A Conversation With Harmony Korine, Director Of "Gummo."
By Tom Cunha, From IndieWire Magazine
It's been about two years since Harmony Korine's screenwriting debut
"Kids" hit theatres, provoking radically divided reactions. While some
credited the film as being a strong social commentary on the decay of
lower class urban youths, others saw it as an opus of wretched
exploitation. Be that what it may, the writer of that juvenile decadence
shock - fest returns with his directorial debut, "Gummo." Harmony's latest
project is a more toned - down, visual film which places more emphasis on
image and less on plot while still remaining faithful to the prevalent
themes in "Kids" [wayward youths, excessive profanities, drug use, etc.
etc.] Set in the small tornado - stricken town of Xenia, Ohio, the film is
an eerie yet fascinating portrait of the dregs of a lower class suburban
indieWIRE: When did you decide you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Harmony Korine: When I was little. I just always knew I was going to make films
because I loved the movies so much, but I was never concerned with
telling other people's stories. The first time I saw Buster Keaton's face
when I was little, I knew there was a poetry in cinema that I had never
seen before that was so powerful. After a certain point, cinema stopped
giving me what I was once getting from it. It was once to me all about
life and then it became a process. I wanted to make my own movies the
way they should be made. More like a collage or a tapestry. Something
more like a feeling. Something that you are affected by.
iW: "Gummo" is a very visual film that has its own unique structure, quite
different from most films.
Korine: Movies are visual. It's a visual medium. I wanted every frame
in my film to be something and, at the same
time, I didn't want anything to seem contrived or overstylized. I just
wanted it to be something that you hadn't seen before, that was exciting
to look at. Like with the Solomon character, I knew that any way I
photographed him it would be exciting because his face was so amazing.
That's how I cast, really. It's based on two things, the way someone
looks and a feeling they put off. It's not even so much how they read
lines. It's more just a feeling.
iW: You've said that you prefer to work with non - actors instead of
Korine: I'm obsessed with realism. The only thing that
matters to me in film and artwork is realism or the presentation of
realism. But, at the same time, I realize that film can never be real and
that movies are never real, even documentary falls short. Cinema verite
is a fallacy. There is still a kind of manipulation involved. What I do
is a kind of trickery. It's a presentation of realism, an organic mode of
action. But I'm totally manipulating everything. I'm totally making
things up and that's what gets people angry, too. That's why I like to
work with non - actors because they can give me what actors can never give
me, they give themselves. When the magic comes out, they give you
something that is very personal and unrehearsed.
iW: What attracted you to make a movie about these people, about this
particular segment of society?
Korine: I always felt that Middle America
was interesting. Anytime that people do films about America, it's always
this kind of romanticized version, something that is just false, and I
think it's disgusting. I grew up in Nashville, so I wanted to make a
movie with those people I grew up with. I wanted to make the first great
American film about America, because I'm an American artist.
iW: Was there much interference from the studio [Fine Line] when you were
making the movie?
Korine: I have total freedom. If I didn't have
freedom, I would walk away. I would quit. If they were telling me to
change things, I would walk away because it wouldn't be worth it. It has
to be pure. It has to be one man's vision and if it's not, it's
nothing. The only way you can do that, at least in the Hollywood system, is to
work under a certain budget. I had designed it in a way in which I was
left alone. In fact, I never heard one word from them the entire time I
iW: What do you think of many of the popular filmmakers today, such as
Korine: I have nothing to do with any of them. The
way I make films and the way I see films and stories and characters is in
a completely different way. It's almost like saying that if those people
are making films then what I'm doing is not a movie. I can't really put
it in any other words. I find no connections in my work and my
sensibility with Quentin Tarantino or any younger filmmaker or any
filmmaker, period. That's not to say that I'm better than anyone, it's
just me saying that I do something that is completely my own and I do it
for a different reason than most people. For instance, for me to watch
Quentin's film, it's fine, whatever, but I don't get anything from it. His movies are what they are. They're pop culture and pop to me is funny,
but it's empty.
iW: Do you worry about how much money your films make?
Korine: My movies are so inexpensive. This was made for 1.3 million dollars, so it's not
very hard to make your money back. Working with that much money you're
pretty safe because, at least with my name and after "Kids", by the time
your done with foreign sales and rentals, it's probably pretty easy to
get your money back. I don't have very much money. I'm poor. The only
thing for me is that I keep making [movies]. I don't concern myself with
iW: What's your family like?
Korine: My parents are Trotskyites. They
used to firebomb empty houses. They have kind of disowned me, my father
more than my mother, because I refuse to make Marxist propaganda. But
they're nice people.
iW: Are film projects lined up?
Korine: I am planning on making a movie
with all hidden cameras. I want to get to the point where I never have to
speak to anyone. The dream is that I never have to talk to anyone, where
I'm just constantly working and trying things. There is so much pressure
in the film industry to make money, so the idea of failure and
experimenting is shunned. I just want to get to the point in my life
where I'm just constantly working and trying new things. But always at
the core of my work is the wish to entertain.