HARMONY KORINE IS JESUS
Jameel Bharmal / Vice / April 1998
"I can't sit there, it would make me feel weird."
Harmony Korine is unhappy with my seating arrangement. He doesn't like the idea of lying in a lounge chair for the interview I set up.
"It would make me feel like I was in therapy." I notice that his pants are sewn together with dental floss.
It's a nice day during Toronto's Film Festival, and Harmony is by the pool at the Sheraton, talking (in an upright position) about his film, Gummo.
The setting is Xenia, Ohio, a small ugly town that never recovered from a devastating tornado. It's filled with numbly bored teens (actors who for the most part are people Harmony grew up with or their brothers/sisters/kids) turning to senseless violence, uncomfortable sex, Satanism, whatever, in a desperate attempt to do something. The film doesn't tell us, and Harmony doesn't seem to want to, either.
Harmony avoids any responsibility for his portrayal of American youth, a repeat performance of Kids, for which he wrote the screenplay and then skated off into the sunset, leaving director Larry Clark to fend off accusations of making kiddie porn. "Nobody was forced to do anything they didn't want to do." Says Korine.
Jameel Bharmal: What about the girl who shaved her eyebrows off?
Harmony Korine: I can explain it away in a second: that is her fashion. I had known her for years. She and her mother always shaved their eyebrows, but I didn't want to explain that, I just wanted to see her shave her eyebrows. [But he continues to tap his foot.]
Bharmal: What about the guys who punch each other in the face repeatedly?
Korine: That's the way they really are. They beat each other up, when they were 12 they used to beat up men. [He checks his fingernails, adjusts his pants, and continues.] There is no meaning in my movies. [Checks over his shoulder. Shifts in chair.] I don't give a fuck. I just make movies I want to see, with the people I want in them.
In Kids, 12-year-olds are smoking pot. In Gummo they're huffing glue. In Kids there's rape. In Gummo one guy prostitutes his retarded sister. In Kids they beat the living snot out of some guy in a skate park. In Gummo they're killing cats with bb guns, nooses, rocks, their bare hands. But in Gummo, Harmony has all but abandoned a narrative. It is a collage of emotions and images, a visually stunning whirlwind of super 8, digital, beta, film, pixelvision, whatever he could get his hands on.
"There is no such thing as truth in film," he says. "The idea of 24 frames of truth is a fallacy. It's all poetry. And the approximation of truth, the presentation is everything. I make it look like truth but I'm making it all up: that's why people hate the film: it is confusing. As soon as you have a camera on someone they are acting: they are performing. Film is trickery."
The difficulty of a regular Q&A with Harmony Korine is that you're never quite sure when he's letting you in and when he is simply talking shit. During the interview he bounced from tales of "performance" abortions performed with shish-kebab skewers to explaining why film should embrace collage and free itself from the shackles of a plot. From finding a human shoulder in one of the houses where he was shooting, to confessing that his gold teeth were fitted after gulping back $1100 worth of methadone and subjecting himself to a street dentist, to offering up the fact that Gummo's "killing the chair" scene (an un-fucking believable scene where these guys get completely wasted and take turns wrestling a chair) was shot by leaving beer and a camera in a kitchen and letting the scene just "happen."
He vomits out a flurry of observations and theories, some of which are meant to be evasive and others to explain. It's like he's playing chicken with his image. He dares you to write him off as the fucked-up kid who doesn't give a shit and who just makes shock movies filled with terrible images.
The movie travels on a similar tangent. It is filled with terrible images and judged on its own has little worth. But if you can provide the context, the film is a good example of cinema's ability to use collage to express a message. The message of this movie is simple: kids are fucked up and if you don't give them love they are going to do fucked-up things trying to find it.