The cult director speaks candidly about his favourite moments from a long list of professional milestones – from Rihanna to Trash Humpers, Supreme, Die Antwoord and Chloë Sevigny
Look at Harmony Korine’s shee-it. Since writing Kids at the age of 19, the prolific mischief-maker has experimented with movies, paintings, commercials, novels, short films, music videos, poetry, illustrations, photography, installations, and talk show appearances that verge on performance art. “All the work I do is interconnected,” he explains. “It all bleeds into one unified aesthetic.”
You can see what Korine means. Whether it’s taping bacon to a bathroom wall in Gummo, fully delivering on the title of Trash Humpers, or sneaking a 17-year-old Macaulay Culkin into a Sonic Youth video, these diverse projects all clearly stem from the same unfiltered imagination. Likewise, it’s bizarrely logical that someone who casts Werner Herzog as a plane-flying priest in Mister Lonely would also convert Disney princesses into bikini-donning bank robbers for Spring Breakers.
Still, much of Korine’s output has been unavailable to the public for several years. Until now, that is. From October 6 to November 7, the Centre Pompidou in Paris will be hosting a complete retrospective of Korine’s movies and artwork. Alongside his greatest hits will be all the rarities, including two decades of paintings, a short film with James Franco called Caput, and 30 minutes from the legendarily abandoned project that is Fight Harm. (Be warned, though: if that last one sounds too good to be true, it possibly is. “Actually, I don’t know if that gonna happen,” he says when I ask about Fight Harm. “I change my mind all the time. I don’t know if the idea of it is better than the actual footage.”)
To tie in with the retrospective, we spoke to Korine on Skype about the many highlights of his career. Scroll down for tales about drinking with Werner Herzog, shooting a music video for Rihanna, and the time David Blaine started regurgitating frogs in the middle of a conversation.
WHEN HARMONY AND CHLOË SEVIGNY ROLL UP TO THE CLUB IN KIDS (1995)
Harmony Korine: It’s so long ago. It’s kinda hard to remember. The character’s name is Fidget, and I was probably just fidgeting a lot and so it seemed like the right part for me. Well, as a human being, I wasn’t popping ecstasy and having Tourette’s syndrome. It was based on someone I had seen before.
ROY ORBISON’S “CRYING” FINALE IN GUMMO (1997)
Harmony Korine: The song just felt right in my mind. We had to ask Roy Orbison for the rights. I showed him a cut of the movie. He didn’t really know what it was. I remember, he walked into the screening room holding a rifle. I guess he’d just gone hunting. After it was done, he said, “I don’t really know what this is, but I like it. You can use it.” I think he must have hunted a lot of rabbits in his youth.
“THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK PART II” (1998)
Harmony Korine: This was a video installation I had at a Patrick Painter gallery in the 90s. It was basically three projections that were in a loop. It was footage that I had filmed while doing research and fucking around before Gummo. One of the videos was of a blind and deaf family that I found living behind a makeshift Pizza Hut that was also combined into a whorehouse. It was a family that spoke to each other somehow through the vibrations on a watch. They had these watches that would send each other vibrations that sounded like chicken clucks. There’s one son, who’s probably in his 20s, who would sit on the front porch in his underwear and shave his beard and click his watch.
Another video was of a guy who I met who found some fossilised puppies under his pillow, and he was burying them in his backyard. And there’s another video of this very beautiful girl – I think she had Down’s syndrome – in an above-ground swimming pool with the leaves falling on her. She was singing. And there are a few other things mixed in with that. They were basically these projections that ran simultaneously on a loop, like a song in three parts.
SONIC YOUTH – “SUNDAY” (1998)
Harmony Korine: I was really high around that time, so I can’t really remember it. I’d been snorting so much shit, that those years are like a blur.
IN JULIEN DONKEY-BOY (1999) WHEN WERNER HERZOG SIPS FROM A SHOE
Harmony Korine: When I was a kid, Werner and I used to always sit around drinking hydrocodone out of his slippers. He had these slippers that he’d kept since he was a kid. We used to sip Lean out of the back of his slippers. It was just something that made sense in the movie. Directing him is like eating ice cream – it just tastes good.
BONNIE PRINCE BILLY – “NO MORE WORKHOUSE BLUES” (2004)
Harmony Korine: I love Will Oldham. He’s one of my closest friends. That was also with Rachel, who’s my wife now. That was right when we’d just met. And then there’s my friend, a kid who I went to high school with – I guess he’s kind of mentally ill now, but he was a great friend of mine.
THE SKYDIVING NUNS IN MISTER LONELY (2007)
Harmony Korine: I had been living in a commune in Peru for a while, and I’d been with this group of fishermen. I remember hearing them talking about jumping out of airplanes without parachutes. I just had this idea, at some point. It was an image of nuns launching themselves out of airplanes and praying the whole way down and doing bike tricks in the sky. I started writing the storyline based around wanting to see this image
It reminds me a bit of when Juliette Binoche jumps off a plane in Leos Carax’s Mauvais sang.
Harmony Korine: I love Leos. He plays Michael Jackson’s manager in the film. I’ve known Leos since I first started making movies. Jean-Yves Escoffier, who shot Leos’s movies, was my cinematographer for Gummo. Leos is a good friend, and I know the scene you’re talking about, but I don’t think I’ve ever been influenced by anything directly in that way.
IN TRASH HUMPERS (2009) WHEN HARMONY MAKES A SPEECH IN THE CAR
Harmony Korine: I filmed that towards the end of the movie. We pretty much just lived in the woods for a month and documented what you saw. At that point, at the end, I was so frazzled that that it came out naturally. And when I say “movie” – I don’t know if it really is a movie. It’s something else. It was meant to be like a tape that you’d find hidden up in the guts of a dead horse, or something you’d find buried in a ditch somewhere in Albuquerque.
DIE ANTWOORD’S SHORT FILM, UMSHINI WAM (2011)
Harmony Korine: Why the wheelchairs? Just because I’ve always felt wheelchairs are the best place to get stoned. That was a lot fun. We shot it in Nashville. Die Antwoord were great. I remember, I’d never seen anyone smoke like a two-and-a-half foot-long fatty. They have their own vision, their own style, their own language. I liked that they were insulated and were inventing this thing. Their visuals and the music, at the time, seemed pretty bold.
JAMES FRANCO’S MONOLOGUE IN SPRING BREAKERS (2012)
Harmony Korine: The “look at my shit” scene wasn’t even in the script. We were playing around during the shoot, and I wanted him to describe all the things in his room. I wanted him to go off on his cologne and his shorts, in this way that was a micro-analysis of everything he owned in the room. I think maybe we rehearsed it before. I would act things out or mention things, and then he would just go for it, and I would push him to go further. A lot of it was riffing that happened in the moment, and the “look at my shit” thing became like a song.
Apparently, there’s going to be a Spring Breakers TV series.
Harmony Korine: Yeah. If that really is a real thing, then it definitely has nothing to do with me. I guess I don’t own the title. So whoever owns the title of the film can do whatever they want with it. But it has nothing to do with me or, I think, any of the people involved in the original.
Would you rather it didn’t exist? Or are you fine for people to do whatever they want with it?
Harmony Korine: No. If it is a thing that does exist, I would probably find it annoying.
“THE KOTZUR GIFT” (2014)
Harmony Korine: It was a photograph I took during the making of Trash Humpers, and then I repainted it. With that particular painting, I was in a studio, and it had already been framed. I just poured some paint over it and started repainting the glass on top of the surface. With paintings, it’s a more unconscious thing. With the artwork, I just start making marks or stains or playing with colours and things. The painting evolves in some way. But I usually try to follow something that’s more internal, and then it becomes what it is.
SUPREME’S SS14 CAMPAIGN VIDEO, “FIREBOARD” (2014)
Harmony Korine: Mark Gonzales is one of my oldest friends. Mark and David Blaine are friends as well. The idea was to put them together. The flaming skateboard was mostly because David has always been into regurgitation and fire. There’s a whole genre of vaudeville magicians who were known as regurgitators who would ingest kerosene and then spit it out and set things on fire. I think David met some guy in Africa who taught him how to do it.
Was this around the time David Blaine was practising his trick with the frogs?
Harmony Korine: Yeah, he’d been doing that for a couple of years. Whenever I would visit him, he would always have frogs in his stomach. You’d be sitting there, talking to him, and then all of a sudden a bunch of frogs would pop out of his throat.
RIHANNA – “NEEDED ME” (2016)
Harmony Korine: I just got a call from them. They’d been wanting me to do a video for a while. They sent me the song, and I really like the song, and I really like her. They were receptive to letting me do whatever I wanted to do. We shot that here in Miami last year. But I like that. It’s one of my favourite things that I’ve done.
What do you like so much about it?
Harmony Korine: I just like the fat asses shaking up and down. It puts me into a trance.
Was Rihanna very involved with the collaborative process?
Harmony Korine: Usually, when people come to me, for the most part, they want me to do my thing. Once we talked about it and agreed on the concept and the way it was going to be and the storyline and stuff like that, then I just did my thing.
The Beach Bum, the movie you’re doing with Matthew McConaughey next year, is also being shot in Miami. Can we expect similar vibes?
Harmony Korine: We’re shooting it in Florida, but that’s a little different. It’s a stoner movie. It’s a super swampy, boozy film about fuck-ups. It’s what I consider to be my first full comedy.
Because The Trap was almost made last year. We prepped The Trap for a year and were a couple of weeks out from shooting it, and then one of the actors dropped out, and the whole schedule collapsed. Rather than wait another year until everybody was free again, I wrote The Beach Bum.
So, for The Trap, do you need to wait until Robert Pattinson and everyone else is available again?
Harmony Korine: He was free. It wasn’t him who dropped out. But I don’t know. After I’m done with The Beach Bum, I’ll see where everybody is. I’ll probably end up recasting the whole film.
Are you still writing and directing an adaptation of Tampa?
Harmony Korine: Yeah, I plan on making that. The script is ready and everything. That will be the only thing I’ve ever made where it was based on some type of other material, rather than something I just made up. But that project’s ready to go with HBO. Hopefully, The Beach Bum, The Trap and Tampa will be a good trifecta.
Harmony Korine’s retrospective runs from October 6 to November 5 at the Centre Pompidou