“Life is wonderful, full of beauty and illusions. Life is great. Without it you’d be dead,”
independent film creator Harmony Korine declared in his 1997 directorial debut ‘Gummo.’ Always known to
push the end of the envelope, Korine has taken so many unexplored routes to create a new type American
cinema that will illuminate and indulge his audience over and over again. With the inspiration of
Middle-America congregated with a twist of early upper-class humanism and a hint of Johnny Cash
innuendo his views on societal structure are but a mere factor on the infamous inner workings of his
mind. Therefore in this composition one will expand upon and depict the work of Harmony Korine
within the independent film industry to substantiate the true genius that lies within his filmmaking.
Even at the earliest of ages Korine was inspired by the aesthetic of film. Being the son of
Sol Korine, a PBS documentary director, Harmony at first hand was introduced to the world of cinema. Also
a casualty of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Harmony would watch endless hours of
television to fill the insomnia brought on by the prescription drug Ritalin. And as Harmony grew older
his overwhelming interest in television came to a halt when he began to pay more attention to the Marx
Brothers films. Apparently withholding amazing artistic visual elements on a simple eight millimeter
camera, these film ideals began to open doors onto more experimental and imaginatively inclined motion
pictures including directors such as Goddard, Fellini, and Herzog.
In 1993 Korine moved to New York from Nashville to live with his grandmother, Joyce Korine,
and study English at NYU, which consequently was only for one semester. By this time he had been
writing ideas for screen plays, most of which that took him no longer than 2 hours to write, but still he
continued to carry on his life like a normal teenager. That is until one late afternoon while
skateboarding in Washington Square Park that young Harmony Korine had caught the eye of photographer
Larry Clark, whom of which at the time completely immersed himself in his latest affliction of taking
pictures of teenage life for Grind magazine. Bemused by Clark, Harmony began to interrogate him
about photography, then film, and then finally began listing artists who have influenced his recent
work. By default Korine pulled out of his knapsack one of his most recent demonstrations with his
facility of the cinematography medium, the script for Kids. Despite Harmony’s “Middle-class Jewish kid”
persona, Clark thoroughly enjoyed the script which appeared to be astoundingly graphic and melodramatic,
but peeked into the reality of natural teenage life in Manhattan. With Korine under his wing, Larry
Clark posed as the middle-aged photographer-turned-director who convincingly captured the attitudes,
desires, and lack of perspective of Korine’s pragmatic teenage characters. In bare bones and
minimalist style, Clark and Korine presented a cautionary tale about teenage sex in the dawning of
the AIDS era which focused on a bunch of New York-based teenage lives in a 24-hour period. In process of
distribution the beautifully crafted yet truthful film was slapped with an NC-17 rating, striking a blow
in Clark’s general direction for creating such a pornographic image of the American youth. Recognizing
the reality of the picture, a chord was struck across the nation, and both Harmony Korine and Larry
Clark were applauded for their debut in American cinema in 1995. But that was only the beginning of
Korine’s reign of realism in film.
In 1997 Harmony made his directorial debut with the significantly titled film, Gummo, which was
cleverly named after the supposed missing Marx brother. A series of stories in which created a
montage of a small white-trash town which never
financially or emotionally regained strength after a tornado in the late1970's. Gummo being twice as
disturbing as his first film Kids, was created by using a colorful cast of characters in which he claims
were randomly chosen from slaughter houses and Burger Kings. His main characters, the critically
acclaimed ‘Paint Sniffing Survivors,’ from the Sally Jessie Raphael Show fit the roles like a glove
and gave the film an extra kick seeing how he was using authentic people instead of actors. The
brilliant cinematography gave Harmony that extra punch of creative expression and allowed the ideas in
his head to come alive onto the silver screen. Harmony exploited a lot of his characters oddities to
show the true beauty and ugliness because their beauty remained all too profound. Grotesque visions
from a girl with Down Syndrome shaving her eyebrows to the mystique of a cocaine dealer who was
into wife-swapping all proved to America that there are people who are truly like this within
society, but most choose to only look outside when these people encompass an authentic inner-splendor
that is surpassed in everyday life. While refreshingly refraining from cross-film references,
Gummo has extraordinary power and exquisiteness lies in its ability to walk that fabulously blurry
line between art and manipulation, documentary and fiction, dignity and depravity, humor and sadness.
Gummo is a film which bravely gives Hollywood the finger by taking big risks. This translates into a
genuinely new viewing experience for the young of mind. With Harmony’s all too unusual and shocking
representation with Gummo the film was nominated for the Grand Prix Asturias at the Gijón International
Film Festival and the Open Palm award at the Gotham awards, and won the special jury award at The
Gijón international film festival, The KNF award at the Rotterdam International film festival, and won
an honorable mention at the Venice Film Festival. Korine was applauded for his efforts, even by one of
his true filmmaking idols Werner Herzog, who sent a fan letter after the release of Gummo. He was
quickly announced to be one of the best filmmakers in modern cinema, and like the Harmony Korine he was
he took that title with a grain of salt as he moved onto his next artistic endeavor.
In a creative meeting destined to at least blow a few minds, the band Sonic Youth tapped 23-year-
old Korine to direct their upcoming video for the song “Sunday.” The ringleader of the group, Thurston
Moore, first met the virtuous ball of ingenuity as well as a number of young actors featured in Kids when
the band was on the hunt for adolescents to appear in another video. Despite being more familiar with
Harmony, Moore thought the decision to let the juvenile director take the reigns on the groups new
video was not an immediate one. While overseas speaking with the press someone had questioned as to
whom would gut the virginal album by video production. Staring out into the conference Moore
noticed a promotional poster for Gummo and announced that Harmony Korine was the pick of the
week. Consequently Sonic Youth returned to the states and immediately contacted Korine who agreed,
but with the stipulation that child star Macaulay Culkin had to be on camera for the vast majority of
the shoot. Enthralled by the idea, Macaulay, Harmony, and Sonic Youth united the fruits of that
creative union and shaped a four minute focus on Culkin studying his face in a mirror while Thurston’s
vocals and heeding guitar riffs echoed within the cinematography.
With Julien Donkey-Boy, inspired by his Uncle Eddie, Harmony wanted to create a film that would do
Schizophrenia justice, a film that would capture the imperative idea and the experience of Korine’s
home life when he was younger. Before filming, he wanted to originally cast his Uncle, but the
incapacitated Uncle Eddie was unable to be released from the institution in which he was living
in. Korine’s main objective was to direct people to see the realism of this illness instead of seeing
the lovable eccentric or the cute Schizophrenic that was often portrayed in box-office-based films. He
took an alternate base by filming the vast majority of the movie within his grandmother’s home in
order to capture the essence and memories of actions exposed by Eddie. Moreover, his alternative
thought for the preparation stages of the film was to cast someone who could tolerate spending several
hours studying Eddie’s speech and cadences. Harmony believed if the actors couldn't understand the
reality of the film it may have fallen apart. As a result using the Dogma 95 rules, dependable actors
such as Ewen Bremner amazingly adapting to the task of playing the Schizophrenic Julien and Chloe
Sevigny as his pregnant sister Pearl, with the help of his new found associate Werner Herzog, Harmony
created a brilliant film cut into several segments to generate the tenderness and honesty of one
Schizophrenic human being. The production was introduced as an anti-narrative and linear work.
Setting sights on a dysfunctional family living together in Queens, who were followed around by spy
cameras to see their everyday existence, while encouraging impromptu situations and dialogue. Like
Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy eschews traditional narrative in favor of an improvisatory, kaleidoscopic
approach. In fact, the cast of characters provide some of the movie's most upbeat, joyous performances,
belying the notion that they are being used as little more than living props. Herzog’s performance
was credited greatly for the role of Father Bishop, which not only shaped a charismatic acting
career for Herzog but also provided intrigue to his own films. Not only was Werner’s career obliged,
but Julien Donkey-Boy soon became a natural selection of the Sundance Film Festival and well
engraved into the strip of independent mainstream. Noting Harmony Korine once again and plastering his
film career onto greater heights.
It was in late 1999 that Harmony met the magic man virtuoso David Blaine at a local club called
Hell’s Kitchen where he would presumably show up on a nightly basis. Blaine, who was well known amongst
Hollywood greats for his delightful performances at private parties, immediately recognized Korine as
being the director of the latest independent box-office smashes Julien Donkey-Boy, Gummo, and Kids.
Almost instantly Blaine introduced himself, his profession, and politely congratulated Harmony on his
recent accomplishments. Korine too acknowledged David Blaine and commended him on how amazing of a
magician he truly was. By immediately striking up conversation with so much in common they came across
the concept to pull their ideas together to capture their ultimate lunacy on film. In result,
within the next couple of years, Harmony had both directed and made appearances in Blaine’s on-screen
thrilling trickeries cunningly titled Magic Man, Frozen in Time, and Mystifier.
Harmony Korine’s later project with David, Fight Harm, was a prime example of a film that only he
would conceive. The contents pf the film consists of Korine taunting various strangers on the streets of
Manhattan until they beat him up, while cameraman, David Blaine, films the fracas from across the street.
His intention was to make a cross between a Buster Keaton comedy and a snuff film, but this dangerously
original project had to be halted after a concussion, several cracked ribs, and numerous police
reports which prompted that Harmony stop the film and see a psychiatrist. The clips were never exhibited
or presented to the public, only those who witnessed the filming know the extremity of Korine’s scheme.
Then resorting to infancy Harmony Korine crawled back into his space on the New York strip to
reconnect himself with his youngest of screenplays. Ken Park, the supposed compliment to
Kids, was the 35-page script which led Larry Clark to give Korine the screenplay job based on his
premise. Again dealing with teen versus parent conflict, the plot remained as a thirteen-year-old boy
who is taken to a prostitute by his father.
“Ken Park I wrote even before Kids was financed. It was the second script that I had written,
and I was like nineteen when I wrote it. I was very vulnerable at the time, I had no money, so I
signed a really bad contract with two different people and each party would own 50 percent of the
script, and I have no say so over the script... the ownership isn’t mine. But after those kinds of
things you just learn that you don’t want to work with other people. No one should have any say so over
the script except for the author, at least regarding myself,” Said Korine.
With the rights signed over to Larry Clark, Harmony Stepped out of the limelight as far as
direction or cinematography were concerned, furthermore was only given credit for the original
written screenplay. Despite this past life personal setback he continued on about his career and
perused his daily whereabouts even though his denouncing of the project. In the end it was his
genius that created the sustenance for the film and delegated the path for Clark’s career and that was
just enough to help Korine carry out more diverse and even unexplored territory for aspiring projects
such as writing, music, and his upcoming film The Nun’s Word.
In Conclusion the work of Harmony Korine within the independent film industry has been a
journey not only for Korine himself, but for his viewers as well as his essential crop of teenage
malcontents who continue to devour every sentiment that is offered up as the newest dish of his career.
The man-child, infant terrible, and the muse; As insane and politically incorrect as Harmony appears to
be that is the apparent genius that keeps him thrusting deeper into the minds of today’s society.
Harmony Korine thrives off of creativity and teaches the hidden lessons of the true beauty that
lies within all things, that ignorance is bliss, but fore mostly helps confide in the both demons and
angels that are essentially within.
~Melissa Meszaros (copyright 2002)
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other awards & nominations
independent spirit awards - nominated for best first screenplay for 'kids'
honorable mention at the venice film festival for the FIPRESCI award for 'gummo'
won the special jury award at the gijón international film festival for 'gummo'
nominated for the open palm award at the gotham for 'gummo'
won the KNF award at the rotterdam international film festival for 'gummo'
nominated for the bronze horse award at the stockholm film festival for 'julien donkey-boy'
won best art direction award at the gijón international film festival for 'julien donkey-boy'
'julien donkey-boy' nominated for the grand prix asturias award at the gijón international
film festival for best feature
nominated for best director for 'julien donkey-boy' at the independent spirit awards
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film: jean-luc goddard, john cassavetes, rainer werner
fassbinder, ozu, alan clarke, charles laughton,
werner herzog, buster keaton, and the marx brothers.
music (he has great taste):
minor threat, sonic youth, johnny cash, roy orbison,
joy division, the cranberries, doc boggs, & supposedly a lot of cheesy metal.
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*has 3 tattoos: one of a pichfork on his right hand, a cross on his left hands index finger,
and a tribal design on his right forearm.
(he doesn't know why he got them, he claimed to have a dream about burning them off with acid.)
*hollywood-psuedo friends: tobey maguire, ben lee, leonardo dicaprio, bijou phillips,
david blaine, a tribe called quest, werner herzog, chloe sevigny, and bjork.
*perhaps harmony supports a drug habit.
*dated chloe sevigny from 1995-1999... according to chloe they broke up because,
"he wanted to get married and i didn't."
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web design copyright 2002 m.m.
h a r m o n y k o r i n e
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