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Harmony Korine Talks 'Spring Breakers', Narrative Freedom & Why The ATL Twins Make America Great

Photo of Erik McClanahan By Erik McClanahan | The Playlist March 20, 2013 at 2:05PM

After opening in New York and Los Angeles last Friday, this weekend, U.S. audiences will get to see the latest fucked-up cinematic opus from enfant terrible Harmony Korine. "Spring Breakers," featuring James Franco alongside an unlikely young cast including Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson, tells the story of four bored college coeds (the aforementioned three actresses plus Rachel Korine, the director's wife) who rob a restaurant to fund a booze-and-drug-fueled trip to Florida, only to fall in with Franco’s Alien, a rapper and gangster who loves spring break (calling it "the American dream") almost as much as he loves the four females leads, and their brazen acceptance of the criminal lifestyle.
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Harmony Korine Spring Breakers

After opening in New York and Los Angeles last Friday, this weekend, U.S. audiences will get to see the latest fucked-up cinematic opus from enfant terrible Harmony Korine. "Spring Breakers," featuring James Franco alongside an unlikely young cast including Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Benson, tells the story of four bored college coeds (the aforementioned three actresses plus Rachel Korine, the director's wife) who rob a restaurant to fund a booze-and-drug-fueled trip to Florida, only to fall in with Franco’s Alien, a rapper and gangster who loves spring break (calling it "the American dream") almost as much as he loves the four females leads, and their brazen acceptance of the criminal lifestyle.  

In his review of the film from Venice last year, The Playlist's Oli Lyttelton quite nicely stated, "midnight movie programmers of the future will undoubtedly give it a long life years after it’s gone from first-run theaters." This writer agrees -- it's probably my favorite film of 2013 so far. Regardless of whatever arbitrary rating you want to slap on "Spring Breakers," it's thrilling, hilarious, original, weird and stylish as hell, everything we've come to expect from Korine, just in a shiny new package. In his 20-year career thus far, the self-professed "soldier of cinema" has constantly surprised us with bold, sometimes perplexing but always distinct choices every time out, proving that while most American filmmakers are happy to turn right or left towards tried and true (and often safe) routes in their careers, Korine basically flips off all sides and continues to carve his own path. 

Spring Breakers
With “Spring Breakers,” I left the theater feeling how accurately you nailed the juxtaposition of the spring break experience: the fun, wild, craziness of it all along with darker, nihilistic and disgusting aspects.
Harmony Korine: Oh yeah, it’s just that sometimes things are both, right? It’s weird, in some ways it’s not meant to be a movie purely about spring break. Spring break is a metaphor for the rest of the story and some ways representative of that dream that you're talking about. Things seem perfect at first, for one day. The longer you go, the more horrible it gets, and then it veers closer to the feeling you experiencing in the film. But yeah, I wanted the movie to have that feeling; be a reinterpretation of that world.

When you make something more accessible and “mainstream” like this, especially when you work with bigger actors, there are limitations to that. What do you think working under these confines did for you as a filmmaker?
It was fun because all the actors worked at their job, they all did their part and played their roles, they all were willing to take it to the extremes. All of the actors and actresses were at a point in their lives where they were ready to do something more extreme, more graphic, a different kind of acting style. So I don’t feel like I had to make any concessions working with them.

Spring Breakers
The editing by Douglas Crise is amazing. It’s as if the film itself is hung-over, like trying to remember a few wild nights of partying and seemingly random pieces will pop up out of nowhere in that memory.
Yeah, we wanted the film to have this boozy, liquid narrative vibe to it. I wanted it to be images and sounds coming back, this kind of propulsive, frenetic and murky narrative. It was more about capturing this specific energy, something more wild and more closely replicating a drug experience. Something that was more hallucinatory, transcendent, more physical, emotional, you know, and at the same time make it exciting.

As a filmmaker you’ve never really been interested in narrative, so what would your response be to some critics of the film who say “Spring Breakers” is thin on story?
I wouldn’t respond because I’m fine with that. I think with narrative, if that’s what people are looking for, like a Tom Clancy novel or something, that’s not what I do. I’m not interested in that. This film does have a distinctive and specific narrative, and a simple narrative, but also there’s a lot of complexity that surrounds it. I’m welcoming and open to all interpretations.

Spring Breakers
Have you been influenced by Gaspar Noe since becoming friends and working with him? You employed his usual DP Benoit Debie on this film, and he captured a similar look with this and “Enter the Void” as far as the colors and the hallucinatory feel.
Yeah, Gaspar is a really good friend of mine and I wasn’t sure how I would shoot it. Benoit is very, very inventive, and again, I wanted something outside the realm of a traditional narrative film, something more epic, almost like a video game or a pop song. Benoit is incredible when it comes to making things like the colors you mentioned and a total dimension, and, yeah, he’s one of the best.

You’re 40 years old now, and it seems like you’ve really mellowed out with age. It’s maybe not totally fair to say you were confrontational in interviews at a younger age, but that element of your persona seems to have mellowed a bit.
Yeah probably. In some ways that’s probably the case. I try to filter all the aggression in to the films, in to the work. All that gnarly energy goes in to the movies and the artwork and stuff, so it’s all there but I just try to put it out in a different way.

This article is related to: Harmony Korine, James Franco, ATL Twins, Spring Breakers, Interviews


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