Nearly two decades after his directorial debut, Harmony Korine is still creating films that portray untamed youth using mixed-medium dreamlike sequences and haunting, glossy visuals. A film poet and a “warrior of cinema,” Korine remains true to his independent art film roots despite challenging Hollywood’s genre confines with his latest film, “Spring Breakers.” Korine sat down with The Crimson in between screenings of his films at the Harvard Film Archive.
The Harvard Crimson: “Trash Humpers” feels and looks a lot like a found media object or a viral video. Do you think people are craving a certain kind of reality, or just an image of it?
Harmony Korine: I’m not sure what people crave. Yeah, the film was conceived as a tape that had been thrown away in the trash somewhere or buried in a ditch or something…something that maybe had been locked in some Ziploc bag or something and stored up in the guts of some horse.
THC: In past interviews you’ve called yourself a “mistakist.” Would you say you used a similar framework for “Spring Breakers?”
HK: I used to say it was a mistakist art form, that I was making films according to a mistakist manifesto. This idea that the errors were somehow the most exciting thing—they were the entry point. I was interested in the randomness of it all; it was like putting different chemicals in a jar and shaking it up and documenting the explosion. I guess since I’ve been making films for a while now I feel like I’m kind of tapping into something…starting to evolve. I’m starting to figure it out.
THC: Personally you’re starting to evolve?
HK: No, not as a person. I never really evolve as a person. It’s just the films.
THC: “Spring Breakers” is very different than your other works, which are more anti-commercial. Do you feel like these are the kinds of films you’re going to make moving forward? Anti-Hollywood blockbusters?
HK: The movie is still very much representative of what I do, and it’s exciting for me, though, to be able to make films that can reach a larger audience. I don’t shy away from that. I’ve always wanted to put out the most radical work in a mainstream way. I’ve always wanted my films—all of them—to have that type of effect, but it doesn’t always work out that way. You never go in wanting to limit the work.
THC: This film is almost more textural, aesthetically, than any of your other films. Did you always want to play with those kinds of visual effects?
HK: I wanted the movie in some ways to have a lulling or trance-like or drug effect. I wanted it to be a sensory attack, something that was more immersive. Almost loop-based and electronic.
THC: Were you hoping for the momentum behind the “breakout” stars who had things to prove like Selena Gomez?
HK: I liked the whole idea of it. First and foremost you have to believe them as characters separate from who they are in real life. It has to work in that way. I also liked the idea of them also being in real life tied to that pop mythology and being connected to the current landscape.
THC: Earlier on in the film before the spring break trip starts, the girls get together and smoke weed and get hypersexual. Is that how you envision women behaving when they want to get high when men aren’t there, or is that what you think people want to see?
HK: I really don’t know. I don’t know why I do anything I do. I could make something up but I have no idea.
THC: How did you work with Franco on his character, Alien?
HK: Alien was an amalgamation of a lot of kids I had gone to school with and that I would ride the bus with. He’s a real Southern archetype. Probably for about a year prior to the film I would talk to him about it and send him audio clips, visuals, photographs. Anything that I thought pertained visually, spiritually…anything that was a sound, the way someone spoke, a kind of tenor…that’s how we developed him.
THC: Is Gucci Mane's character, Archie, really short for 'Arch Nemesis?'
HK: Wow, I never thought of that. It could be.
THC: Did Gucci have any crazy antics on set?
HK: Gucc, Geez. He gets stoned a lot. He works really hard and he works until he passes out. He was recording during off hours. He was asleep for the whole sex scene. He just passed out for that whole thing.
THC: How did you film the party scenes? There were obviously real things going on.
HK: We set it up. There are tons of kids there and we just encouraged them to do that and we would film it.
THC: Would you rent hotel rooms and invite them?
HK: Yeah, mostly fucked-up motels, and obviously we knew we were going to destroy them—that was it. We would encourage that.
THC: Did you have serious damage bills?
HK: We went into it and went shooting in places that were already messed up to begin with. We weren’t shooting in nice hotel chains. These were bombed out.
THC: How was it to include your wife in the film?
HK: Natural. It was awesome.
THC: She’s the only one—out of the main girls—who gets naked!
HK: Wow, yeah that’s true. I’m going to tell you something I haven’t told anybody yet. Chris Cunningham and I made a film together like eight years ago that we never told anybody about. It’s called “Mitch Poppins.” It still needs to be edited but it will be finished this year.
THC: That’s exciting. Any clue as to what it’s about?
THK: That’s all I will say. It was something we shot like eight years ago and we shelved it for a while because it was too next-level.
THC: So now that you’ve reached a new level with “Spring Breakers” you can go there?
HK: Yeah. It’s totally different. It’s its own thing.
THC: Has “Spring Breakers” changed you as a filmmaker? Do you plan on returning to your previous techniques and aesthetic?
HK: Every movie kind of changes you. But yeah, probably. I probably won’t go back in the way that you’re thinking. I’ll only go forward. I’ll keep going and make some next-level shit.
THC: What’s some next-level shit?
HK: The thing I’m working on now.
THC: Want to talk to me about it?
HK: I can’t give you specifics but I’ll tell you that it will be super next level. It’s ultra ultra. It’s full-on; I’m going for it. Now, I’m just going for it.
THC: Do you feel like filmmakers need film school or college?
HK: Of course not. You need a criminal mind.
THC: What does a criminal mind mean for you?
HK: A mentality. A trap mentality. You need to figure out how to get what you need to get, do what you need to do.
—Staff writer Lauren A. Rubin can be reached at LaurenRubin@college.harvard.edu.