Ellen E Jones / Little White Lies / July 11, 2008

Little White Lies talks to Harmony Korine about his aborted, real life Fight Club project, Fight Harm..

Ellen E Jones: Where did the idea for Fight Harm come from?

Harmony Korine: Three Stooges movies and W.C. Fields, that kind of physical slapstick humour. I started to think about what I could do to add to that and that maybe I could make a film that would just consist entirely of me getting beaten up. It was like boiling it down to its comedic essence, in the way that, say, when a guy walks into a bar and slips on a banana peel and smashes his head it’s hilarious. The concept was just basically very simple. My intention was to fight every demographic. Basically, we wanted to make like the great American comedy.

Jones: Did you intend it to be funny from the start?

Korine: Yeah.

Jones: Do you think there’s a tragic side as well?

Korine: Yeah, definitely. Like in the Buster Keaton film Steamboat Bill, Jr., when he breaks his back and he didn’t know he broke his back it’s hilarious. There’s a kind of pain behind that that makes it more interesting for me. At the same time the repetition meant that the brutality of it would take on a really slapstick quality, almost like a looping type effect, y’know. One day I would fight like a huge lesbian from Harlem, the next day I would fight like an Arab guy with a mandolin.

Jones: Did you pick people out to fight as you saw them in the street?

Korine: Yeah, I mean, there were certain guidelines and rules that were laid down before.

Jones: What were the rules?

Korine: I would never throw the first punch - it wasn’t about me beating anyone up, it was the opposite, it was about me provoking strangers, basically doing whatever I had to. I would pick a stranger, I’d target, I’d provoke...

Jones: Did you have to be quite creative to get them to fight with you?

Korine: Yeah, each one was different.

Jones: What did you say to the lesbian from Harlem for instance?

Korine: Well you know, whatever, you know. I don’t really remember, to be honest what exactly was said. I was kind of out of it at the time. You just say whatever you have to say. The other thing was that no matter what, the fight could never stop unless it looked like I was absolutely gonna get killed.

Jones: How did you get together a crew that were willing to go along with that? Were they people you’d worked with for a long time?

Korine: Yeah, they were just people and friends. I wouldn’t say it was a really great crew by any stretch of the imagination. It was just a bunch of bums, schlums and tramps, basically, and then my friend the magician David Blaine was involved, just walking round, overseeing the thing. We had some producers from his shows that would stand holding the forms to get permission. The hard part initially was that you have to get permission from everyone who appears in it. After these intense brawls someone would have to jump out of a bush and ask them to sign a release form?

Jones: And did they usually sign the release form?

Korine: Yeah, always.

Jones: Oh, really? Without exception?

Korine: Yeah, even people who pressed charges on me signed release forms.

Jones: You must have had some very persuasive producers.

Korine: No, it wasn’t even that hard.

Jones: What do you think the crew thought of you. Do you think they respected you for your commitment to the project? Or did they think you’d lost it?

Korine: Well, I don’t know. Most of them were drunk, so I didn’t really care what they thought.

Jones: And what about you? You must have been quite drunk to do that.

Korine: Well, you know. I would drink what I had to drink.

Jones: How did you psyche yourself up?

Korine: Well, I just thought it was... I just wanted to make people laugh. I just wanted to play it for the audience, to go out there. I didn’t really take so much psyching up. I just wanted to have a good time and make people laugh and do what I had to.

Jones: Do you not have that primal fear of being punched in the head, though?

Korine: Not so much. It just seemed like something that the kids back home would love.

Jones: So was it part Jackass-style prank, part greatest comedy of the 21st century

Korine: I mean, I guess it was before that Jackass and all that stuff, so there wasn’t really any kind of reference for it, at least in my mind doing it. I just really thought I would do about 15 to 20 of these and then edit them and then they would play in all the shopping malls. I thought that they would become, you know if I ever completed it, I thought it would somehow get a really mainstream audience, like the kind of thing that Harrison Ford would come out and endorse. Or Tom Hanks would maybe narrate it as if he were God.

Jones: What was the worst fight in terms of physical damage?

Korine: The worst one was the bouncer at Stringfellows, who stamped on both my ankles and tried to strangle me with the string of a balloon. Or actually did strangle me with the string of a balloon. That was pretty bad.

Jones: Did you not want to stop that fight? You must have wanted to run away from that one.

Korine: Well, that one was pretty funny actually.

Jones: Are you still living with any of the injuries?

Korine: No, not really. At least none of the physical injuries [laughs].

Jones: And obviously you didn’t manage to make the 15. Was it you that called a stop to it? Or what happened?

Korine: : Yeah, I couldn’t really continue. At a certain point, I’d spent too much time and money in hospitals and mental wards. So I didn’t really have the wherewithal to finish and I couldn’t really bring myself to do it anymore also. And for the most part people were abandoning me. Everyone seemed to be worried about me.

Jones: Including David Blaine?

Korine: No, not really... everyone was concerned about my sanity, but in truth I was totally sane. I was never for a moment insane. I knew exactly what I was doing and I just thought it was noble. That was the only thing. I just thought it was entertainment. It was like pure comedy. I just wanted to make clear the way I felt about Laurel and Hardy. I wanted to make something that would make a new generation feel the same way.

Jones: Do you stand by that? Do you still feel the same way about the project in retrospect?

Korine: I don’t know, it’s hard to say. I feel like I’m glad I did it. [pause]

Jones: ...but you wouldn’t do it again?

Korine: [laughs] No, I couldn’t do it again, no.

Jones: Did you hear from any of the people you got into fights with afterwards?

Korine: Well I did hear from this woman who actually had gotten electroshock therapy.

Jones: What? As a result of the fight?

Korine: Well, that’s what I wanted to know, but she said it didn’t have anything to do with that. The woman had punctured the side of my belly with the tip of her umbrella. She wrote me this letter and said that it had cost her a great deal of trauma, but then again, after the electric shock, she found the humour in it. It was actually like a letter of congratulations, a thank you letter. She said that in hindsight, after the electric shock therapy, she realised that her puncturing my stomach had actually been beneficial to her, it helped fight her depression.

Jones: Who knew electric shock therapy was so successful?

Korine: Yeah.

Jones: So do you think great filmmakers should be prepared to suffer to make their films? Does that go hand in hand with the job description?

Korine: No, I think it’s different for everyone. It really depends. I couldn’t say exactly.

Jones: Do you think there’s any correlation between how extreme the process of making the film is and how good the resulting film it.

Korine: It’s always nice to see someone put themselves out there, even if it doesn’t work, it’s always nice to see someone push themselves to some sort of an extreme. I’d much rather watch that than a dilettante behind the camera.

Jones: And do you value that risk-taking quality in the people you work with? In actors?

Korine: I value that in life.

Jones: Do you ever worry about getting a reputation that scares off actors from potentially working with you?

Korine: Oh no. I couldn’t care less about that kind of stuff.

Jones: Do you think modern films are too safe generally.

Korine: I don’t know. There are still people making okay movies, I just think, you know, what can I say? Most of the stuff doesn’t really excite me, but that’s just the way it is and it’s always been that way.

Jones: So it’s not something that you’re particularly keen to change?

Korine: Yeah, whatever, I just make movies because there’s certain things that I need to see and that I want to see and I feel like I have to do, so...

Jones: Will you continue to put yourself in harm’s way or are those days behind you now?

Korine: Oh yeah. I’m sure I’ll do something, I’ll keep trying. It’s not like I’m a daredevil or anything. Really, I just want to make people laugh.

Jones: I just thought of a good title for your unauthorised biography, by the way.

Korine: Oh yeah?

Jones: Harm’s Way, you could call it.

Korine: [laughs] I like that.

Jones: So I take it there are still no concrete plans to release Fight Harm?

Korine: You know I go back and forth and I have done for years. I don’t know if putting it out would be a let down, if it’s ever gonna be as good as what you imagine it to be in your mind. I don’t know if, in some ways, maybe just the idea is enough. I did just start to show people a lot of the stills from the fights. I don’t know, we’ll see what happens. Hopefully, I’ll have a long life and I can get that shit out there later if I need to.