Harmony Korine

Snort it up, shoot it down, set it on fire: chatting with the ultimate Spring Breaker

Arts+Culture Q+A

Fifteen years ago the waifish, unkempt figure of a 23-year-old Harmony Korine graced the cover of Dazed. Its accompanying story included pictures of him lifting his top, flicking his nipple and scrawling the word ‘Harm’ in pen across the teal-green backdrop of the set. The interview, conducted by group editorial director Jefferson Hack, coincided with the release of Korine’s second film Gummo and included the now-prophetic statement from the young man that: “In another 10 or 15 years, the people that understand and appreciate my work will be in positions of power, but for now, the bourgeois fuckers must die.” 

Cue the arrival of Spring Breakers in 2013 with its portrayal of middle America in the clutches of a coke, E and guncrime habit. The balaclava-clad girls are played by Disney princesses, the guys resemble the contestants of MTV’s From G’s to Gents and the soundtrack is provided by Skrillex. It’s sensationalist and strangely realistic at the same time; knowing, smart, populist and poetic. But can a film really afford to be any other way in a world where the distinction between low and high culture no longer exists? Korine doesn’t seem to think so, as we put on our balaclvas and caught up ahead of the UK release of Spring Breakers, and let you ask him questions on Twitter, below. 

Dazed Digital: How did you manage to capture the mindset of a teenage girl so successfully?

Harmony Korine: I don’t know. I just invented the characters and then started to get into the mind. I went back to Spring Break two years ago to write this, but when I grew up I was just skateboarding and stuff, I never went. It was pretty common in the States and especially in the South where I grew up so I guess I was trying to get away from that. 

DD: Could you get girls like the Spring Breakers girls when you were younger? Or is the film some kind of wish fulfilment?

Harmony Korine: Yeah of course. I was just boning spring breakers when I was a teenager. I was just boning them left and right. That’s all I did. 

DD: Do you still skate?

Harmony Korine: I do but it’s weird, you know, sucking at something you used to be ok at. I don’t enjoy being shitty at anything really. 

DD: Britney features heavily in the film. Did that come from a genuine love of her and her music?

Harmony Korine: Yeah and also those characters genuinely love her. When Alien starts singing her music in that sequence I think it’s pretty genuine, for sure. I think that song goes with the movie in that, on the surface, it’s a beautiful, morose pop ballad and it’s airless and haunting. But underneath it there’s something much more aggressive and pathological so it lends itself to violent imagery. 

DD: Is the film a portrait of ecstasy as well? 

Harmony Korine: The drug? Well the movie’s meant to work in a similar way to drugs. It has a drug effect or a physical component. That’s what I was trying to get at, that idea of being in a kind of trance or transcendence, with peak moments that sort of dissolve into black. I don’t know if it’s specifically ecstasy, or any specific drug. It’s an overall kind of hypnotic pop poem. 

DD: There is pill-popping in Kids but it seems to be a lot more illicit. Where has America’s recent love for ecstasy come from? 

Harmony Korine: The collective unconscious. You just want to snort it all up, shoot it down, lick it, set it on fire, fuck it. I mean it’s everywhere. 

DD: Has brostep and dubstep taken the place of death metal in your films? 

Harmony Korine: Again, I wanted to create a liquid narrative or some type of energy so the music and sound design needed to have that physical component. Skrillex provides a sort of energy that drives the film. It’s also very much connected to the culture of Spring Break. 

DD: The film is definitely an accurate portrayal of now. How did you create something that was so reactive? 

Harmony Korine: You feel something, it’s in the air, it’s energy and it becomes tangible and you just pluck it out. I started to notice that there were all these connections between the language in the film and music and drugs and there was a kind of specific vernacular and a hidden language that I was starting to pick up on. I was trying not to differentiate between high and low culture. I was just trying to see things in a way that was more explosive and more dynamic because it’s wasn't about making sense of what is good and bad. But there’s no real underground culture anymore. Everything’s up for grabs. The film, in some ways, is a mash-up and reinterpretation of all those things and for that reason, it’s more pure. 

DD: And James Franco’s character isn’t based on RiFF RAFF?

Harmony Korine: It wasn’t based on anyone, it’s not based on anything specific. It was an amalgamation of a classic American archetype, a regional white, southern gangster with black mannerisms, but different: he’s also a sociopath and a clown and a poet. He plays shape shifter like a gangster mystic or something. 

DD: Has Werner Herzog seen the film yet?

Harmony Korine: Yeah Herzog’s seen it a bunch of times. In fact he would sit in on the edit because I was editing it LA and he would sit in all the time while I was cutting it. I think he loves it. 

DD: You were close to Ol’ Dirty Bastard before he died. How does Gucci Mane compare to him? 

Harmony Korine: I think they’re both on equal footing. They’re both what makes America great. It can create characters like them, artists like Gucci and Ol’ Dirty. They’re both pure charisma. Gucci man is like a trap god Frank Sinatra and Ol’ Dirty was kind of like… Mr. Bojangles [laughs]. Ol’ Dirty was amazing. There’s no one like him. There has never been anyone like him. He was incredible.

Yesterday evening we handed over the reins of our Twitter account to Harmony to answer some of your questions... 

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