"Filmmaking has become like a process, and it's all garbage. All these rich kids who were going to be doctors now want to be filmmakers, but they have very little life experience and they're just writing really shitty wit for each other. That's perfect for when they go to Hollywood and meet the people who finance films, 'cause those guys are fucked up too. That's why films are the way they are now and why I've largely stopped going to see them in the last two years."
Harmony Korine's mother and father
aimed for a child, and got what they wanted in 1974. They then moved from California
to Nashville Tennessee
in order to raise Harmony. His father was a documentary filmmaker for PBS who wasn't around too often, but helped get him into films by taking him to movies. His father would take him to theatres to watch little-known European
American films, and all the classic
s. Later in his life he would call his father a Trotskyite
, and claim he wouldn't see him for weeks at a time, but always loved him in an abstract, never quite reciprocated way. It's possible, given Harmony’s fandom for Werner Herzog
, that it's a lie.
Enter Larry Clark into Washington Square Park one day where he met young Korine. The skateboarders attracted Larry, and the two struck up a conversation. Korine showed Larry a screenplay he wrote, and Larry liked it enough to ask him to write an entire script on it. He set down to write it about his life in New York, its gang life, the stubborn little creatures on the streets, the copulation and the drugs, and all the sad victims. It's sort of ironic that he would write such a piercingly depressive story about the life he retreated back to from college. You could say there may have been a rough beauty he was pursuing. And he wrote it in three weeks, at age 18.
Kids was released in 1995 to America, and the reactions weren't pretty. This was a dark film about kids, not adults, and it was as real as it got. Larry Clark (director) portrayed all the characters but one (Chloë Sevigny, Korine's "on-and-off" girlfriend, as sources put it) as amoral bastards with serious attitude problems. This is certainly true of inner-city life, but it's not exactly the sort of thing the public takes a liking too. Korine said years later that he would have done the direction differently, and he did not enjoy such a nosing directional interpretation of the script. He had meant the characters to be portrayed in a more empthetic, "this is just how life is," sort of way.
Harmony didn't suffer from the movie's hard reputation. What he got was support and acknowledgement, and a nice window of opportunity for more of his own work. He had enough behind him ($1.3 million) to launch his own directing debut of another script he wrote: Gummo (1997), a film about the fictional town of Xenia, Ohio, a place ravaged by a tornado in the 1970s that never recovered. The film presented you with lonely characters without a path. It cut around storylines in order to refuse you a plot. You got slices of characters and never really learned whom they were. One child scouted around on his bike all day to find stray cats, caught them and drowned them in water and sold them to a specialty restaurant. A pair of skinheads beat themselves hard in front of a camera in their kitchen. One of the more focused-on characters pays the town pimp for intercourse with his only retarded prostitute. You see a goat, impaled, high on a satellite receiver. Between scenes you'd see cuts of the previous tornado ripping through the town. But what you didn't see were any pleasant or sane characters to contrast the odd with. You didn't see any of the characters through a fisheye lens. Nobody was portrayed as an outcast. Their nature seemed peaceful, belonging to the land. It was what Korine wanted. He gave you these characters on the plate they eat off of. You got to know what it's like to be these people.
What you'd expect for something like this, is a backlash, of course, and that's what he got. People walked out of theatrical showings. The New York Times called it the worst movie of the year... it's not the worst movie of the year. It's good, but dense. It's not the kind of thing everyone likes, intelligent or not. It's something some can appreciate, enjoy, or love. And so began much of his cult following. Werner Herzog, his great idol, wrote him fan mail about it, and it won awards at the Venice and Rotterdam Film Festivals. Korine was also featured on Letterman to promote the movie.
Sonic Youth liked it too, and hired Korine to create their music video for "Sunday." Odd as it was great, it starred Macaulay Culkin and his (soon to be ex-) Wife. From then out, Korine became more and more prolific. He put out a book of story/photos related to the music video, and presented "The Diary of Anne Frank Pt. 2" to the world using three screens showing alternating scenes. Somewhere along the line he met David Blaine. He also had a small acting part in Good Will Hunting (he played "Jerve").
Then he subscribed to the Dogme 95 doctrine, a Danish-founded set of ideals to create a "pure film", and used the formula for his next, Julien Donkey-Boy. The film is a bit more coherent, and the characters more fleshed, but the mood less chaotic, perhaps more mundane, and hell of a lot less scripted. In near every scene the acting is improvised for lack of a script, and many of the scenes had simple descriptions written down. This was on purpose- Korine threw most of the script out. It's proof of Korine's abilities that the movie still holds up so well. Roger Ebert had said Julien “doesn't always work in its individual moments, but it works as a whole. It adds up to something, unlike a lot of movies where individual shots are sensational, but they add up to nothing.” The film revolved around a schizophrenic boy and his trials with his eccentric family, the main role of it inspired from Harmony's also schizophrenic uncle Eddie. Korine’s grandmother Joyce played the boy's grandmother, and the movie was mostly filmed in her home.
The 86-hour movie was cut down to 101 mintutes and released in 1999. After completing the film, Korine wrote to the Danes of the Dogme 95 to apologize. He had used a pillow under his girlfriend's (Chloë Sevigny, still) shirt to simulate a pregnancy; it wasn't authentic. Dogme 95 overlooked the trespass.
With that crazy fucker of a movie out of the way, he went on to do more, lots of which he won't reveal. He's written a new screenplay for Larry Clark's 2002 movie, Ken Park. He got David Blaine to follow him around with a video camera as he picked fights with people bigger than him, which he titled Fight Harm, but never completed due to the amount of serious injuries and jail time he netted. He also helped Blaine out by directing his film, David Blaine: Magic Man. Korine wrote a book, Crack Up at the Race Riots, and put out another book of his exhaustingly abstract art, Pass the Bitch Chicken (he's been in accepted into museums and exhibitions for the latter). He's done a lot more too, and is now currently working on his 3rd film.
For a young filmmaker to thrive in an art that's more for entertainment than anything else, and to push the envelope so, you could say Harmony Korine's getting there. He's got a way to go. Though no part in any of his films or work are essentially for shock, he's yet to truly wield the power to give us viewers something particularly justifying the worst which can be said of his work. Korine can throw you one hell of a scene, but the difficulty in finding the message speaks of much to be matured. You may see in his work a pure artist's heart, but you can also see the struggle. This man is not a genius; he's just driven.
He creates works of art that challenge the watcher. He does not give us the answer, he gives us the problem, in all its beauty. He forces us to reflect on how our culture encourages us to ignore the problems in ourselves. He forces us politely, through a camera, with no tricks, with all the purity in us, and with all the strokes of dirt. What do I like most about him? He's damn fine writer too.
"I can't stand plots, because I don't feel life has plots. There is no beginning, middle, or end, and it upsets me when things are tied up so perfectly."
Discography and miscellaneous works (incomplete):
- Kids, a film, 1995. Directed by Larry Clark, screenplay by Harmony Korine. "When you go to sleep at night you dream of pussy. When you wake up it's the same thing. It's there in your face. You can't escape it. Sometimes when you're young the only place to go is inside. That's just it - fucking is what I love. Take that away from me and I really got nothing."
- Gummo, a film, 1997. Written and directed by Harmony Korine. "Xenia, Ohio. Xenia, Ohio. A couple of years ago, a tornado hit this place. It killed the people left and right. Houses were split open, and you could see necklaces hanging from branches of trees. Dogs died. Cats died. I saw a girl fly through the sky... and I looked up her skirt."
- The Diary of Anne Frank Pt. II, a film, 1998. Written and directed by Harmony Korine
- A Crackup at the Race Riots, a novel, 1998. Written by Harmony Korine.
- The Bad Son, a photo story, 1998/1999. Photography and writing by Harmony Korine.
- David Blaine: Magic Man, a film, 1999. Directed by Harmony Korine.
- Julien Donkey-boy, a film, 1999. Written and directed by Harmony Korine. "You look so utterly stupid. If I were so stupid I would slap my own face!"
- Sunday, a music video, 1999. Music by Sonic Youth, directed by Harmony Korine.
- Saab Songs, an album, 1999. Performed by Harmony Korine and Brian Degraw. "We have recorded many pieces, all the music sounds different. The songs depend on the state of the players. Are they healthy? Are they sick? Are they drunk? Are they fouled up to begin with? Most of the time they sing in affluent tones and horse shoe vomit."
- Harm of Will, Björk, on album Vespertine, 2001. Lyrical assistance by Harmony Korine. "And if he has chosen the point while she is/under him/Then leave her coily/placed crouched sucking him/For it is I/With her on knee."
- Ken Park, a film, 2002. Directed by Larry Clark, screenplay by Harmony Korine. "I killed my grandfather, because he is a cheater who likes to tell war stories, and I killed my grandmother because she's a passive, agressive bitch who doesn't respect my privacy."
- Pass the Bitch Chicken, an art book, 2002. Collaboration with Harmony Korine and Christopher Wool.
- No More Workhorse Blues, a music video, 2003. Music by Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, directed by Harmony Korine.
See also: Jean-luc Godard, John Cassavetes, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Ozu Yasujiro, Alan Clarke, Charles Laughton, Werner herzog, Buster Keaton
http://www.harmonykorine.com -- Contains some media of his work.