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Harmony Korine

The Spring Breakers director on Disney, pop culture and the world of the ATL Twins

The extended interview with Harmony Korine from the feature with The ATL Twins in the April Issue of Dazed & Confused:

A filmmaker, photographer and writer with a catalogue of films that have bewildered, amazed and achieved wide critical acclaim, Harmony Korine has established himself as a radical artist, boldly experimenting with the forms and language of film and pushing the boundaries of convention. Writer of Kids and director of Gummo, Julien Donkey- Boy and Mister Lonely, Korine’s first feature-length film since Trash Humpers experiments with musical structures of time in a hallucinatory attack on the senses. An audiovisual explosion fronted by the cream of Disney’s Tweenstars, Spring Breakers atomises through the hyperreality of American pop culture and burns like a neon flare.

You’ve described Spring Breakers as being like a pop poem, it does feel like a feverish pop dream that careens out of control…
Harmony Korine: I was trying to use a specific language that’s closer to something you’d find in pop videos or video games, clips and at the same time incorporate them into something more filmic. There was something, more in the air really, that I was feeling, it goes into this idea of liquid narrative, of playing with time and micro-scene and this idea of loop-based, sample-based filmmaking. Something that was closer in some ways to music, than other movies. The reference for this was closer to certain aspects of electronic music.

There is a lyrical form to it, with the repeated lines, did you set out with a musical structure?
Harmony Korine: When I was thinking of the film and the structure of the movie, I was setting down rules before I wrote it, guidelines and technical rules, and I liked the idea of repetition, or certain sequences continuing. Maybe you would have a minute’s worth of dialogue, but then I like the idea of micro-scenes and figuring out how to extend dialogue in different locations. So maybe in the course of a single conversation you would have ten different locations or scenarios, and basically I could repeat lines, and have certain sentences and certain moments become like choruses or mantras or hooks.

[I wanted it to] become more hallucinatory and then shift gears into a downward, frenetic spiral. It’s something that’s more akin to a drug experience, than any type of formal narrative.

That’s what it felt like it had a really sensory aesthetic and more of the experience of the way things imprint on your memory.
Harmony Korine: Yeah, and then it was almost more from the id than anything, that was working in a way that was sensory, that was more or less beyond articulation, something that was – in this sense and idea of liquid narrative – this freeform narrative and so encapsulates a story and a drama and characters. But at the same time a narrative that’s liquid in the sense that it’s about energy and so it became about harnessing energy and a kind of feeling and the momentum, and then shifting forward and backwards through time and the correlations within that structure. I wanted it to feel like a hallucinatory, or something that starts off almost in a normal way and then starts to peak, and then become more hallucinatory and then it shifts gears into a downward, frenetic spiral. It’s something that’s more akin to a drug experience, than any type of formal narrative.

Yeah I really like the poetic language of cinema you captured.
Harmony Korine: Yeah, that’s exactly…it becomes very much about a feeling. It almost becomes about what’s missing. I wanted the movie to feel like they go through you, like they change you in some way. It’s not even a question of whether you like or don’t like, it’s more as if something’s happened to you. It’s like a lived experience, and it’s something maybe that hits you afterwards in some way that you weren’t expecting.

What drew you to those characters and their pop culture world?
Harmony Korine: I had been collecting Spring Break imagery for a couple of years before, just pictures of amateur co-ed sorority porn and party imagery on Spring Break. You know – kids setting motel rooms on fire, having sex on picnic tables, kissing on golf carts, trying to snort a dunkin’ donut, things like that… In some ways I just thought maybe I’d use the images as a book or something and then the idea just came to me. I think I was alone and I just had this image of some girls in bikinis on a beach in Florida, like Spring bender, with ski masks and silencers, robbing fat tourists. That was it, just a picture, and I liked the image and the idea of it, the graphic power of the image, and I just made up the story around that.

One of the things that stood out is when Alien is saying to the girls, “you’re my motherfucking soulmates”, what you think is the soul of that culture?
Harmony Korine: Well I think it’s… they say it’s almost like a gangster mysticism. That it’s like this weird worm-hole intersection between gangster logic and almost quasi-spiritual elements. And s they’re just trying to light the world up, and I think it’s that thing about game recognizing game and it’s a kind of sociopathic wink. When he says that to the girls, it’s as if he realises right there that these girls are hardened in a way that he’d never seen before. And so it’s just more like they find each other in that moment.

There’s a line from one of the girls that’s repeated: “This isn’t what I signed up for”, they went out there for a superficial ideal and then it’s just a thin veil over a pretty grotesque reality, is this a film about surfaces?
Harmony Korine: Yeah, I think in some weird ways, I always viewed the girls as one entity, or as separate parts of one, and they all go together in this unified way, and then one by one it starts to get stripped. So Faith (Selena Gomez) is the morality and the morality falls apart – it’s the first thing – and once the morality goes, everything else goes and that’s when it gets really bonkers. The film was always about surfaces from the beginning; the way things felt, looked, touched and tasted and the pathology was the residue of that, you know, what leaks beneath that.

I wanted to ask you about the Britney piano scene, thinking about the fine lines between those superficial surfaces and violent reality, it reminded me of that sugary, suicide pop video to ‘Everytime’ which made her real life breakdown seem like a commodity or weird hyper reality.  Is this something you thought about?
Harmony Korine: Honestly, I just really liked that song, which is very representative of the feeling of the movie, or at least I wanted it to be. There’s something really catchy and kind of beautiful, and airless, and slick, and poppy on the surface and then there’s a menace, and a darkness to that song in particular, a violence that had a relationship to the imagery in the movie and the characters and the story. I probably listened to that song two or three hundred times while I was writing it. I was actually writing that scene in Spring Break in Panama City, Florida so that was a strange experience, but it’s just one of those things, that song was special and I’d wanted to see that violent robbery montage with it and so it was mostly a feeling.

I showed them photographs, and I just said, you know, we’re gonna get into some trouble here, go to places that you haven’t been before, you have to be bold.

With the Disney actresses playing out these roles, was there a sense of boundaries being pushed?
Harmony Korine: I’m always straight up with actors in my films. I never try to convince, there’s not any of that. I think at this point in my life most people know the types of movies I make, the things that I do, so I’m pretty up front about everything. And I explained that to them, and we rehearsed and talked and practiced, and spoke about it and I showed them photographs, and I just said, you know, we’re gonna get into some trouble here, go to places that you haven’t been before, you have to be bold. And at the same time, it’s a movie, so it’s a character, and this idea that if there’s any place for you to lose yourself in this character, it’s in this film and that’s really it. I have to be honest, they were pretty easy. It was a difficult movie for a lot of other reasons, more technical stuff, but the girls were great to work with.

What drew you to the ATL twins and how did they fit into your vision of Spring Breakers?
Harmony Korine: Well they’re just little demonic fuckers really. They’re just some trill ass white gangster ghetto grommit dirty mother fuckers. And they represent the American Dream to the fullest, and they’re just the sickest with it. They just amaze me every day; they don’t drink water, they live off a fucking Red Bull and vicodin, they bone a different girl in the strip clubs every night, they have never read a book. I mean they’re amazing, they drive Range Rovers, shoot guns ‘til the break of dawn.

Was this their first film?
Harmony Korine: Their first non-porno…

How did they work with the Disney girls on set?
Harmony Korine: They’re always drunk and stoned, and just amped up. They’re turned up. That’s their whole philosophy: just turned up. They’re always tripping out on molly and they’re just ready for shit to go down. They live a constant life of getting thrown out of places, getting in fights and making money, and living on the edge.

This will be one of your more mainstream films with the Disney actresses in it…
Harmony Korine: Forever that’s been my dream, all I ever wanted to do was be a commercial director and affect the tween set.