SXSWORLD February 2013


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Harmony Korine's Subversive Vision Evolves with Spring Breakers by Eric Kohn H armony Korine's name has been synonymous with a cinema of rebellion ever since he wrote the screenplay for Larry Clark's AIDS-centric drama Kids in 1995, and while he has never really shaken the "bad boy" image, people may not realize how much he has grown up. The visionary filmmaker, known for his adventurous images of melancholy pariahs and southern eccentrics, turned 40 in January. Things have changed since the raucous early days of Korine's career when he made the divisive Gummo and the unnerving Dogme '95 project Julien Donkey-Boy. Korine solidified his rascally persona with memorably unhinged appearances on the Late Show With David Letterman and other publicity antics that eventually culminated in a drug-fueled meltdown. Harmony Korine (left) directs James Franco in Spring Breakers. Now, Korine still makes wildly inventive movies in tune with the attitudes of his earlier works, but years ago he left New York for his native Nashville. With the release of 2008's Mister Lonely, in which Diego Luna played a Michael Jackson impersonator in a commune alongside other make-believe celebrities, Korine's movies have grown into thoughtful assaults on the tendency for American culture to marginalize anything out of sync with the mainstream. In 2010, his grimy camcorder-shot Trash Humpers provided a memorable peek at seemingly demented psychopaths and attempted to humanize them, not unlike 2011's cartoonish Umshini Wam, which starred members of the band Die Antwoord. The three aforementioned films all screened at the SXSW Film Festival, so audiences will be familiar with this recent period of Korine's filmography. Now they will be able to witness the start of another chapter in his evolution, as Korine's Spring Breakers will have its U.S. premiere at SXSW 2013. The movie represents a major step forward for Korine in terms of scale and exposure. Starring Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson (along with Korine's wife Rachel), the cast blatantly subverts expectations by pulling 38 SXSWORLD /FEBRUARY 2013 together faces more commonly associated with teen-friendly fare. The story revolves around a quartet of bored college girls who commit a robbery to fund their spring break trip to Florida; once there, in the midst of a hedonistic frenzy, they fall into trouble with the law and then find an unlikely savior in the form of local crime lord Alien (a delightfully zany James Franco). Aided by a soundtrack that includes new tracks from Skrillex and Cliff Martinez, Spring Breakers manages to simultaneously inhabit the sordid world of hard-partying teenage beach life while drawing a sharp contrast between that flimsy notion of rebellion and a darker place Korine has termed "gangster mysticism." Korine, who previously screened the film in Venice and Toronto, expressed excitement over the chance to screen it for a different audience at SXSW. "It seems like a uniquely American festival," he said. "It's in Texas and it seems like people are rowdy there. I've always had a good time." He tacked on a practical note: "Plus, it's close to where I live." In Nashville, Korine takes his time thinking through his projects before traveling around to make them. Spring Breakers was no exception. "For a couple of years before, I had been collecting spring break imagery," he explained. "I had been obsessed with it -- pictures of kids going crazy on the beach, burning down hotel rooms, pissing in golf carts, getting drunk in the ocean, all that stuff. I remember as a kid that all my friends would go from Tennessee to Daytona and come back with crazy stories, so I had always thought it was kind of a strange American phenomenon." Korine's appropriation of spring break iconography is especially compelling given his high profile cast, and not only because he has managed to land faces that represent part of the subculture he has in his crosshairs. Gomez alone has already brought along hordes of young fans anticipating the movie, many of whom have never heard of Korine's earlier films. To say the least, they are in for a surprise. "I'm really excited," Korine said. "This could be the first film of mine that's going to be seen by a general audience outside of who usually sees my movies." Asked if he expects unsuspecting viewers to be repulsed by the deranged movie experience he offers up, Korine laughs, "I think I'll have a whole new set of fans who are also repulsed." "All that stuff is great," he adds. "I hope I get all the tweens and in-betweens." After SXSW, new distributor A24 plans to release Spring Breakers theatrically, right in the middle of — what else? — spring break. However, whether or not that plan translates into box office dollars doesn't concern Korine. "I try not to think about that stuff too much," he said. "I just make the movie the best I can and hope that many people enjoy it." In that sense, Spring Breakers is already a success. ■ For more information about SXSW Film screenings, visit

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