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I’ve Got A Bad Feeling About This

Interview

“Alright dude, you better not start jerkin’.”

 

JAMES FRANCO — [laughs]

 

HARMONY KORINE — ‘Sup Franco! ‘Sup, bro?

 

JF — Are you in Miami?

 

HK — Yeah, Miami Beach.

 

JF — Are you like, a full-on Miami guy now?

 

HK — I’d say like, at least half the year. I keep spending more and more time here, I’ll probably move here at some point. I don’t know, I’m figuring it out.

 

JF — It seems like Florida, and Miami, are bigger and bigger influences in your work.

 

HK — Yeah it’s weird, I don’t know what it is. It’s like a moth to a flame or something. Something about Florida in general I find intriguing. I had the idea to do a Florida trilogy, starting with Spring Breakers, and then doing two more films here. One in Miami, and the one I’m just finishing now, it’ll take place closer to the Keys.

 

JF — When we were down there for Spring Breakers, you’d been scouting and I came down like a month early and we just sort of drove around in kind of the bad part of St. Pete. It was this weird contrast, I think particular to Florida or that part of the South, where it was probably a dangerous neighborhood and we shouldn’t get out of the car, but then there were all these palm trees around, so it just felt kind of like paradise anyway.

 

HK — Yeah, that’s what it is, it’s like this weird, beautiful, tropical hell. Like a tropical trap. It’s interesting, because the further south you go the stranger it gets. It’s a lot of like, the runoff, or this strange mix of people. You have the black contingency, and then you have all the people who kind of follow the dream of Florida, the idea of sun and fun, and then the people who are trying to disappear, the witness protection element. Down the back roads, all these people hiding out and stuff, the guns, the palm trees, the pink skies, the boats and stuff, and then never knowing what language anyone speaks. And the cocaine stuffed in the gills of that, like, fish. It’s a kind of mystery to me, and then being so close to Cuba, and you sprinkle in all the tourists—and then the air here, I find it really intoxicating. It feels separate from the rest of the country, in a good way…kind of.

 

JF — I think something you said to me at the time is that you were attracted to that particular kind of outlaw element. You found it was one of the only kinds of subject matter that was still sort of taboo, that a lot of crime and violence in film and television had been sort of normalized, and we were used to it.

HK — Yeah, I feel like most of America, and a lot of the world, in Europe in particular, has become so corporatized. This whole thing about the socialization of the new millennium, there’s no real borders anymore, everyone kind of knows what everyone is doing. It’s just kind of like corporatized socialization and homogenization that’s really just eaten up America. Here, at least somewhat, it’s one of the only places that still feels like it’s its own thing, you know? Like, I watched it happen in Nashville, all the authenticity of the town kind of disappeared, and this ironic component starts to seep in, and it just lost its luster in a lot of ways. So, I don’t know what it is, I feel like it’s this kind of magical place, at least for me, and I can write really well here, which is nice. So I started just coming to write scripts, and then I had this idea for these three movies.

 

JF — So let me jump into the writing scripts real quick—famously you wrote Kids in about three weeks, and you wrote Spring Breakers pretty fast too. I think the story of that was, you approached me—we’d only really talked by email, you had some project that was sponsored by Grolsch beer or something like that, like a multipart film with multiple directors. [The film, which can be found on YouTube, is entitled The Fourth Dimension. Harmony’s segment, The Lotus Community Workshop, features Val Kilmer as a manic motivational speaker in the role for which Franco was presumably being considered.—Ed.] I think I was busy at the time but I said if you directed something I’d do anything with you, and you came up with the idea of Spring Breakers. Then, not that long after that idea, you sent me an outline—you had a script. But now, the scripts that you’re writing since Spring Breakers are taking a long time. At one point you said something like “The scripts I write, I write really fast because they’re a blueprint.” But now it seems like they’ve become something else.

 

HK — Yeah, you’re totally right. What it is is, both of these scripts grew. So, I wrote The Trap, which is a movie that we were going to make last year, and that took a couple months, it took a while but we got it all together, it was a big film—or, it is a big film—lots of actors, a pretty full-on, muscular genre film, kind of violent. Then, I think like a month out of shooting, I had an issue with one of the actors—or there was an issue with one of the actors—and I had to replace that actor, but then the person I replaced him with, I had to wait on his schedule, and in that time another actor…it was like a domino effect. So they wanted to push the film back for another year, which I’m fine with. It’s not that I completely lose interest, but in that period I was just antsy. So all last year I was like, I’m not just going to wait on that film, I’m going to write something else and see what happens. Then I wrote this movie, it’s about done now, so this one seems—it’s like anything else, whatever’s new you’re the most excited about. So I’m still going to make The Trap, I just might make it after this other film. The main thing, you know, it probably has taken me longer to write because the stories are more ambitious, and the budgets are bigger, and the scope is maybe bigger. So I guess in some ways I feel like I have to put more into these scripts, because it’s kind of like I’m asking for more. If it were up to me I’d just write a very bare bones, skeletal thing and then riff around it. But it’s more difficult to put these bigger films together, so when I start writing it really takes hold. It becomes more like a novel, and that’s like what these became, they’re slightly more epic, more involved, and they also become a lot more about the place. I found myself maybe being overly descriptive with certain things, they’re almost like mini books now. So that’s what happened. But honestly, a lot of it comes down to the scope of them, and the size of them. Because I like the idea of pushing the vision into something bigger. I never really feel satisfied, I always feel like what I’ve done is only like, an infinitesimal amount of what I could possibly do. If I could really do what I wanted, I could do such serious damage. It would be amazing.

I never really feel satisfied, I always feel like what I’ve done is only like, an infinitesimal amount of what I could possibly do. If I could really do what I wanted, I could do such serious damage. It would be amazing.

JF — [laughs] So, considering that these budgets are bigger and the scripts are now more detailed, partly to assure financiers and let everybody know that the vision is clear, do you think it still works to improvise once you’re on set, the way you and I would come up with weird little poems and shit like that on the spot?

 

HK — Yeah it’s like a dance, definitely that would be the way. The directing style would be the same, the way that I would work with actors, and the visual style—it’s just maybe I would want a little more time. The stories have gotten more sprawling or something like that. But the way I make films wouldn’t really be changed, I would just be able to do more things. You know, I have images, certain things in my mind, like visions. They’re so specific, and I just want to get them out in the right way.

 

JF — Certainly during Spring Breakers there were a lot of discussions about images. I’m sure there are some director-writers that think more about dialogue, but you seem to be very focused on imagery.

 

HK — Yeah, I’ve always thought more in terms of picture, in terms of visual stuff. It’s like painting or something. You see something in your mind, an image or a character, standing under some light, at a bar somewhere, or in a hotel lobby, and you just kind of build a story or narrative around that.

 

JF — I feel like the trick to that would be making sure that all the great images have some sort of backbone of character and narrative, an emotional throughline or something to tie them together, otherwise…

 

HK — Otherwise it’s just photography.

 

JF — Yeah.

 

HK — Yeah, no totally. And then I start getting into the characters. So I build it from the outside first. It’s like “Wow, I want to make a movie in this place.” You know? And then, “What would be really cool is if there was like, a racecar driver that lived in this town, and he rode around in his, like, dune buggy…” and from there I’ll just build a story. I never worked with source material, or films that were like based on living people, it usually just comes out of my imagination. It’s usually formed in that way, from the outside inward. Rarely is it a person, or even a story that I’ll hear—it starts with a place, or even a feeling, you know?

 

JF — Now, as far as working with actors, if you look at all your films, you’ve worked with a lot of non-actors, you’ve worked with a lot of first time actors, and so in The Trap, it was really one of the first times you were going to—and maybe you were even forced, like you had to for budgetary reasons—work with A-list actors. Is there a reason?

 

HK — Yeah, well for one I am really greedy now, and I want as many people to see the films as possible. I don’t want them to be limited, and so with that movie, it felt like it was time to go for it, and work with all these big names. But I also spent months casting real people, that were amazing, like real characters, you know? So it was going to be a kind of mix, and I was going to really make the other people disappear into this world, in a way. So it’s still a mix. But it’s hard enough even making movies, getting movies financed with names. So as much as I love working with non-actors, the economics of it is prohibitive. And it’s fun for me when people who wouldn’t normally see this type of film see the movie, in some ways that reaction is more interesting than just kind of dumping it and having the same people watch it. It’s more exciting for me. I spent so many years making films when I was a kid, and I love those movies, I love the way that they seem to have some kind of like cultural effect. But yeah, you want to spread your wings and see how far you can fly.

 

JF — Right. So, it seemed like you did that for the first time in a big way with Spring Breakers, infiltrating audiences who had probably never seen one of your films, which partly had to do with casting particular people—Selena Gomez, and Vanessa, and Ashley Benson. But I think it also had to do with balancing the tone in a way, where you had elements of darkness, but on the surface…when we were making it you always would describe the movie like Skittles, or something like that. 

 

HK — Yeah, or like wanting to make a pop film.

 

JF — Or what did you say, early on you said, like, a Britney Spears video meets a Gaspar Noé film or something.

 

HK — Right, right.

 

JF — It seems like that is a new kind of approach. I don’t think there’s any less, whatever, rebellion, but there’s an awareness of a kind of need to put in some other elements to balance it out, if you’re going to reach a different kind of audience.

 

HK — Yeah, it’s more fun that way. And it’s true, it’s nice when the effect is immediate, when there’s some type of immediate reaction. I like that, it’s fun for me. But I’ll still incorporate all those other things that we talked about, I’m not abandoning anything, it’s more just like I’m including this other side, you know?

 

JF — So you don’t seem nervous at all about taking on a larger budget, and the pressures that that might bring, to make more mass entertainment.

 

HK — Right, yeah I’m not even really thinking about that, it’s more just like I have these stories that fit with that approach. The truth is I’ll probably go back, after I make one or two of these movies I’ll go back and make something much more off-putting. [laughs] You know what I mean? I like to do everything. It really is like moods, like, how do you feel at a certain point? What do you want to try? What haven’t you tried? What are you trying to say? Then it changes, so I might do what, for me, is like a big film, and then I have smaller films too that I’m ready to make. I want to do it all.

 

JF — I mean, Mister Lonely had a much bigger budget than Trash Humpers. Trash Humpers could afford to be as off-putting as it wanted to be, because there was much less risk.

 

HK — Yeah, that’s definitely true. It’s very simple economics, the less money that’s needed to make a film, the less input you have to have from the powers that be. The higher the budget goes, the more involvement you have to have. It’s almost to the point where if you make a movie for zero dollars you can do anything, but if you make a movie for a hundred million, you know, you have to talk to a lot of people. [laughs] You have to deal with a lot of people, you have to deal with a lot of things. Both are difficult.

 

JF — Yeah. So, I wanted to ask you about violence in your work, and I was thinking, the violence in a lot of your movies is very particular. Even in Spring Breakers, it’s like a dream. It’s almost unreal in a way, when we get down to actual violence. But then with something like Gummo, no person really gets hurt, maybe the twins like, punch each other, and there’s violence implied against animals, but it’s more like a violence of mood. It’s more like an ambient violence. 

 

HK — Yes, it’s a feeling. The violence is more to do with the air than it is to do with the action, you know what I’m saying? It’s more like violence of the soul, the turbulence, the inner self, it’s how you are feeling when you’re watching. It’s like, you can watch one of those, what are the Vin Diesel movies where they’re driving?

JF — The Fast and the Furious?

 

HK — Yeah, there’s a lot of violence in that, way more violence in one of those films than in all of my movies put together, but the feeling is not violent, the feeling is almost comedic. It’s like a wink. It’s like saying, “This isn’t real, this is a movie.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just, violence for me, I want you to feel the discomfort, it has to do with, maybe, an edge. Or like you say, the ambience, it’s the tone of it. Which is why, remember when Gummo came out, everyone was freaking out about the film and upset about it. There was so little real violence in it, but it was more like I was trying to make a movie where you just couldn’t shake off the feeling. I always wanted to make movies, or artwork, that was beyond the kind of simple articulations. You know, something that veered into more of a strange magic, something that was more like an irritant, or a feeling, or something that washed through you. I remember when I was really young, watching Cassavetes movies for the first time, there was this kind of violence in his films that was more like a violence of the soul. When I had seen those films, especially at that age—you almost feel kind of changed after watching them, like you kind of have gone through this experience. Maybe you sat down for two hours, but you’d experienced this thing in such a way that I couldn’t explain how I was feeling. Because there was a kind of deep poetry to those films. Movies are so difficult, and they take so much of your life, that I never wanted to make films just to make them. I wanted them to have some type of lasting effect, even if you didn’t like them, that was OK. I just wanted to make something that you couldn’t just explain away.

 

JF — Right, so considering the violence of the soul that you’re talking about in Cassavetes, something that might be similar—I was just looking at The Fourth Dimension, with Val Kilmer, and it feels to me like that’s very much that idea, where he’s just giving a speech in a roller skating rink, and you have cutaways of him riding his bike, and playing video games with Rachel, but the way that he’s saying it, what he’s saying feels so unhinged, just the feeling of somebody doing that in that space, not even knowing who these people are, or what’s going on—it has that kind of inner violence.

 

HK — Yeah, it’s also the discord. He might be saying something horrible, but in a really comedic way, and so there’s discord, or dissonance, this thing that happens somehow when you’re doing two separate things at once. When you’re showing something horrible in a beautiful way, it’s like life, to me. Or vice versa, something beautiful in a horrible way. It’s like life. I never really felt like things were one way, or rarely one way. It’s always more exciting for me to create a more multidimensional character, or feeling. So with his character, that’s my paranoia, and all these kind of weird demons, and ticks, but when he’s saying it he sounds like Don Rickles. I just love that. That’s like the best comedy. 

 

JF — So then, with actual violence, in some of the latest things you’ve done, including Spring Breakers, the Rihanna video you just did, and the thing we did for Rebel, so, I mean the simplest thing to say about the violence in all of those is that it’s in slow motion. Extreme slow motion. I guess one of the things that does is what you were just talking about, where there’s extreme violence going on, people are being killed right in front of us, but the imagery is almost beautiful.

 

HK — Yeah, it’s kind of hyperpoetic. I thought of these later violent sequences almost more in terms of like a ballet or something. Like a dance, or choreography, and in slow motion because I like that it draws out the moment. Almost like this weird ethereal meditation or something on the action. Because real violence is so fast, it’s over in seconds, so there’s something kind of amazing about drawing it out, just watching the way people move, the way the guns flare, the intricacies of it. To slow it down. It’s horrible, and it’s amazing. The brutality of it is almost like a dance or something.

 

JF — In Spring Breakers it almost seems like that was the only convincing way to have those characters do it.

 

HK — Yeah, otherwise it’s almost like a video game or something. Which maybe even works for a certain type of film. But with these I wanted this hyperslow analysis of the moment, along with the sounds, and the music and stuff.

 

JF — You’re using violence to elicit unexpected emotions or reactions, it’s a similar thing with the comedy of violence in your work.

 

HK — Yeah, it goes back to that movie I was making when I was younger. [In 1999 Harmony began work on Fight Harm, in which magician David Blaine filmed him provoking strangers into real-life physical altercations. The film was never completed.—Ed.] I was getting beaten up, getting into fights. I was trying to make the funniest film ever. I was trying to make the great American comedy, and I thought the repetition of violence would become hilarious and take on a kind of slapstick component. I mean, the idea of Buster Keaton slipping on a banana peel, it’s funny, but he also breaks his back, you know what I mean? In physical humor there’s always this kind of underlying thing. I grew up watching the Three Stooges, and they would just beat the fuck out of each other. So I was trying to in some ways mimic it, and distill it, and then it’s also the repetition of it where the humor comes in. So I feel like a lot of times, especially with anything physical, they’re kind of linked in this way.

When you’re showing something horrible in a beautiful way, it’s like life, to me. Or vice versa, something beautiful in a horrible way.

JF — But then ultimately that movie, Fight Harm, what, the violence just got too much? [laughs]

 

HK — Yeah, I was out of my mind when I was making that—I mean I was sane when I was making it, but I guess I was sane and also not sane. I didn’t really realize how short a fight lasted, and so I did nine of them, they were each about two minutes long, and so that’s only about eighteen minutes. And I wanted to make something that was feature-length. So I was getting arrested, and beaten up, thrown in hospitals and stuff. I just couldn’t—I really didn’t have the stamina to keep going.

 

JF — [laughs]

 

HK — And then I thought well maybe if I showed it, maybe people wouldn’t be disappointed, maybe the idea is good enough, or something. Like, maybe it was art, it’s just the idea, it’s OK. But, you know, I’d have taken a lot of Quaaludes, and drink, and then I’d get on the street and pee, and piss on someone’s shoe, and then get walloped. I mean it was hilarious, I can’t lie. But it was hard to keep it going.

 

JF — Now, only because I don’t think it’s true—I read that the thing you did with Johnny Depp, The Devil, the Sinner, and His Journey, got released. [This especially bizarre film features Harmony in heavy metal corpsepaint as O.J. Simpson, with Depp playing the role of Kato Kaelin.—Ed.] It was never released, right?

 

HK — Yeah, well, released…it was projected at Patrick Painter gallery for six weeks on a loop. So, but it wasn’t released, I don’t think that thing could ever be released anywhere. What happened was, I did that, I had a camera crew follow me and film the whole thing, and then after it was done we just went to the gallery and stuck the tape in the machine, and we just projected it in its entirety over and over again. I don’t even think I’d watched it before we just projected it.

 

JF — [laughs] And that was all done in Johnny Depp’s trailer?

 

HK — Yeah, it was done in Johnny Depp’s trailer, it was while he was filming that movie Blow? I almost can’t even describe it, it’s pretty nuts. I think there’s a picture of it somewhere, floating around. But after it was done, I forget exactly what happened, but I walked out and something happened, and some of the crew, or security attacked me. And I was wearing tap shoes, and you know, covered in paint and stuff, and I got in a fight with them, and it was that same day we went to the gallery. I had an art opening, and it was during that period when I was making those fight films, and people used to, like the Houdini thing, people used to come up and try and fight me all the time. They must have thought I had camera crews following me. So some guy, in the middle of the opening, like an hour after the fight with the thing with Depp, some guy at the opening ran up to me and punched me in the face when I wasn’t looking.

 

JF — [laughs]

 

HK — I was on crutches, and I tried to mash him with the crutches, and I ended up getting attacked again by security at my own opening. Security threw me out of my own opening.

 

JF — Why?

 

HK — I guess cause they said I was inciting a riot, but really it was just some guy who punched me in the face. And you know, I was pissed, I didn’t want to just sit there and take it. But I think at that point people must have thought that I had cameras following me all the time. It’s the kind of thing that makes you paranoid to go out. [laughs]

 

JF — So the past couple years or so, you’ve been doing a lot of painting, and had several shows, is there anything you can say about the connection between what you’ve been doing with the painting, and the movies?

 

HK — Yeah, I guess that’s one of the reasons why I’ve also been much slower with the films, just because painting kind of took over my life, or I should say painting took a bigger role in my life, the last couple years. I’d always made artwork, but there was about a ten year period where I was doing it mostly just on my own, and not showing anyone. It was something that I always enjoyed. Then about four years ago I showed some people, and then started getting asked to do shows, showing with Gagosian, and it started to just become more fun for me. The paintings are related to the films in a lot of ways, and in a lot of ways they’re separate. There’s something more singular about them, at least there’s something more immediate, you don’t have to deal with people. But the paintings are related in that kind of sensory way, where it has to do with color, texture, feeling, repetition and loops, and work that has this slightly druggy effect. Yeah, the artwork actually became a bigger part of my life than movies in the last couple years. But ever since I was little I saw everything as the same, I saw it all as just artwork. My films are closer to art in a lot of ways, and I never really wanted to differentiate between anything, it was all kind of a unified aesthetic, it was all coming from the same place. It was about acting on urges, or ideas, or visions, and so even though the movies are what I became more known for, I still, whether it was writing books, or making paintings, or artworks, doing whatever it was, I always felt like it was all the same thing, really. Like, I need to do it all. They dance with each other, you know? It’s all the same vision, I don’t feel like it’s enough to do just one. It’s not about being the best at something, it’s about a complete vision. So sometimes something is better as just a poem, with four sentences, and then other ideas need to be a movie. Something else could be a drawing or a painting. It all comes from the same place. I never really thought of there being a hierarchy with the artworks, it’s all just a singular thing.

I mean, the idea of Buster Keaton slipping on a banana peel, it’s funny, but he also breaks his back, you know what I mean?

JF — Just to finish up, if you can talk about it—Gucci Mane has been in prison for how long?

 

HK — He’s been in jail for I think three, three and a half years.

 

JF — He just got out recently, and you’re going to go and film him in his house—he’s on house arrest? 

 

HK — Yeah, he’s under house arrest in Atlanta, and I’m going to go visit him tomorrow, shoot some stuff with him. But that whole time he was in jail, I’ve visited him. He’s one of my favorite people. He’s a real artist. He’s one of those things that makes America great. There’s no difference between him and like, Frank Sinatra.

 

JF — Has he been writing in jail?

 

HK — Yeah, he was writing, I think he might’ve even written a movie, he wrote a hundred songs—I think he recorded a whole album the first couple hours he was out of jail. He’s been out a couple weeks and probably recorded a couple albums. [laughs] Um, he’s got a good work ethic.

 

JF — Are you going to interview him, or just kind of capture his life as it is now?

 

HK — Yeah, I think I’m just gonna hang out with him and just shoot some stuff. I think he’s living in a big mansion in Atlanta on house arrest, so I’m just going to see what the scene is like. [laughs] I know he would love to see you.

 

JF — I’ll try.

 

HK — He would love it. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

JF — Cool, well I hope we do that trilogy.

 

HK — We will. Very soon we will.

 

JF — Alright.

 

HK — I promise.

 

JF — Alright, cool brother.

 

HK — Alright man, good talking to you.

 

JF — You too. — END

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