Since writing his debut film, Kids, way back when in 1995 Harmony Korine has become a tour de force in filmmaking, revered for his experimental style and twisted take on American culture. His latest film, Spring Breakers, about a group of bored college students hellbent on debauchery looks set to be his biggest commercial success yet, and has created its fair share of controversy – all of the actresses are former Disney princesses whose images are tainted in the film through casual drugs and sex. Sorry Disney.
We speak to Harmony about the American phenomenon that is Spring Break and find out why Harrison Ford is next on his hit list.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE SPRING BREAK THEME TO MAKE A MOVIE ABOUT?
I wanted to use Spring Break as a back drop and a setting, I didn’t need the film to be an expose or an essay. It was an impressionistic reinterpretation of that world. I grew up around it, it was common as a kid every year, in either high school or college, for everyone to drive down to Florida and go crazy. It wasn’t really my thing though, I was a skateboarder but over the years I started to collect Spring Break imagery. I began to think of it as a great American phenomenon and in some ways I was struck by how the subject matter was hyper violent and hyper sexualised and around it the clothes and details were very childlike, pop culture indictaors – like nail polish, neon bikinis, kegs and Mountain Dew bottles, the donuts, it was like a coded language. I always was interested in this vision and started thinking about it in terms of metaphor and the idea of Spring Break as a dream scenario. I told the cinematographer to light the film like it’s lit with Skittles candy, it’s a culture of surfaces.
SPRING BREAK IS AN AMERICAN PHENOMENON LIKE YOU SAID, AND SOMETHING THAT WE DON’T HAVE IN EUROPE – WHAT IS IT ABOUT THE IDEA THAT YOU THINK RESONATES WITH AMERICAN TEENS?
It’s the idea of complete debauchery and cutting loose, it’s animalistic adolescent insanity. After the week is done you get back in your car, drive home, see your parents and pretend like it never happened, until you do it all over again next year. It’s about freedom.
YOUR CAST WAS ALWAYS GOING TO DRAW A LOT OF ATTENTION – DISNEY PRINCESSES GOING OVER TO THE DARK SIDE – WHY DID YOU WANT TO CAST THESE ACTRESSES?
I thought they would be great for the movie and I thought that they were the perfect fit and obviously on top of that was this interesting conceptual connection – girls that are in some way culturally representative of modern pop culture, they’re tied into the pop mythology. I felt like there was a connection to the storyline and I liked the idea of them playing against typecast and doing something more graphic and extreme. They’re familiar to certain roles which they feel very comfortable with so I wanted to play with that a little.
DID YOU EXPECT THE REACTION THAT THE CAST GOT?
Sure. I knew what was going to happen.
SO WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON THE DISNEY MACHINE THAT RULES SO MUCH OF THE TWEEN ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY NOW?
I don’t know. They’ve made a lot of amazing cartoons! It’s like saying what do you think of the government, you could go on and on but it’s so much part of what modern entertainment is that there’s no escaping it.
WHAT WAS THE AUDITION PROCESS LIKE – WERE ANY OF THE ACTRESSES WARY TO ACCEPT THE PARTS?
No, as soon as I put the word out that I wanted to audition them the response was immediate. Selena (Gomez) and her mother got in an airplane and flew to Nashville to audition for me the next day, it was surreal. All the girls were amazingly bold and with the project from the very beginning. I explained to them what I was trying to do, what I wanted to do, we talked about it and they were on board. They were all my first choices for each part so that was a great start.
WHAT WERE THE FILMING CHALLENGES?
Mostly it was technical stuff – it was a technically hard film to make. The idea of filming the movie like a drug, a trip, dipping in and out of time and consciousness was difficult. It was a challenge just because of the locations also, going to places that we weren’t protected in meant that chaos followed us occasionally. Those girls have a lot of fanatics that follow them, there was crazed fans all the time which is something that I never had to experience before while making a film, it was surreal.
DURING PRODUCTION THE ACTRESSES HAD MINIMAL SECURITY – HOW WAS THAT WHILE SHOOTING WITH ACTUAL DRUNK SPRING BREAKERS?
For me it was all good. Yes it was chaotic but it added to the scenes. Certain scenes were supposed to be violent and chaotic and crazy so it made sense, that energy was appropriate. I imagine that for the actresses it was pretty scary but it’s okay because that was what the scenes called for, I wanted to illicit real emotion. For example the scene with Selena’s character Faith in the pool hall with James Franco’s character was improvised. When I write I constantly edit and change as performances change. I noticed that the way Selena was playing her character was becoming more intense so I felt like the storyline needed something else to set her off before she left. The pool hall was ganrly, it was in the hood and a local drug spot and all these dudes hung out there with pitbulls. A few days before the scene I decided that I was going to shoot it there so I called Franco and told him that I needed her to mess with her head, try to pimp her out. We talked about it but I didn’t tell Selena as I knew that she’d be trying to prepare. So on the day I just took her by the arm and lead her to this room where Franco was waiting and everyone was smoking and getting high, there were yapping pitbulls everywhere and obviously she was freaked out but I told her to just react to the scene. It’s her best casting ever, and one of the best scene in the movie.
DO YOU AGREE WITH A LOT OF EARLY REVIEWS THAT SAY THAT JAMES FRANCO LEAD THE NARRATIVE?
I think that his performance is incredible, it’s so charismatic, you can’t take that away from him and you can’t take your eyes off him but I think that the girls are fantastic too so I think that they all make it, it wouldn’t be the same without any of them.
THERE’S BEEN A LOT OF DISCUSSION ABOUT THE MEANING BEHIND THE FILM – DOES IT HAVE ONE?
I wanted the film to have specific points and meanings of course but I can’t tell you what they are. What I will say is that everything is in there for a reason and so I make it so that I don’t have to say it. If I wrote it, directed it and then told you what my intentions were it’s like, what’s the point? You want the film to exist in its own world that’s closer to magic or transcendence, it’s more beautiful than just a simple explanation. It takes on its own energy this way. You hope that people interpret it in their own way which is more personal. Obviously you hear certain things and you’re like, ‘what the fuck, that’s not what I meant’ but at the same time that’s exciting too because there’s no right or wrong way to take this film.
THROUGHOUT THE FILM THE CHARACTERS SEEM QUITE MORALLY BEREFT – WITH THE EXCEPTION OF FAITH – WAS THERE REASON FOR THAT?
Sure, they’re like gangster mystics. And when Faith leaves they’re stripped of their moral core and they become something that is closer to sociopaths, completely wild. That was the idea from the beginning, I wanted the girls to become like characters from a video game, they even say, ‘let’s just pretend that it’s a video game’, which becomes a mantra to them, and they become hardened to reality.
SPRING BREAKERS IS LOOKING LIKELY TO BE YOUR BIGGEST COMMERCIAL SUCCESS, DID YOU THINK THAT THIS WOULD BE THE CASE?
I was hoping so, it felt like it had all the ingredients to become a hit so obviously I’m pleased.
YOUR PREVIOUS FILMS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN HELD IN HIGH ESTEEM AND YOU’VE BEEN CALLED A SHOCKING, EXPERIMENTAL AND AVANT-GARDE FILMMAKER – DOES THIS ADD PRESSURE TO EACH NEW PROJECT BECAUSE PEOPLE EXPECT SUCH A HIGH STANDARD FROM YOU?
I don’t really care. Those tags are fine but I don’t think about myself that much. The only time I do is now, like in interviews. When I’m done with a movie I go home and I live in a place where no one gives a fuck so I disappear into that and I don’t think about the perceptions or the labels or the genres. Wherever my film lands it lands, by that stage I’ll be busy trying to make something new.
DO YOU READ REVIEWS ABOUT YOURSELF?
Yeah sometimes, especially in the beginning when a film comes out because it’s interesting to see the interpretation of it. But at a certain point I tune out. There never seems to be a general consensus of my films, I just agree with the really great reviews!
YOUR FILMS HAVE CROSSED GENRES BUT IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WANT TO DO THAT YOU HAVEN’T HAD THE CHANCE TO YET?
Lots of things. I want to do a war movie, I want to do something with Harrison Ford (laughs), but right now I’m just at home making paintings. I think I’ll spend the net year at home writing scripts and making paintings, and I want to exhibit at some point. The inspiration for my paintings comes from the same place as my movies – it’s hard to say what inspires me though. It can be as simple as a shot from a rap video, it can be an image of some girl shaking her ass for five minutes that I find so hypnotic and that ass makes me want to go out and reinvent everything. There’s no rhyme or reason to my inspiration.
WHAT ARE YOU HUNGRY FOR?
Oh damn, that’s the hardest question in the world, anything I say will make me sound like a douchebag. Pussy. I’m hungry for pussy.