After an eight-year hibernation from feature films, writer/director Harmony Korine, christened “the future of American cinema” by Werner Herzog, has finally finished his third film, Mister Lonely.
Although the young filmmaker has been out of the spotlight for some time now, it hasn’t stopped him from keeping busy with other artistic endeavors, often bending the rules with his unique, eccentric style.
Foster Homes and Gardens
Harmony Korine was raised in the carnival. As a teenager, he lived with his grandmother in the boroughs of New York City, and after dropping out of the film school at NYU, pursued a career as a professional skateboarder. It was at Washington Square Park where Korine met photographer Larry Clark while skating with friends. The two hit it off right away, feeding off of each other’s fascination with painful stories of teen angst.
When Korine showed Clark a screenplay he had written about a teenager whose father takes him to a prostitute, the photographer had a more interesting idea for the inspiring writer: to compose a script based on his everyday life. So in three weeks, Korine wrote his first feature (at the age 19), Kids, directed and photographed by Clark. The film had grand success at festivals around the world and was hailed by critics as a serious “wake-up call” to America.
A few years later, Korine produced his directorial debut Gummo, a film about the town Xenia, Ohio, in the aftermath of a devastating tornado. The critical response was mixed; some praising the exceptional use of handheld video and super 8 cameras, while others deeming it the worst film of the year. According to Korine, about half of the film was shot on the last day. On the DVD’s special features, he states, “On the last day of shooting, I pulled my pants down, threw my sister through a plate-glass window, vomited in a yellow bucket, and someone stabbed me with a little red army pocket knife. Two days later I woke up and the film was done.”
In 1999, his second feature film was released, Julien Donkey-Boy, starring friend Werner Herzog and then-girlfriend Chloe Sevigny. It was the first American film to be certified as Dogme ‘95 and was very successful at foreign festivals. This surreal portrait paints a morbid picture of a dysfunctional family, mainly featuring a schizophrenic boy remarkably played by Scottish actor Ewen Bremner.
No News is Good Noose
In April of 2005, Korine visited Ryerson University for a two -and -a -half -hour interview conducted by filmmaker Bruce LaBruce. After discussing his more prominent work, they started to talk about some of the side projects the young director had been working on in the past years.
One project, cryptically named The Diary of Anne Frank Part II, was an experimental video triptych which included a mixture of horrific found footage. The museum-intended film was released in a few cities for short periods of time, disgusting critics and creating hysterical anger in a majority of the audience. It was around 40 minutes in length, including images of a mentally handicapped man in a soiled diaper and the burying of a dead dog.
In the interview, Korine expressed his pleasure of being involved and collaborating with musicians for music videos, the most popular being Sonic Youth’s “Sunday”, starring Macaulay Culkin and his then-wife Rachel Miner. Edited suitably with the music, this video is comprised of many slow motion shots of the two dancing and sticking their tongues out at each other. He also collaborated with bluegrass artist Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, making a video for the song “No More Workhorse Blues.” This collection of images is exceptionally stunning; showing a painted-black bride, walking in a slum, dancing with vagrants, eating a Popsicle, and eventually hanging herself from a tree.
Conflict and Harmony
Korine’s most shocking project was an abandoned film entitled Fight Harm. As unsettling as the premise is, you have to respect the devotion: Harmony walks up to real people on the street and starts a physical confrontation with them, and with someone filming in the shadows, he would be beaten unconscious.
The rules that he made specifically for the fights were; he had to start the fight; he couldn’t throw the first punch; and he had to lose. Who he fought was also a big factor; he chose people their diversity, not their size. “Yeah, so I was thinking that would be great. It would be great to see someone get beaten up, to fight every single demographic. I wanted to fight lesbians. I wanted to fight half-breeds. I wanted to fight albinos...
What happened was I wanted to make the Great American Comedy. I was reading a lot of joke books and that was the other dream, to be able to write a joke book. Like a novel consisting of just one-liners. I was reading a lot of the Milton Berle books, and before that I’d wanted to make the Henny Youngman biography, it was called Take My Life, Please! It said that he kept his phone number in the phone book so he could play at bar mitzvahs if you wanted to call him up. So I looked his phone number up and I started calling him and he died a few days later. But, yeah, he was great. He was the guy that said, ‘My luck is so bad that aspirin gives me headaches.’ I noticed that with the humor there was always a victim. You know, someone slips on a banana peel and cracks their head.”
That project was ultimately abandoned due to the pleas from his loved ones after a specific encounter: “What happened is we went to this strip joint. There was this bouncer at this place... I went up and I popped the stripper’s balloon. This guy flipped out and he broke my ankles. He put them on the sidewalk and he started snapping them, and I didn’t really realize it until I stood up. It was horrendous, and he also cracked a few of my ribs. But the comedy came in when I got up with broken ankles and started making like chimpanzee noises. I was trying to get him involved.”
Although his previous projects show lots of promise in a future career of contemporary experimental films, Korine has decided with his latest composition to go the opposite direction; he’s taken his clever, yet explosive imagination and has created a straight-narrative movie. In Mister Lonely, Korine tackles fame and identity, finding a beautiful, human core to his characters who impersonate celebrities for a living.
Korine has come a long way since Kids, but in keeping with his style of clever irony and dark beauty, it may look like he has taken a more serious turn with this latest opus. Mister Lonely seems like an almost perfect addition to Korine’s filmography, and should no doubt assert him as a matured filmmaker.