It’s weird seeing the posters for Spring Breakers: they are so much like the key image from the short film that I co-wrote with director Ben Charles Edwards, Animal Charm. Spring Breakers’ writer/director Harmony Korine has said that a single image was the seed for the whole feature: he saw girls in bikinis with guns and balaclavas over their faces, and wondered how they would get there.
I haven’t yet seen the film, in which formerly squeaky-clean teen idols Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez and Ashley Benson (plus Korine’s young wife) fall under the spell of James Franco’s grill-toothed, arms-and-drugs-dealing rapper. But I did meet Harmony Korine once. I mortally offended him.
I’d put Kids on the cover of Time Out. This was a fictionalised exposé of underage drugs and sex, written by Korine while he was a teenager, which launched the careers of Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson and introduced the term “virgin-surgeon”. We got a bunch of British schoolkids to watch it and comment on how true it was to their own lives. Which was tricky to arrange, as the film was an 18 cert. Great feature though.
In 1997 Korine directed his first movie, Gummo, a disconnected series of stories of alienated youth in smalltown 1970s America. I was invited to the launch party on a boat on the Thames. The producer introduced me to the young auteur, and I told him that I loved the film, and that it would make a great TV series. He looked as though I’d sprinkled salt on his cornflakes pretending it was sugar, turned on his heel, and walked off. I was thinking Twin Peaks, myself, and that I wanted to see much more of the characters in Gummo. And now that the best US TV is so much more interesting than film, he should be so lucky.
If you don’t know Korine’s films, check them out. Cookie-cutter eye-candy they are not. The one after, Julien Donkey-Boy (1999) is about a schizophrenic, made under the strict filming rules of Dogme 95. The next, Fight Harm, involved Korine provoking tough-looking strangers into fighting him, and filming the result with hidden cameras. His only rules were that they had to be bigger than him, and they had to throw the first punch. Sadly the project had to be abandoned when he was hospitalised after six fights.
Mister Lonely (2007) is about a Michael Jackson impersonator in Paris who falls in with a commune of other celebrity impersonators. It is without doubt the only film to star Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, the Pope, James Dean and the Queen. Trash Humpers (2009), described by a Guardian critic as ‘a home movie from hell’ (and that was a positive review), is an experimental, largely improvised, lo-fi movie shot and edited on VHS. The title, as Korine warned at the first screening, is meant literally.
More than any other film-maker save perhaps David Lynch, Korine is interested in the dark side of the American Dream, how with a slightly different perspective it can so easily seem a nightmare. I’m looking forward to Spring Breakers, which came out on Friday. The trailers make it look like an MTV wet dream, but you can be sure it’s a deal more subversive than that.