COSIGN INTERVIEW: HARMONY KORINE AT MISTER LONELY SCREENING
Justin Staple / cosign.wordpress.com / July 14, 2008
Okay, so this isn’t really an exclusive interview. But on May 31st when director, writer and producer Harmony Korine came to Chicago’s Music Box Theatre for a screening of his new film Mister Lonely, we were the only ones to record the intimate and exciting Q&A that followed. I think fans of the influential director will enjoy some of his new insights and stories about the production and the people involved. The Q&A was run by Steve “Capone” Prokopy (from movie blog Ain’t It Cool News) and mainly consisted of questions from the audience. There are some spoilers discussed so take heed if you haven’t seen the flick yet. Enjoy this glance into the hilarity and joy of the new (and quite social) Harmony Korine.
Steve Prokopy: Bobby Vinton’s Mr. Lonely has always been a classic. When did you first become infatuated with the song?
Harmony Korine: Well, I had quit taking narcotics and was really getting into White Castle.
Prokopy: Is there really a difference?
Korine: Well, then I met this girl and she was young and she was used to hard bodies. I guess, physically I repulsed her at that point in my life. So then I swore off White Castle and I started going to this barbecue place. I was sitting there and this guy was eating these fried pickles and he started to choke. Someone came out and was doing the Heimlich Maneuver on him and that song “Mr. Lonely” was playing. So I just thought it was a great song.
Prokopy: Thats a great story. Someone mentioned this story to me last night; right when Kids came out you were on David Letterman and he asked you a question about any celebrities you had met and you told the story about the guy who had his ass cheeks pierced.
Korine: Oh yeah man. That wasn’t a celebrity, that was a guy I went to high school with and he pierced his ass with a shish-kabob skewer. It was the same guy I saw drink a whole bottle of Pepto Bismol and his ass blew off.
Prokopy: Lets take some questions from the audience.
Audience Member: First off, you are one of the greatest directors of this era and this is a wonderful film. One question I had is, why is there one fictional character amongst the impersonators? (referring to Little Red Riding Hood)
Korine: Well, thats a good question, I never thought about it until after the film was out. Actually, Little Red Riding Hood is my wife, I married her. Originally, the part was written for someone younger. It’s hard to find an icon at that age. Originally it was written for a Brittany Spears but when I put her in the costume she just looked like a normal slutty teenager. I couldn’t really get into it and I thought it wasn’t that compelling. So, I went back and I did a little research and I saw that there was an inordinate amount of Little Red Riding Hoods. There was one sect of Little Red Riding Hoods that was more for kink, like guys who are into kink but there was a whole other that was more for children. You know what I’m saying? A lot of older men like to hire Little Red Riding Hoods and then on the other side there’s parents who like to give Little Reds to their kids. So I though she was a complex character.
Audience Member: Did you have just one idea that started the movie or was it a combination of many?
Korine: Well, I hadn’t made a movie in a long time so there was definitely a lot of ideas. I had specific images of things like nuns jumping out of airplanes and riding bicycles in the clouds. There were things that were in my mind for a long time and I lived with them. Also, I had always been intrigued by Michael Jackson impersonators and I spent time in a hippie commune as a kid so I just started thinking about all of it. I though, it’d be really nice to see Sammy Davis Jr. washing his socks.
Prokopy: Do you remember where you saw your first Michael Jackson impersonator?
Korine: I don’t remember where I saw the first one but when I was living in Paris I was having some difficulty in my life and I was pretty out of it. There was a period of time when I would wrap myself in tinfoil and I would put rubber bands around my joints so I could move better. I would where this kind of like a shell and put a cap on my head because I felt I was having trouble containing my thoughts. It was around this time also that I became obsessed with cap guns. I used to go to the tourist stores and just buy all the cap guns. I was in a friends house on the Rue de Lis and I would walk around like that and just shoot these cap guns. So, one day I was doing it and there was a Michael Jackson impersonator who was out there dancing. I just happened to shoot a cap right next to him and just started flipping out and jumped to the floor and covered his head. I said, “What’s going on, are you okay?” He talked to me but he was German. I sat down with the guy and he lifted up his leg and showed me that it was basically a prostheses and that he had been to Vietnam and gotten his leg blown off or something and had had some sort of flashback when I shot the cap gun. Well anyway, we became close and that kind of started my off on this whole idea.
Prokopy: Did you shower in the shell, try to keep the thoughts in?
Korine: You know, some days.
Audience Member: Do you and Macaulay Culkin ever talk about his experiences with stuff like that?
Korine: Not really... didn’t really get into that whole thing.
Audience Member: This has to do with the two stories of the nuns and the impersonators. Do you draw the parallel between people living a religious life with dress that set them apart for other people and impersonators who go out in public places and attract people to them with costumes that set them apart?
Korine: Well, I’d just rather not say. You know, I always wanted to write a novel with pages missing in all the writes places so its the same things with movies. Its probably best that I don’t say. If I say it, it could ruin it for you. But what I will say is that to me, they are the same story, they always were the same story. To me, they both speak to the same ideas like transcendence or wanting to be other than what people are. People who create their own universe think the real world just isn’t enough, like dreamers.
Prokopy: Do you think for them, its about being famous? I remember the line Samantha Morton says that, "you can go to a place where everyone is famous." Do you get a sense that that’s what they’re trying to do?
Korine: I think they have the idea that what they’re doing is noble. Like that speech that the Queen gives. At the end they feel that they feel that they’ve lived through others and they can bring the spirit of wonder alive. There’s this idea that they’re doing something thats very special and bringing it to the masses.
Audience Member: How did Werner Herzog get involved?
Korine: I just asked him to do it.
Prokopy: Do you have any one great story about Werner? He’s been in other films of yours and one of your earliest supporters.
Korine: I have a lot of great stories but I wont say any of those. What I’ll do is just say one that’s medium. Once I met him in New York and we were hanging out talking and I noticed that he was wearing two belts. He was wearing one belt and like, another belt over it. At first I thought that maybe it was just some sort of weird design, like a belt made to look like a double belt. But it was actually two belts. I just said, “Werner, you’ve got two belts on” and he looked down at his pants and he just said, “Oh, you noticed this”.
Korine: Did doing a Dogme film prior to Mister Lonely have any influence or make any part more difficult? (referring to julien donkey-boy)
Korine: No, not at all. It made me feel more comfortable about things in life cause there were no rules.
Audience Member: Do you think that pure joy exists, or that a painful thing will always follow after?
Korine: Like he said in the movie, "nothing too good or too bad lasts too long." I do think it exists, but I’ve always felt like that. I think pure joy or pure bliss is fleeting, but it does exist in my experience. There’s definitely moments of ecstasy in life.
Audience Member: I’m curious about killing everyone off in the end. Was that something you planned before or was that something you thought of as you were writing.
Korine: I thought of it while I was writing it. Not too long ago, some guy came up to me with some fucked up deformity and he said he loved the movie but really didn’t like the part when the nuns died. I just thought, "who likes when nuns die"?
Prokopy: Satan... okay...
Audience Member: The part where the eggs are singing, it was emotional and I cried. I wonder, was that a problem you set up to overcome?
Korine: I guess the easiest way to put it is that when I make movies I just take what feels right to me. If there is an emotional sense to what I’m doing, not always a narrative sense or something my mind connect, but if its an emotional sense. Even though I know a scene like that is going to be off-putting to a certain amount of the audience, but if in my gut it feels correct, I just won’t question it. Also, there’s always a misconception about the films from the beginning like Gummo or Julien, that in the movie there was something to be got. That it was like you either got it or you didn’t, like you needed to somehow qualify yourself to understand the films. I always found that disappointing because that was never my intent. My films were not meant to be got, they were just meant to be experiential and to be felt. I never wanted to make movies that you could just talk away in words and that made perfect sense. I wanted my movies to make a perfect nonsense, you know. What I like as a filmmaker and what I like in life is awkwardness and mistakes. I like things that just exist and don’t necessary have a beginning middle and an end to them. So, a scene like the talking eggs, for me it just made emotional sense.
Audience Member: Well it did, I couldn’t believe I was crying at the eggs.
Korine: Thank you. Its one of those scenes that I’ve had people tell me that they really don’t like.
Prokopy: This is a much more emotional experience than some of your other films. The fact that someone is crying during a scene, and there’s a number of scenes that could evoke that reaction. Is that a product of you maturing or did you set out to make something like that.
Korine: I tried to do the same thing with the first movies I directed, but maybe its a little different. I always felt that the best thing was to feel multiple emotions. Like to find something funny, but feel guilt. When I’m really moved by something its usually something that works on multiple levels like something I’m attracted to but repulsed by. Or something that I’m hopeful for but saddened by. Things that aren’t just one way and are easily settled. Usually when I’m putting the films together, if there’s something that I feel works like that I tend to keep it in the movie.
Audience Member: How did Gummo end up in Belly exactly?
Korine: Its strange, I didn’t even hear about it until it was in theaters and this rapper called me and was like, "yo man, your movie is in that movie and DMX is watching it." I called my agent to tell him and was like, “how did my film end up in that other guys movie?” He said that I didn’t own it and they could basically sell it to beer commercials or whatever they wanted. But I was actually flattered because I like Hype Williams.
Prokopy: We talked about this before how you had read that among the fans of julien donkey-boy was Sylvester Stallone. He was doing an interview and he was asked what some of his favorite films were and he said, "I like everything from The Godfather to julien donkey-boy."
Korine: Yeah, it was also funny because I just heard that right before someone told me the story about how he got his nuts rubbed with the microphone on. Its a famous story, he was on set somewhere and he left his mic on and some woman was licking his balls and he’s like "Lick my shaft! Suck da balls," and everyone heard him!
Audience Member: Do you think that you’ll ever revisit Fight Harm?
Korine: Hopefully I won’t die for a couple years so I’ll have kind of a semi-long life. I’m hoping its one of those things I do later on in life. There’s nine fights that exist and are unedited so I probably will put them together. My wife hates the idea of me going back and looking at that stuff.
Audience Member: Will you ever bring David Blaine back in when you revisit it?
Korine: I don’t know, he was a shitty camera man.
Audience Member: Is there some reaction to the movie that you’re most afraid people will have?
Korine: No, I don’t care. I just don’t care, I never had. I want people to like the movie and want people to respond to it. When I was young and first started making movies I cared a lot more and thought about it a lot more about it than I do now. I thought about where the films fit in and how they are perceived by this type of person and that type of person and I was always wrong. Really, all I care about is making things. I really just like to make stuff so I’ll keep making things and put them out and keep going. Fassbinder used to say that making movies was like building a house and that some of his movies here like the floorboards, some were like the walls, some where like the chimney, some were like the kitchen and bedroom. The idea was that at the end of his life, he created some this house that he could live in and that all the films were made for difference reasons and at different points in his life. Thats something that I always understood and felt would be a good thing.
Audience Member: How closely did you work with Sun City Girls and J. Spaceman for the music they did for the film?
Korine: I worked pretty closely. I was friends with Sun City Girls and Jason before and they had read the script but I didn’t want them to write for the picture for the most part. There’s one or two scenes that there were certain cues that Jason had to write for directly. For the most part, we just talked about things. I wanted them to just go back and just vibe off of it and send me things. It was through mail mostly because I was editing in London and they were in Washington.
Audience Member: It seems like a lot of your movies are lead on by imagery. I read about one of your characters killing his parents naked because he didn’t want to get blood on his clothes (referring to Ken Park) was driven by an image you had in your head and wanted to see come alive. How much of your movies are made up of things you want to see?
Korine: I never actually saw Ken Park. I wrote it but I never actually saw it. Everything is something that I want to see. For the most part, everything starts from an image or pictures. Like, I’ll see some lady walking down the street with curlers in here hair and wearing boxing gloves smashing herself in the face and I’ll just start to say, "wow, that’s a great movie." That’s kind of how a make movies.
Prokopy: Image before plot?
Audience Member: At any point in your early career did you try to adhere to a more conventional structure? If so, what was your experience with that process?
Korine: Well, Kids is conventional. I just never felt like writing movies like that. I felt that so many other people were making those movies and I never felt that life was plotted out. I always hated people that plotted. Like, I’m going to plot to win the presidency or I’m going to plot to fuck this girl... Like, I hate you. I just think it’s best to have my movies have images that come from all directions and make sense of sight and sound in a different type of way. In most movies, all I ever remembered were specific characters and specific scenes. So, early on I just thought, why not make movies that consisted entirely of just great scenes. In most films, you just waste like 45 minutes to get to that really good point and then you waste another 30 minutes to leave that point. You’re always working to get there, why not just make a movie of just there.
Audience Member: Part of that emotional core that you talk about comes through amazingly with the music selection. Do you have them in mind as you’re going through or do you think of the selection later when you’re done?
Korine: Music is strange, its always one of those things that is a mystery to me still. I love music, but its always one of those things where its impossible to predict how something is going to work with it. For the most part, when I write with a song in mind, it doesn’t work. Like, Mister Lonely the song worked, but a lot of times music that sounds cinematic destroys the image because its too heavy and in and of itself is a movie. Just like a normal person who likes music, I just listen to music and if there’s a song thats kind of strange or has a certain feeling I just take a mental note of it. Editing is a major piece of the process and takes lots and lots of time and trying lots and lots of different types of music and experimenting with things. But there’s no science to music.
Audience Member: I thought it was interesting how this film featuring a Michael Jackson impersonator used no music of Michael Jackson obviously for licensing costs. If you lived in an alternate universe where you could use a Jackson song in the picture, would you have?
Korine: No, because this German guy used to only grunt into the microphone and only does the same two moves over and over again. It’s like a human loop and I found it so great that I wouldn’t want real Michael Jackson music to kill it.
Prokopy: Harmony, thank you very much.
Korine: Thanks everybody for coming and seeing the movie.