Family & Companions
Whether viewed as auteur or provocateur, writer-director Harmony Korine's body of work, including "Kids" (1995), "Gummo" (1997) and "Spring Breakers" (2013), offered some of the most unique, disturbing visions in American arthouse cinema. Korine's features orbited a darkly comic world populated by dysfunctional families, mentally disturbed protagonists, and characters driven by poverty, circumstance and fate to indulge in behavior that repulsed and amazed critics and audiences. He began as a teenager, penning the abrasive "Kids" for director Larry Clark before making his directorial debut with "Gummo," a nightmarish drama about the unhinged residents of a hurricane-ravaged town. Both films minted Korine as the latest enfant terrible of independent film, though his most supportive critics insisted his features, though often difficult to watch, were more than collages of unpleasant imagery and more akin to an exploration of American life at its most extreme and mundane, which placed Korine on par with such filmmakers as John Cassavetes, Robert Altman and Terrence Malick. Korine's aesthetic changed with each project, moving from the polished dream structure of "Mister Lonely" (2007) to the ultra-lo-fi photography of "Trash Humpers" (2009) and Hollywood genre film turned on its ear with "Spring Breakers" (2013). Loved and loathed with equal degrees of fervor, Harmony Korine cemented his position as one of the most fearless independent filmmakers of the 20th century and beyond.
Born Jan. 4, 1973 in Bolinas, CA, Harmony Korine was the son of documentary filmmaker Sol Korine and his wife, Eve, who raised him and his two siblings in Nashville, TN. There, his father introduced him to a wide variety of motion pictures, from the early comedies of Buster Keaton to the confrontational surrealism of German director Werner Herzog. After moving to New York City to live with his grandmother, he attended the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University for a semester, but dropped out to pursue a career as a professional skateboarder. Korine also frequented revival theaters, where he saw the fiercely iconoclastic films of John Cassavettes, Jean-Luc Godard, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Alan Clarke. Each of these directors would have a profound influence on his own career in film, which began in 1995 after meeting photographer Larry Clark in Tompkins Square Park. Korine showed Clark a script he had written about a young teenager whose father had taken him to a prostitute. The transgressive nature of the project inspired Clark to hire Korine to write a script about young people in New York. Three weeks later, he produced the screenplay for "Kids" (1995), a controversial vérité drama about the sex- and drug-filled lives of Manhattan teenagers in the course of a single day. The darker elements of the film, which included underage sex, rape and the spread of HIV among its cast of characters, polarized many critics and viewers, who condemned and praised "Kids" with equal fervor. However, the attention generated by the picture served as a springboard for not only Korine's career but also several of its cast members, including his then girlfriend Chloe Sevigny, Rosario Dawson and Leo Fitzpatrick.
Producer Cary Woods, who had provided most of the major funding for "Kids," put forward $1 million for Korine's directorial debut, "Gummo" (1997). Based loosely on the lives of residents in the Ohio town of Xenia, which had been devastated by a 1974 tornado, the film was a connected string of hallucinatory, often disturbing vignettes involving the poverty-stricken residents of a small town who resorted to drug abuse and animal slaughter to contend with their situations. Filmed in a variety of formats, from 35mm to Hi-8, and starring a mix of unknowns and performers like Sevigny and "Days of Heaven" (1978) star Linda Manz, the film was again a divisive point for many viewers, though it generated high praise from director Werner Herzog, who proclaimed Korine as the future of American film. It was followed by "The Devil, The Sinner and His Journey" (1998), a short film with Korine as O.J. Simpson and Johnny Depp, and a 40-minute companion piece to "Gummo" called "The Diary of Anne Frank Part II" (1998) constructed from equally disturbing footage not featured in the film's final edit. Korine then teamed with Herzog for "Julien Donkey-Boy" (1999), a challenging drama about a young schizophrenic (Ewen Bremmer) struggling to retain a sense of normalcy while contending with his deeply dysfunctional family, led by his domineering father (Herzog). The film, made in accordance with Lars von Trier's Dogme 95 filmmaking manifesto, earned the usual barrage of mixed reviews, with many critics reacting savagely to its themes of mental illness, incest and child abuse. Korine further alienated viewers through interviews in which he gave false information about his past - he told one publication that his parents were bomb-throwing radicals - or acted as bizarrely as one of his characters, most notably in several appearances on the "Late Show with David Letterman" (CBS, 1993- ) which eventually resulted in Korine being banned from the program after allegedly shoving actress Meryl Streep.
For the next few years, Korine worked on a variety of projects, including a novel, A Crack Up at the Race Riots (1998), a series of photography exhibits, and music videos for alternative groups like Sonic Youth and Cat Power. He also began a semi-documentary entitled "Fight Harm" (1999), which featured Korine provoking and engaging in brutal physical altercations, before serious injuries forced him to abandon the project. Further health issues, including a serious addiction to heroin and methadone, would delay any feature films for nearly a decade, although Korine did write the script for Larry Clark's "Ken Park" (2002), a scabrous look at the lives of small-town California teens enmeshed in illicit sex and abusive relationships. He finally returned to directing in 2007 with "Mister Lonely," a quasi-fantasy about a Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) whose romance with a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton) brought them into contact with a community of celebrity lookalikes living in a Scottish castle. The picture, budgeted at over $8 million, was his most expensive feature to date, and benefited from professional cinematography, costumes and professional actors, including Denis Lavant, James Fox and Anita Pallenberg.
But Korine chafed at the bureaucratic aspects of contending with international producers, and returned to his independent roots for his next picture, "Trash Humpers" (2009). Filmed on worn VHS tape and edited using two videocassette recorders, the film followed a trio of grotesquely masked individuals (including Korine) as they wreak havoc on inanimate objects strewn through a bleak Nashville landscape. "Trash Humpers" alienated all but Korine's core fanbase, though it also claimed top prize at the 2009 Copenhagen International Documentary Festival - an ironic accolade, as the film was intended as a work of fiction. He followed the feature with "Umshini Warn" (2011), a short film featuring the critically praised South African rap group Die Antwoord, before again defying industry expectations with "Spring Breakers" (2013). The film, about a quartet of young women who decide to engage in criminal activity while on school vacation in Florida, featured indie favorite James Franco as a self-styled hustler and Disney stars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, who viewed the project as a springboard to more mature screen roles. "Spring Breakers" further surprised moviegoers by reaping some of the best mainstream reviews of Korine's career, many of which cited the film as a cult classic in the making.
By Paul Gaita
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Wrote screenplay for Clark's first feature film "Kids"
Feature directorial debut, "Gummo"; also scripted
Directed (also wrote) second film based on the experiences of his schizophrenic uncle, "Julien Donkey-Boy"
Penned "Ken Park" several years before it was released by director Larry Clarke
Filmed the TV documentary, "Above the Below" about David Blaine's 44-day stunt in a park over the bank of River Thames in London inside a suspended Plexiglas box
Directed third feature, "Mister Lonely" starring Diego Luna and Samantha Morton; co-written by his brother, Avi Korine