Filmmaker Harmony Korine is a cinematic dynamo and a cultural anti-hero of the first degree. The young man who gave us the screenplay for Kids at 19 has become more disenchanted with the world at large and the issues related to filmmaking as he’s grown older, and he’s become ever more alienated from mainstream Hollywood even as he dances around the fringes of it. His film, Julian DonkeyBoy does a fine job of blurring the line between reality and fiction, and his “retarded” masterpiece, Gummo, goes even further and might be one of my favorite “films” on any given day, if you asked me at the right moment. His ability to be a fuck-up who is constantly smashing the auteur theory to postmodern bits while still being taken seriously as an auteur, a fuck all, strange-as-hell auteur, is beyond comprehension.
His anti-art is a dizzying, disturbing, caustic and captivating expression of many raw impulses, stemming from a psycho-social processing malfunction of some kind, no doubt. In his younger days he seemed to relish pissing people off more than he did connecting his work to the world. As his vision has expanded well beyond backyard productions with no budgets to Hollywood art-porn thrillers, starring the ever-ready James Franco, he has, once again, been in demand among the media automatons as a cultural miscreant they can have some fun with. Bon vivant of who-the-hell-knows-what?
He first published this “novel” in ‘98, and it’s not like most other novels. Part one’s intro page is a photo of three Klansmen in robes and hoods, with their faces replaced by jack-in-the-box faces. Next page is a photo of MC Hammer at age 11, followed by a list: TITLES OF BOOKS I WILL WRITE, which includes such playful titles as, A Life Without Pigment, Foster Homes and Gardens, Can’t Touch This and Shit For Brains. There’s even a part two with more fun titles: Italian Honkies and Gimme Some Clit.
From there we catch T.S. Eliot’s last words, encounter a list of awkward movie ideas (A Prostitute Decides to Run for Mayor), eleven variations on a suicide note and a Conversation Between Two Free Spirits From Kentucky, which consists of two spirits discussing a grandmother named Gladys and Gladys Knight and the Pips. My favorite is one entitled, THREE OR FOUR CLAIMS TO FAME, where he includes these three: 1) I only missed two days of elementary school ,2) I met Johnny Carson, 3) I got a compound fracture from jumping out of a moving car. The final sections are worth mentioning: LETTER FROM TUPAC SHAKUR #3 WRITTEN TO HIS MOTHER, THREE WEEKS BEFORE HIS DEATH and another list: HE GATHERS HIS WISHES AND WHAT DISTURBS HIM. Among the stand outs on that list: “His girlfriend put coke on the head of his pecker; he had a fear that the numbness would never go away”, “Burt Lancaster’s face” and “Anti-Zionists.”
If you can detach yourself from the mundane everyday world of cell phones/social media/office chatter that usually surrounds us and really lock in as you push through this loose material here you can lose yourself in the wilds of it all. The scattershot pieces are all short enough that you can quickly read them and go back over them again, maybe uncovering some other element you missed before that offers a glimpse into Korine’s filmmaking psyche. How someone conceives and executes a film as uniquely brilliant in both theory and practice as Gummo is largely inexplicable, but with most people there has to be something in him/her that points to the distant place where that came from. Where do those sensibilities dwell?
This book offers some insight into that, maybe, if you’re at all interested in going there. It’s a small portal into the mind of someone whose creative consciousness is not easy to pin down. But don’t take any of it too seriously. It’s only simulacra. One can only imagine what the hell Harmony Korine witnessed as a kid that made him want to direct his eye and his camera at what are, shall we say… people mostly on the outside looking in at society from some very alien locale? What brought him to that place where those instincts and impulses were triggered?
Lots of filmmakers tell stories about outsiders and the downtrodden, but not many would have the brass balls required to push an idea to the outer limits of the vision. Most don’t need to go there. Harmony needs to go there. His wholly unnatural naturalism is unique in all of American cinema. In a film like Trash Humpers you don’t have to suspend disbelief, instead you just disregard all notions of social comfort and cinematic linearity and normalcy. And in the immortal words of William Hurt in The Big Chill, you just “let art flow over you.” And how is that any different than letting life flow over you? Sometimes it’s all we can do. One man’s trash…
Embracing an artist’s work means embracing an artist’s life, whether they/you like it or not. They can’t be separated. To me, Harmony Korine has always seemed like a composite of a dozen of my most creative, restless, geeked-up, thought-provoking, challenging friends in high school all rolled into one. I don’t have a clue if what you see in this collection is total bullshit or complete honesty, and it doesn’t matter. It breaks through to some other place on some other level, like the ravings of some kind of lunatic visionary who lives on his own funky planet, a degenerate deliverer of post-acid dreams; and God bless him for it. Now, how long before Spring Breakers comes out on DVD?