer Benoit Debie.
As with that movie, Korine used multiple setups for the same scene, allowing for more experimentation on the set and in the editing room. “I don’t really do continuity in the traditional way,” Korine said. “I’ll shoot almost the entire film like two or three times over in different ways because I never know what I’m going to like until I cut it together. It’s a very nontraditional way of cutting film and it’s always rolling. I never stop.” He distanced himself from the idea of improvisation. “It’s more like riffing off something as opposed to making things up,” he said.
“The Trap” Could Still Happen
Following the surprise commercial success of “Spring Breakers,” Korine initially had a different project in mind: “The Trap,” a very different sort of Florida-based story that at one point had Jamie Foxx and Benicio del Toro attached to star. But a series of complications arose during the pre-production stage. “This fucking thing fell apart,” Korine said. “I was like a month away from making it in Miami.” He described the project as “a gangster film … about a rapper who lives in Miami and goes to prison. It’s super violent.” After securing financing for the picture, “one of the actors had some issues, and a scheduling conflict,” Korine said. “Rather than get depressed or freak out, I needed to make something right away, so I wrote something that was the opposite of that. I felt like making a comedy, I felt like laughing, I wanted to do something that was more of a stoner vibe. And that was when I wrote ‘The Beach Bum.’”
He still thinks “The Trap” has potential. “I’m going to go back and make it,” he said. But when pressed to describe his next project, Korine diverted to an idea that lit up the room, even as his playful demeanor left his real intentions unclear. “I want to remake that movie ‘Cocoon,’” he said. Then he changed his mind and suggested that a “Children of Corn” remake was on his docket instead. From the audience, someone shouted, “‘Children of the Cocoon’!” Korine smiled. “That’s a great title,” he said.
“You Do Not Have to Give Your Soul to the Douche”
The filmmaker often juggles commercial work, including recent spots for Dior and Under Armour. Korine said the side work hasn’t really gotten in the way of his original projects. “If I shoot ads, I do like one a year,” he said. “Look, it’s different if you’re doing a douche commercial than if you’re doing your own thing. For the douche commercial, you can just be detached. You do not have to give your soul to the douche.” The Florida crowd, perhaps recognizing the potential for a Key West t-shirt slogan, cracked up. “Yeah, it’s awesome being me!” he said, and chuckled. “You can just toss some shit out there and people want to sign up. It’s a good gig to do enough work that people like. Maybe it’s not what everyone does normally, and if they see merit in a way that’s something they don’t do often.”
Korine also busies himself with short film projects, one of which screened during the Key West conversation: “Drum Ass,” a dreamlike seven-minute short featuring a handful of Russian characters in Florida as they roam through an ominous nighttime milieu and eventually drift into the fog on a boat covered in neon lights. Korine worked with “A Star Is Born” cinematographer Matthew Libatique for the project, which first screened in Paris for a monthlong exhibition of his work at the Centre Pompidou in late 2017. Korine said he was in awe of Libatique’s work. “When you work with guys like Matty or Benoit Debie, they can paint pictures,” Korine said. “You’re able to express yourself with form, with shadows, with colors, in a way that’s exciting.”
A “Fight Harm” Cameo
One project has driven curiosity among Korine fans for decades: “Fight Harm,” an unfinished 1999 project that Korine attempted after his Dogme 95 project “Julien Donkey-Boy.” The quasi-documentary was a sort of proto-“Jackass” concept in which Korine attempted to get into fights with people on the street. At the time, he was hanging out with David Blaine and Leonardo DiCaprio, and both of them followed Korine around with a camera as he attempted to start brawls. “I thought I was like Buster Keaton, because I felt the essence of humor was tragedy,” Korine said. “A guy slips on a banana peel and falls, it’s hilarious, but the dude broke his leg.” The project fell apart after Korine was himself injured, hospitalized, and arrested. “My family was concerned,” he said. He wound up with barely enough footage for a short film. “The fights were short, and I wanted it to be a 90-minute feature,” Korine said. “It’s probably about less than 15 minutes of pure brutality.”
Over the years, speculation about the fate of “Fight Harm” has continued to percolate, since Korine has never revealed the footage to the public. (It was listed in the program for the 2017 Pompidou show, but ultimately didn’t surface there.) That changed at the Key West conversation, where Korine shared a clip from “Fight Harm” for the first time — with a twist. Asked how he could provide assurance to his fans that the “Fight Harm” footage really existed, he offered to share a clip on his cell phone. Korine then held his iPhone up to the audience, where only the first row had a clear view, while I narrated the events onscreen.
The grimy digital video footage shows a scrawny twentysomething wandering across a New York City street, loosely swaying his arms, and making a birdlike chirping sound. At one point, he throws himself at a pedestrian, who shrugs him off; then he attempts to force himself into an open car door, where he’s again pushed away. It’s easy to imagine these scenes playing out against a comical score.
Korine put his phone away. “I always go back and forth about whether the idea of it is more interesting than the actual thing,” he said. “I’m starting to come around to it.”
Neon releases “The Beach Bum” theatrically on March 22, 2019.