HARMONY KORINE INTERVIEW
Dantek Walczak / Index Magazine / 1997
In the short time since he moved out of his grandmother's house in Queens and lost twenty pounds, Harmony Korine has been hard at work. He is, first and foremost, a storyteller, and at 19, he wrote the script for the film Kids, directed by Larry Clark. At 23, he is behind the camera, directing his first film, Gummo. And although it's not so easily pinned down - either by story or style - Gummo does what films are supposed to do: it keeps your eyes glued to the characters on the screen, and keeps you wondering what they're going to say or do next all the way through to the end. Gummo is such an original film that it's bound to be copied, and although we'll probably have to suffer through all the movies it "inspires," we can't really complain. After all, Harmony managed to coax Linda Manz out of retirement - she hadn't appeared in a film since 1978's Out of the Blue - and her performance here is sure to attract more than a little attention. Of course, most importantly, and even regardless of whether you love Gummo or not, Harmony's reminded us that a film is only truly independent when it does exactly what it wants to do.
Dantek Walczak: Now the purpose of what we are about to do, Harmony, is to get down to the facts, for you are notoriously loose with the facts. What do you think would be a good question to start with?
Harmony Korine: Oh, I don't know... We should just talk about the fact that I prefer butter on toast more than the wine that... that you're not drinking.
Walczak: Here's a toast, then...
Korine: There you go. A toast to the woman on my left and to the woman on my right. Jesus, that ass is boomin.'
Walczak: It is boomin,' and I can see it makes you happy. Tell me, this is your first interview ever, isn't it?
Korine: No, no, I've done a few hundred. [laughs] But this is one of the first ones for this movie.
Walczak: So you don't know what the pattern of questions will be? Can you anticipate that?
Korine: I'm not exactly sure what people will take with them, and I'm not really trying to prepare anything. But... you know what you were saying before, after Versace was shot? I was really just worried about things of that nature. Today, when I walked downstairs with my assistant - we were going to the bar next door - and my doorman told me that a 40-year-old Hispanic man had been looking for me. He wanted to know if I was home. He said that he was a bookseller and he wanted to sell me books. My doorman told me that the guy was saying that I played basketball with his godson, or something like that. And he was saying my name in a way that would kind of infer a friendship. But it couldn't be true because I haven't played basketball since I was eleven.
[Dinner comes to the table]
Wow, this food looks good, but I've gotta take out my gold teeth. You should ask me about my gold teeth.
Walczak: What motivated you to start wearing gold teeth?
Korine: I decided to get them when I met Ol' Dirty Bastard. I just admired him. I admired his fronts, his gold teeth. He had them on the top and the bottom. I liked his style. I thought I'd mimic it.
Walczak: Where did you get them?
Korine: I went to Fulton Street in Brooklyn. The guy that sold me them was this guy wearing a black cape with a T-shirt underneath that said "Hugs Not Drugs."
Walczak: Are you a little worried now, with your work, that some people are going to accept you unconditionally? And how do you account for the mainstream?
Korine: You mean, how will I want to infiltrate a pop culture scenario? That's the goal, I think. Not the goal, but the challenge. I want to put my movies out in the malls for people to see, for kids to see. I think that's much more important than anything else. I don't know how I'm gonna do it...
Walczak: Did you ever believe in the underground? There are still a lot of people out there who really appear to believe in integrity and staying underground.
Korine: I don't really know if there's such a thing anymore - if the underground exists. It exists for someone like Dostoyevsky. But at the same time I can see it in the eyes of Janet Jackson. I can see it in the... in the palm of Michael J. Fox. So it exists, but exists in a gray spot only to be found between the pages of Celebrity Sleuth. I think that's where it's at right now. But I'm not really concerned with any idea of underground or credibility, just the gray spots of celebrities.
Walczak: What do you mean exactly by the gray spots?
Korine: You know, that vague area, that hidden notion of fame and the undertow of its trappings.
Walczak: Do you get motivated by things that disgust you?
Korine: That's a key.
Walczak: Is it hatred or love that wins in the end?
Korine: If I have to pick, I will definitely be on the side of love, but for me, at least in my work, hatred is much more plentiful, much more driving. Maybe anger leads the way.
Walczak: What specifically do you...
Korine: Things that I hate?
Walczak: Yeah, or even something that just drives you...
Korine: Gosh, it's so vast. I'm trying to think what I've really been disliking lately. I've been disliking things that are kind of complicated. I've not been liking things that appear mathematical. It's hard to explain. I'm digging the ditch of a simpler time. I don't know... It was interesting when Robert Mitchum died, and the very next day Jimmy Stewart died, and then Charles Kuralt died. And with each day, each man died, and the death of each man was somehow a symbolic force for me, an influence for me. Those three men represented some kind of fantasy that I thrive off of.
Walczak: You're digging the ditch of simplicity...
Korine: Do you want some more wine? What about some bump? Want a bump? What about this waitress?
Walczak: I'd like to talk a bit about Gummo, which to me doesn't draw so much on styles from other films or filmmaking. And the closest thing, if I wanted to cite a reference to it, and I don't know if you'll agree with me or not, is vaudeville.
Korine: Oh, totally. I'm a huge fan of vaudeville - like Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson. And actually, one of the main characters in Gummo is named Tummler, and the name Tummler was given to the kind of lower level comics, Catskill comics from back in the day. The guys that would check you into a hotel room, take your coat, and at the same time throw a few one-liners out. They're like the warm-up, the lowest level comedian. The tummler. I'm a big fan of vaudeville. That type of entertainment, I love, that real showmanship. That's been a big influence on me.
Walczak: What's interesting with vaudeville was that the skills of the acts would vary wildly. You would have someone who was just there for their physical presence, and they'd be stuck right alongside real performers. There seems to be some of that going on in Gummo.
Korine: Yeah, exactly. There's this random tragedy associated with the decline of the vaudeville entertainer... which is a theme in Gummo, that I completely stole from vaudeville. I love that. I love the idea of Jolson stealing jokes and Milton Berle having a thirteen inch flaccid member. Those are all parts of the vaudeville repertoire.
Walczak: And you consciously avoided the narrative... like with vaudeville, you could always pick and choose. If you got bored with the boxing cats, you could get off on the next act.
Korine: I know that people say that there's no narrative in vaudeville, but I think there is a narrative and there's a definite narrative in Gummo. It's just maybe more hidden, it's more the idea that the narrative comes through the idea of association, just by virtue of the scenes being kind of run along, put next to each other, that a narrative forms. It's like looking at a book of private photos. There's a picture of you in front of a castle or maybe a monument. And next to that is a picture of your grandfather on the toilet. And next to that is a picture you took of Michael Jackson. If you looked at them on their own without knowing the context, then they would seem singular or random. But just because one is next to the other, a kind of narrative comes through. That goes along with Gummo. That's how Gummo was written.
Walczak: You cast Linda Manz in Gummo, and she hadn't appeared in a film in a long time, although people certainly remember her for Days Of Heaven and Out Of The Blue.
Korine: I had always admired her. There was this sense about her that I liked - it wasn't even acting. It was like the way I felt about Buster Keaton when I first saw him. There was a kind of poetry about her, a glow. They both burnt off the screen. She had married an orchard farmer in Northern California, and had three boys. She had to return my calls from a Texaco station.
Walczak: And what was it like working with her?
Korine: It was what I knew it would be. She was very elf-like. Always dancing around. She would spin on her belly.
Walczak: Is there anyone else you especially want to write parts for and work with?
Korine: Paul Reubens. I would love to work with him, but not as Pee Wee, as whatever his next incarnation is, as something more sincere. He's this emblem of tragic comedy. An American original.
Walczak: In Gummo, you show people of varying degrees of handicap, be it mental, physical or socioeconomic. What do you have to say to someone who would accuse you of creating a "pornography of disability?"
Korine: I would say that I feel no need to justify what I'm putting out there. Maybe it's unusual because in most movies everything you're seeing, you're seeing for some kind of reason, there's some kind of explanation. And what's done in Gummo is that you're seeing these images and I'm not necessarily justifying them. The reason you're seeing these things is because these are all images I wanted to see, these are people I wanted to see, these are all obsessions, maybe personal obsessions - which I think is lacking in cinema today, and even in cinema past. But I think it should be this way, I'd like to create a cinema of passion and obsession. And that's what this is. I mean, justify Julia Roberts, justify Mel Gibson's tight ass... I don't give a fuck. I just want to do whatever I want to do. I don't care about any of it. I don't feel like anyone's being made fun of. I just wanted to see this.
Walczak: You're pretty much standing alone in American cinema.
Korine: I have no bond or any kind of relationship to any other filmmakers working, not just in America, but anywhere. I personally don't feel a part of any movement. I don't feel a part of anything. I feel totally removed. In fact, I almost feel that what I'm doing is completely separate. If what I go to the movies for now are movies, I almost feel like Gummo is not a movie - if that makes any kind of sense at all. I don't know what it is. I mean, it's definitely a movie. But I just feel like there's no relationship between what I'm doing and what others are doing, and the way my movies are made and the way others are made. When I watch the E! channel, and I hear actors or directors talking about the kind of experiences they have in the way their films are made and what goes on, raising money and their creative process, I'm sitting there not understanding anything they're talking about. It seems like I have no idea what's going on. It's like I have a completely separate job. And I enjoy that. I am curious as to what those guys are up to, but I have no idea what it is.
Walczak: There is this vague notion of an independent film movement in America these days. You consider it to be pretty much a red herring?
Korine: Yeah, I don't understand that at all. I don't think there's such a thing. Independent movies - when I hear that term I think all an independent film is is a mainstream movie that looks ugly. I don't even know what it is. I think it's all fallacy. It's all shit. I'd like to shit on it. I'll open its mouth and piss in it, in its lips, in the lips of an indie. I'm totally not independent at all. I'm a patriot.
Walczak: Do you ever imagine that there could be a movement which you could at least say you're a part of?
Walczak: What's your opinion on other, maybe more credible, film movements?
Korine: I don't think there's any history of an American "New Wave." The only history of radical cinema in America is of individual filmmakers. Even the French New Wave to me is just a load of crap. Rohmer, Truffaut, Chabrol - in my opinion, those guys were just bores. The French New Wave was only Godard and continues to be to this day. I think it's always just one significant director and a bunch of people that latch onto that person.
Walczak: Now you're an industry supported filmmaker, backed by a pretty nice-sized studio - I mean, behind Fine Line there's New Line, and then there's Ted Turner, I think. Are you getting the kind of freedom that you actually need?
Korine: I have it rigged in a secretive way. I am one hundred percent commercial, patriot, auteurist, new waver, and I'll die with my secrets of independence and righteousness.
Walczak: And finally, to round things out, Brad Pitt was getting photographed in my building today. Pitch me a movie starring Brad Pitt.
Korine: Brad Pitt gets his arms amputated. I will call the film "Brad Arm Pitt." It will flop for sure, a stupid movie, a dumb idea.