Author Unknown / Vice / March 2008

Five years ago Harmony Korine made a documentary about David Blaine and then dropped off the face of the earth. Every so often he'd pop up to make a commercial or music video, but for the most part he was holed up somewhere in Paris gorging himself on McDonald's or heroin, depending on which rumors you believe. Then, out of the blue, he showed back up and started making Mister Lonely, a lush, bittersweet film about a Michael Jackson impersonator who winds up in a commune of celebrity lookalikes. We caught up with him to try and find out what drove him off and brought him back in.

Vice: Where've you been all this time?

Harmony Korine: Well, I just felt a general disconnection with things. I couldn’t really figure out what was going on and was pretty unhappy with where I was. For the most part I just wanted to live a life that was kind of separate from the world I'd been in. So I spent a few years as a lifeguard and then I was a bricklayer’s assistant. The last thing I cared about was making more movies. That thing had mostly left me. I felt like I’d put everything out and didn’t have anything left to give.

Vice: How did get over this malaise?

Korine: I fell in with a group, I guess you could call them a cult, known as the Malingerers that I’d met in Panama. They were basically just fishermen. There were seventy men and like a dozen of their wives and they were searching for this fish called the Malingerer, which is like a golden carp with three dots on the side of its gills. None had been photographed since the beginning of the last century. I thought "Wow," y’know. I bought the dream. So I spent like six months there, floating around and fishing.

Vice: Did you ever find one?

Korine: Well, I started to hear whispers that a Japanese businessman had been offering a hefty reward—up to a million dollars—for a Malingerer, which made me feel like I’d been stabbed in the back. So I got into a fight with Hector, one of the leaders, and he basically admitted it to me that that was the real reason they were after it. Then, as I was packing my bags to leave, I was approached by a fisherwoman I’d grown close to who walked around with a leash tied to an invisible dog. She asked me what I believed in. I said I wasn’t sure. She then handed me her leash, which I took back with me to Nashville.

Vice: Then what happened?

Korine: I was staying in the basement of a friend of mine and I hung this leash on the wall. About two weeks later, I swear, on this one night I heard something bark. Shortly after that I just started dreaming about nuns on airplanes, nuns riding bikes in the clouds, and it all started to coalesce. I knew it was time for me to start making movies again.

Vice: Would you say it was a cathartic experience?

Korine: It was coming out of something. I didn’t want to have disappeared for all those years and then come out with something that was just like… bleak. My intention with the movie was to make something that was like more hopeful, or could convey more of a sense of like, that there was a beauty, a magic to certain things, that I hadn’t understood before.

Vice: How did you decide to ask Jason Spaceman to do the soundtrack for Mister Lonely?

Korine: I dunno. His music helped me come out of some things in my life.

Vice: It’s funny because Samantha Morton (who plays a Marilyn Monroe lookalike in the film) just said in an interview that she nearly died from a stroke in 2006 and was nursed back to health by Jason Pierce. Is he like the go-to guy for the ailing?

Korine: (Laughs) If you met Jason that would seem even more insane! Maybe he is just like a lightening rod for deformity and disease. (Laughs).

Vice: How did you end up in Panama in the first place?

Korine: Twelve years ago my parents found a property in Bocas del Toro, as far as you could go into the jungle, by the ocean. It was just pure jungle when they got it, not even a road. So they spent a long time, a couple of years, getting it together. Now they’ve built a solar-powered house out there in the middle of the jungle.

Vice: Do you like it there? That's where I'm from.

Korine: I love it. I want to spend half the year in Panama City. It’s probably my favorite place in the world. You know that place Casco Viejo? It’s like the French Quarter in New Orleans. The colors and textures are really great and everything's kind of strange and small and scary. The neighborhoods are crazy. If you walk down the wrong street it’s like “Woah!” and you’re suddenly surrounded by glue-sniffers. I want to make movies there. And the girls in Panama are... [long pause]

Vice: It’s insane.

Korine: Have you been to the stripclubs there?

Vice: No.

Korine: Me and my wife went to this one strip club and there were like 70 girls for like five guys. The girls in Panama, if you like asses... They have the best asses in the world. You can quote me on that.

Vice: Hey, you know that story about how you lost a whole movie script when all your stuff was burned in a house fire. Is it true that you paid people at NASA to retrieve the hard-drive off your melted laptop?

Korine: It cost me close to $15,000 and all I got back was a single sentence that said: "The speech is pointless; the finger is speechless." That was the entire thing. It was the most money ever paid for a sentence.

Vice: So what else are you up to these days?

Korine: I’m married now and I have a house. I have another movie that I wrote. And then I made this documentary about a woman from Haiti called Sister Sherlock. She’s is a tap-dancer who lives out in Baton Rouge and does special brand of tap-dance I call “voodoo tap-dance.” She does these moves called “above the ankle, below the waist." It’s basically a series of moves that, if you watch them, I guess they’re supposed to be able to put you in a trace. So I spent a little time with this lady making an instructional video. It’s not a film, but it’s just something good to put out in the world to contribute to the greater good.

Vice: Did you pick up any tap shoes while you were shooting it?

Korine: Yeah, I did actually. They’re upstairs in my room.

Vice: Sweet.

Korine: I like to tap-dance with no laces in my shoes. You gain that extra amount of freedom.

Vice: Do you ever just wear them out?

Korine: No. I don’t want to scuff those fuckers up.