Filmmaker on the Edge: Harmony Korine

Posted by Eugene Hernandez on 6.24.2013


Harmony Korine accepting his Filmmaker on the Edge Award at the Provincetown Film Festival. Photo: Bruce Gilbert

For years, Harmony Korine was considered America's bad boy filmmaker. Nearly reviled in the mainstream for his reckless lifestyle, Korine was celebrated on the margins for his button-pushing, innovative filmmaking (and often outrageous off-screen antics).

"All I ever wanted to be was great," Korine told John Waters on Saturday night here in Provincetown, where he received the Filmmaker on the Edge prize during the Cape Cod festival’s 15th anniversary. The annual honor—in previous years awarded to Gus Van Sant, Todd Haynes, Mary Harron, Gregg Araki, Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Smith and Roger Corman, among others—includes an on-stage sit-down with Waters.

Sporting pink pants to achieve a Cape Cod look, earlier in the day Korine told me he rarely agrees to receive tributes at film festivals, but a personal letter from John Waters convinced him to travel here for the honor.

Waters was enamored of Korine’s latest, Spring Breakers, a wild look at the notorious teen getaway week starring Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and James Franco that achieved widespread attention and sizable box office returns from nationwide multiplex screenings a few months ago.

“I thought it was delightful,” John Waters told the Boston Globe last week. "It was like Where the Boys Are meets Scarface." A friend told Waters that Korine’s film is “the most irresponsible movie I ever saw,” to which Waters reacted, "Come on, it’s not that good!"


John Waters and Harmony Korine. Photo: Bruce Gilbert

Waters shared that exchange with Korine on stage Saturday night and then turned the question to the honoree. So, what is the most irresponsible movie ever made?

Without missing a beat, Korine responded, "Forrest Gump."

Cinematographer Ed Lachman was the other honoree over the weekend. He received the Faith Hubley Career Achievement Award. Festival audience awards went to Christian Vincent's French film, Haute Cuisine (best narrative feature) and Morgan Neville's Twenty Feet From Stardom (best documentary feature). Whoopi Goldberg won the John Schlesinger Award for a first time filmmaker for her new documentary, Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin' to Tell You.

Born in Northern California and raised in Tennessee, a teenaged Korine garnered notoriety for writing Kids in the mid-90s and then quickly lost favor with some critics after making the must-see Gummo and his Dogme 95 movie Julien Donkey Boy just a few years later. Korine achieved cult status for behind-the-scenes stories and he didn't return to feature filmmaking for almost a decade, when he returned to festivals and art house theaters with Mister Lonely and Trash Humpers.

Along the way, however, Harmony Korine abandoned a project that just might be one of the most irresponsible movies ever.

In the late 90s, Korine teamed up with magician David Blaine to make Fight Harm, an apparently vérité documentary in which Korine placed himself directly in harm's way. He would pick fights with people and then lose the battle on camera. Along the way, Korine was brutalizing, jailed and hospitalized.

Describing the project in depth on Saturday, the now cleaned-up Korine—he has a wife and a kid and lives in Tennessee—said that he was pummeled by an array of folks for the making of the movie and said he took quaaludes to help overcome the fear of getting beaten and to manage the extreme pain.

Harmony Korine said he originally got the idea for Fight Harm while watching silent cinema. He'd hoped to emulate their physical comedy.

“I was trying to make the funniest film ever,” Korine said on Saturday. "It's like a cross between Buster Keaton and a snuff film.”


Fellow honoree, Cinematographer Ed Lachman, with Korine and Waters. Photo: Bruce Gilbert

Korine and Blaine filmed nine fights but ended up with not even an hour of footage. In the end, Korine admitted he didn’t have the stamina to sustain the project, so it remains unfinished and unseen. He told John Waters he’s received countless requests to screen Fight Harm and he remains unsure whethers it's better to finally show it or for people just to know it exists.

At one point in the conversation, Waters referenced an infamous episode from Korine’s drugged out past, namely the filmmaker allegedly being banned from David Letterman’s show for swiping Meryll Streep’s purse.

“Did you steal Meryl Streep's pocketbook?” John Waters asked Harmony Korine on Saturday. “Yeah. You know, those years are hazy. I don’t remember,” Korine responded.

“It’s possible,” Korine added as the audience, and Waters, laughed. “If it was there at that time in my life, it could have happened.”

During a recent interview with James Franco promoting Spring Breakers, Letterman told the actor that he'd spotted Korine going through Streep's bag back in the day and immediately booted him from the show.

“I will say it probably didn’t happen like what he said,” Korine defended here in P-town.

“I dont know what he said, but i always thought the idea was terrific,” John Waters added, to which Harmony Korine responded, “I like the idea, too.”

Eugene Hernandez is the Director of Digital Strategy at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Follow him on Twitter: @eug.

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