SWEET HAR­MONY

VOGUE Hommes International (English) - - SWEET HARMONY -

— Har­mony Korine is prob­a­bly the clos­est thing Amer­i­can cin­ema has that could be dubbed “revo­lu­tion­ary”. The word may sound quaint, th­ese days, but the man in ques­tion is still young, and aim­ing to stay that way, like a gen­tly age­ing Rim­baud. In other words, he hasn’t sold out on his dan­ger­ous — ide­al­is­tic, pure, ex­treme, and of­ten rage–filled — youth. He burst onto the world scene at age 19 in the cred­its of Kids, as co–screen­writer of Larry Clark’s first fea­ture film. Two years later, at just 21, he di­rected his first film, Gummo, shot in the Nashville where he grew up (he was born in Cal­i­for­nia in win­ter 1973), whose ram­shackle po­et­ics showed that Korine was more than just a Larry Clark mini–me, fated to im­i­tate his men­tor : a gen­uine one –of–a–kind, in­flu­enced by the likes of Buster Keaton, Jean – Luc Go­dard, Leos Carax, Werner Her­zog, and the US avant– garde.

But events very soon sent the young man off the rails and he slid into drug ad­dic­tion, de­pres­sion, and para­noia. He lost a heap of projects in fires at two houses where he lived, took him­self off to Paris, Lon­don, and Ber­lin, where he shunned hu­man con­tact, con­vinced that he was be­ing spied on, or that peo­ple wanted to harm him. He wound kitchen foil around his head so that he wouldn’t leak any of his ideas. Trail­ing an even more con­fused ( if pos­si­ble ) Ma­caulay Culkin be­hind him, he ended up by get­ting it to­gether and go­ing into re­hab in the United States. From this black hole ex­pe­ri­ence, Har­mony Korine has clearly re­tained a de­sire not to let him­self be caught up in just any­thing. He takes his time, and, since the suc­cess­ful re­lease of his eye –pop­ping Spring Break­ers star­ring James Franco, he has kept pretty much un­der the radar, crop­ping up from time to time, as an ac­tor play­ing op­po­site Al Pa­cino in Man­gle­horn, or di­rect­ing mu­sic videos for The Black Keys, Ri­hanna, and Gucci Mane.

Har­mony Korine is self – taught : a raw poet and artist who very early on de­vel­oped his own bi­ol­ogy of art, with­out learn­ing the word or its mean­ing. His is an im­pul­sive, or­ganic rap­port with mov­ing pic­tures and still images alike, driven by a com­pul­sive need to ex­press him­self, a pri­mal scream from the depths, an artis­tic agony that has never left him, even now.

This is why the com­plete, all –round ret­ro­spec­tive at the Pom­pi­dou Cen­tre in Paris as part of the Fes­ti­val d’Au­tomne should first be seen as a thrillingly au­da­cious move. A sym­bolic, sta­tus– af­firm­ing de­mon­stra­tion of its com­mit­ment. How­ever fa­mil­iar they may be with Har­mony Korine, ev­ery­one will find some­thing new in an in­ten­sive pro­gramme of shorts, fea­ture films, mu­sic videos, paint­ings, col­lages and po­etry. Many of th­ese have never been brought to­gether and shown be­fore, or not for many years, like the Anne Frank video in­stal­la­tion he cre­ated when he was about twenty. “We get bom­barded with so much medi­ocre crap ev­ery day, it makes no sense to be in a hurry,” he grins at the start of our in­ter­view. Har­mony Korine, 43, does not do stuff the wrong way round or in ran­dom or­der. He does it his own way. Af­ter that scorch­ing, druggy youth, when he rushed to get ev­ery­thing off his chest, as if afraid he might not grow old, he is to­day mod­er­at­ing his ac­tiv­ity, and rac­ing to get on with liv­ing.

VOGUE HOMMES How do you ex­plain the fact that an artist like you, with a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing mar­ginal and underground, and who was long seen as the bad boy of Amer­i­can movies, finds him­self re­ceiv­ing stately mu­seum treat­ment at the Pom­pi­dou Cen­tre in his mid – for­ties? HAR­MONY KORINE It makes me feel like a young old per­son [ … ].

VH When you were pre­par­ing this large show pulling to­gether all your work, did you have a sense or a taste of the whole, a dom­i­nant colour? HK Not yet, no, be­cause it isn’t fully gelled or real yet. The open­ing is com­ing up but I can’t take it in. I’ll prob­a­bly need to step back a bit, af­ter the event it­self. There’s a stock­tak­ing as­pect in the project, even if it’s pro­vi­sional, some­thing I’ve never done be­fore, and I don’t re­ally know, my­self, what ef­fect, what mean­ing it might gen­er­ate. On the other hand, I’m de­lighted at the prospect of the event. The pro­posal it­self touched me a lot. I’ve never done any­thing on this scale, noth­ing as am­bi­tious, com­pre­hen­sive, or di­verse as this. And I’m re­ally happy to see all th­ese very dif­fer­ent things brought to­gether: film shorts and fea­ture–length films, mu­sic videos, TV com­mer­cials, paint­ings, photos, writ­ings. I’m de­lighted and also in­trigued to be able to show ev­ery­thing in this way, start­ing way back at the out­set with the first works or at­tempts dat­ing from my teens, and then run­ning through the next thirty years, right to to­day. What taste will it have ? I don’t know — I’m cu­ri­ous to find out.

VH It would seem that you’ve al­ways been an artist, even when you didn’t know it your­self.

HK When I was young, I didn’t have any ref­er­ences, I didn’t know what I wanted and I was ig­no­rant, driven by in­tu­ition and im­pulse. All I knew was that I wanted to do some­thing, to cre­ate and recre­ate a world – view. I had no idea how to con­trol any­thing, es­pe­cially not my­self. By na­ture I was child­ish and burn­ing up as an artist, but I didn’t un­der­stand what was re­ally hap­pen­ing in­side me. I wanted to get out, to get away. I was a bit com­pul­sive with my ob­ses­sions. I was seek­ing to de­velop my voice, and my aes­thetic was al­most spir­i­tual […]. I had so much I wanted to say! Ev­ery day, I wanted to fight, I was burn­ing, I was like a war­rior. I be­came in­creas­ingly ob­sessed with the cin­ema and, al­most straight af­ter leav­ing high school, I started mak­ing films. I took a lot of risks with my artis­tic im­pulses, but I didn’t know how to pro­tect my­self as a per­son. I caused a lot of mis­un­der­stand­ings be­cause of that. Peo­ple took me for a sheer trou­ble­maker be­cause I was wild, didn’t have any pol­ish. My work was raw, too, and be­cause of that it wasn’t un­der­stood by the in­sti­tu­tional art world. I knew that I wanted to be great, fa­mous, a ge­nius. I had huge as­pi­ra­tions to­wards art and recognition.

VH In your case, the process of recognition was cu­ri­ous be­cause you be­came fa­mous for a film that you had scripted that was made by some­one else: Larry Clark’s Kids. The gen­eral feel­ing was that you were at least its joint pro­gen­i­tor, its co – cre­ator.

HK Yes, it was weird. I was 19 when I wrote Kids in my grand­mother’s base­ment, with­out the slight­est idea of what I was do­ing, I didn’t have a plan, so when I’d writ­ten a page, I had no idea what would be in the next. But it only took me a week to write, it just flowed. I can’t ex­plain it other than by say­ing that all through my child­hood, and right up to Kids, I had pic­tures and sounds in my head but I didn’t know how to ar­tic­u­late them. And then, sud­denly, I wrote Kids. There was no tran­si­tion. It was bru­tal, but, as a sen­sa­tion, as progress for me, it was fan­tas­tic. The film is partly mine, and per­haps very pro­foundly mine, but it’s re­ally also Larry’s film, too.

VH You’re pre­sent­ing an in­stal­la­tion on Anne Frank at the Pom­pi­dou Cen­tre.

HK It’s an art project that I de­vel­oped when I was 22 or 23, when I was work­ing on Gummo, which has been shown only once, in a con­tem­po­rary art gallery. This is the first time it’s been shown in twenty years. It con­sists of three videos screened si­mul­ta­ne­ously on three screens. The nar­ra­tion isn’t con­ven­tional — it should be seen more as a ta­pes­try in a ver­nac­u­lar Amer­i­can style. First there’s a fam­ily liv­ing a closed life in the ghetto, with a man be­ing shaved for hours on end, whose watch squawks like a chicken. Then there’s a di­rect evo­ca­tion of death. And then there’s the third video, on the theme of the an­gel and the fall. All three are screened si­mul­ta­ne­ously and make up a strange story that’s also a tes­ti­mo­nial to what my ap­proach to things could be, back then. VH You have this amaz­ing ad­mi­ra­tion for Buster Keaton. When you were a kid, you even dreamed of be­ing him. HK When I was very young my fa­ther took me to see Steam­boat Bill Jr. and it was one of the most im­por­tant times in my life. I was spell­bound by the ex­tra­or­di­nary po­etry of it, the naïve hu­mour. I dis­cov­ered what was for me a re­ally new way of mak­ing peo­ple laugh. I’d never seen such whim­si­cal stuff be­fore, so yes, I wanted to be Buster Keaton. In his films, he’s con­stantly pur­sued, vic­timised, and jeered at, but he keeps on, in­dif­fer­ent, provoca­tive, and at bot­tom, in­domitable. He up­sets peo­ple with his act­ing, the codes, and he’s hi­lar­i­ously funny. He was a real model for me!

VH You your­self cre­ated a lot of con­tro­versy when you started out. Not so much to­day: do you miss the con­tro­versy? Aren’t you afraid of be­com­ing main­stream?

HK The im­pres­sion I get is rather that I un­leash con­tro­versy what­ever I do, even now, even with­out par­tic­u­larly try­ing to pro­voke. I don’t think that not up­set­ting peo­ple is some­thing that will ever hap­pen to me! When I was younger, I loved to stir things up — I got a sort of ex­cite­ment out of it. But it was fu­elled by anger. I was en­raged at the cin­ema, the way films were made, the gen­eral con­ser­vatism of the es­tab­lish­ment, at how bor­ing art was and the con­formism of film di­rec­tors. I didn’t be­long to that world, I didn’t want to be­long to it, and I vi­o­lently re­jected it. So I wasn’t shocked at all to be re­jected my­self and to stir up con­tro­versy. I loved the shock, be­cause it con­firmed what I thought, it was part of my iden­tity. Rage was what drove me on. I wasn’t try­ing to con­vince peo­ple of the virtue or the moral­ity of my art, I didn’t want to doc­u­ment my life. I wanted to nail my im­pres­sions, my in­tu­itions, my ex­pe­ri­ences. There wasn’t any po­lit­i­cal mes­sage be­hind all that, and in fact I never made any po­lit­i­cal – type state­ments, not in my films, not in real life. There’s this real sort of magic, of mys­tery, for me in the fact of hav­ing been driven to­wards mak­ing films. I’ll never re­ally un­der­stand that im­pulse, but it’s the truth. I be­gan to make films be­cause that’s all I could do.

VH That re­minds me of how Beck­ett ex­plained why he wrote : “Only good at that”.

HK Yes, that’s it! For me it was self – ev­i­dent that I had to be­have like an artist be­cause I didn’t know what else to do. All through school, I had the im­pres­sion that the peo­ple around me knew why they were there, and I didn’t. I was al­ways re­treat­ing into my imag­i­na­tion. Art is an ex­pe­ri­ence, art has no “rea­son”, no model. Art is weird, it’s the most dif­fi­cult thing to de­fine. Artists can of­ten only talk about them­selves, about that ex­pe­ri­ence. I don’t even know why art ex­ists. It ex­ists be­cause it has to, I sup­pose.

“When I was younger, I loved to stir things up. I was en­raged at the cin­ema and the way films were made.”

VH Spring Break­ers marked a turn­ing point in your ca­reer and your celebrity. We might have ex­pected you to fol­low up rapidly with some­thing else af­ter that. But you haven’t made a film th­ese past five years. Will the post – Spring Break­ers be dif­fi­cult to man­age, to di­gest?

HK Yes and no. It takes time. I need time. In the first place, I’m re­ally en­joy­ing life, which is some­thing rel­a­tively new for me. I re­ally love be­ing alive, walk­ing be­side the ocean, sit­ting on a bench. I don’t want to be an artist or a film – maker who does one thing af­ter an­other just to fill a vac­uum. There are so many shit films every­where, and I don’t want to get caught up in that spi­ral. That said, since Spring Break­ers, two projects have fallen apart, in­clud­ing one that bombed at the very last minute, but that’s ev­ery­day life in this busi­ness. Th­ese last few months, I’ve taken a step back and done a lot of writ­ing. I’ve got a script. If all goes well, I’ll be start­ing to shoot my next film this win­ter. And then there’s also the fact that, in the past five or six years, paint­ing has taken up more space in my life and I think it now ob­sesses me even more deeply than film–mak­ing. VH How would you de­fine your paint­ing? HK It cov­ers al­most all gen­res, I’d say, which ends up form­ing its own genre. All my works are in­ter­con­nected and feed off each other and share bits. But that takes place in a sort of un­con­scious state and chaos. With paint­ing, I some­times feel that I’m achiev­ing a sort of aes­thetic uni­fi­ca­tion out of all this chaos. Paint­ing puts you in the shad­ows, in a se­cret at­mos­phere, with its own vibe. In the end, it’s like cre­at­ing a body to live in, or a place to live.

VH Like Go­dard’s cin­ema, yours makes room for chaos.

HK Go­dard is one of my favourite film – mak­ers. When I was young, I was ob­sessed by his films, and he’s still a favourite. I prob­a­bly didn’t un­der­stand half of what he wanted to say, but what I did un­der­stand touched me, and when I see his films I see the whole, like what you hear when you’re lis­ten­ing to an orches­tra. He ed­its, he glues stuff to­gether, and he quotes [… ] and that’s what I do, too. I feel a very strong at­trac­tion to artists who cre­ate their own lan­guage, like he has. I’ve al­ways wanted to do that — in­vent my own lan­guage, my own nar­ra­tion, my own path. I don’t un­der­stand why they show so much un­in­ter­est­ing stuff in so many films be­fore they man­age to show one in­ter­est­ing thing. You waste the rest of the film try­ing to ex­plain and pre­pare the ground for that mo­ment. You can sense this un­nec­es­sary jour­ney to get you to a given point in­creas­ingly strongly. But what kind of cin­ema is it that lines up all those mech­a­nis­tic links? It’s a to­tal waste of time. With Spring Break­ers, I dreamed of a film that only con­sisted of cli­maxes. I in­jected as much as I could of that very phys­i­cal com­po­nent the film’s based on to make sure that the re­sult was close to a psy­chotropic ex­pe­ri­ence, a hal­lu­ci­na­tion. VH In your films, peo­ple don’t have bodies, they are bodies. HK I agree, but I find it hard to ex­plain why. Any­way, there’s a marked dif­fer­ence be­tween the bodies in my films and those you see in Amer­i­can cin­ema in gen­eral. It comes from me, it’s the way I look at men and women, at the ac­tors or their char­ac­ters. I love to watch peo­ple. In Mi­ami, where I’m liv­ing right now, I ride around on my bike, I watch the fish­er­men work­ing, I hang out and just smoke my cigar. I’m very con­tem­pla­tive. VH Why Mi­ami, by the way? HK I’m liv­ing in Mi­ami right now be­cause, bizarrely, Florida’s ge­og­ra­phy and cli­mate are enough to make you feel a lit­tle out­side of Amer­ica. I love the sun, the ocean, girls in biki­nis, and for me it’s the right place to live at this minute. But it’ll move on. I’ve al­ways moved on. I’ve lived in Nashville, Panama, Mex­ico City, in Colom­bia, and even for a short time in Paris. I’d re­ally love to live in Cuba for a while — it’s one of my favourite places in the whole world. VH One of your projects is to adapt Alissa Nut­ting’s so – called shocker novel, Tampa. HK Un­til now, I’d never adapted a book or ever wanted to. Then I read Tampa and I was blown away. It was crazy, provoca­tive, sav­age. There was a rage in it that I recog­nised. I wrote a screen­play of it and it may get made. It’s not re­ally a love story be­tween a teacher and a stu­dent ; it’s about a teacher who fucks a stu­dent. It’s vi­o­lent and ob­ses­sive.

VH You lived in Paris be­fore you shot Mis­ter Lonely. What links have you kept with French cin­ema?

HK Leos Carax is a close friend, and so is Gas­par Noé. I’ve al­ways had strong ties with France. First, be­cause the French sup­ported me be­fore the Amer­i­cans did. When I was young, I’d al­ready un­der­stood that the French took cin­ema more se­ri­ously. Peo­ple crit­i­cised me for be­ing an ag­i­ta­tor in the United States. They were im­pa­tient with me, as if they were deal­ing with a dif­fi­cult kid. In France, they clearly saw how sin­cere the cin­ema was. The French pro­moted me be­fore any­one else did. That’s why I love the idea of this ret­ro­spec­tive at the Pom­pi­dou Cen­tre. When I lived in Paris, I was very dif­fer­ent, and in bad shape, I have to say. I did a lot of drugs, I bummed around, falling asleep on the steps of apart­ment build­ings, in the metro, in cafés, etc. So I re­ally love the idea of com­ing back fif­teen years later with all that work that I’ve done since then, and to see this city again through the eyes of the per­son I am to­day.

VH At this year’s Cannes film mar­ket, it was an­nounced that your next film would be co–pro­duced by Vice.

HK They’ve been friends since we were kids. I knew them when they founded their free mag­a­zine. We’ve wanted to do things to­gether for ages. So they’ll be co–fi­nanc­ing it. The world is chang­ing, and so is film dis­tri­bu­tion and the means of pro­duc­tion too. Peo­ple aren’t go­ing to the cin­ema any more like they used to. They don’t con­sume it in the same way any more. They watch films on YouTube, on their phones. The younger gen­er­a­tions don’t have the same re­la­tion­ship with films, and the dis­rup­tion is only just be­gin­ning. Go­ing to watch a film in a cin­ema is the old school way. Peo­ple want things in min­utes, and they’re get­ting them. There’s an al­most spir­i­tual shift in our rep­re­sen­ta­tion of cin­ema. The cin­ema land­scape is much more frag­mented. You get the sense of a huge vac­uum that peo­ple want to go on fill­ing ad in­fini­tum. And as soon as a film is re­leased, even a long – awaited one, it’s hardly on the screens be­fore ev­ery­body’s wait­ing for “the next big thing”. It begs the ques­tion, “What is a film?”. And, more broadly, it makes you think about what cin­ema is. With ev­ery film I make, I have a sense that it’ll be the last. It’s strange: it’s like the day’s com­ing when you can’t make films any more [ … ].

VH What di­rec­tion is your own life tak­ing ? HK Un­til now, my life has al­ways been very var­ied, depend­ing on my age. Both my per­sonal and artis­tic life. I like change. I like to do dif­fer­ent things, to live in dif­fer­ent ge­ogra­phies, to di­ver­sify the ways I ex­press my art, to change my habits. Ev­ery­thing changes, ev­ery­thing has changed. And will change again. VOGUE HOMMES

Har­mony Korine, Sinky Monk, 2014, house paint, acrylic and oil on safety blan­ket, 315 × 236 cm.

Har­mony Korine, Snatchy Jor­dan, 2014, house paint, acrylic and oil on felt, 198 × 160 cm.

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