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SFIFF: Harmony Korine & Val Kilmer Talk Stepping Into 'The Fourth Dimension'

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by Sean Gillane
April 27, 2012 10:04 AM
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Pamela Gentile, courtesy of San Francisco Film Society

Last Friday night, “The Fourth Dimension” made its world premiere at the San Francisco International Film Festival, a collaborative film that we thought got satisfying results out of its premise. In attendance were the set of directors responsible for the three short films created based on a collection of random instructions generated by Vice Films producer Eddy Moretti in a collaboration with Grolsch Film Works. The directors tapped included Harmony Korine (“Trash Humpers,” “Gummo”), Aleksei Fedorchenko (“Silent Souls”) and Polish director Jan Kwiecinski, making his big screen debut. We sat down to talk to Harmony Korine and Val Kilmer -- who stars in Korine’s film as a ridiculous motivational speaker -- about their short, “Lotus Community Workshop.”

The description of Korine creating a film within a structured set of rules may sound familiar. Back in 1999 Korine created his sophomore feature narrative “Julien Donkey-Boy” under the notably restrictive rules of the Dogme 95 movement. “The Fourth Dimension” creative brief isn’t meant to act as Dogme 95 2.0 though. Korine explains, “The difference between the Dogme rules and these rules are significant. The Dogme rules were extremely stringent and it was more like an experience akin to going to church. It was something, in some ways, very difficult. But this was more whimsical, comedic, tangential. It wasn't like there was a sense of any foreboding on the set. That was part of the idea going in. Part of the appeal for me is it never seemed overly serious; the rules are whimsical, there was an immediacy to it. It seemed like a perfect opportunity. I just enjoy making things so I didn't really over think it or think about the other films [in 'The Fourth Dimension'] or how it would work together. It was just about the piece itself.”

One of the goals of “The Fourth Dimension” from the get go was to set the work of three directors next to each other as a theatrical experience. The producers decided that a 90-minute film was the sweet spot, leaving each director with an atypical 30 minute run time to work with for their films, a constraint Korine wasn’t accustomed to. “When [Vice Films producer] Eddy [Moretti] told me about the idea they said it needs to be about 30 minutes long and I thought '30 minutes is kind of an awkward length.' I couldn't remember seeing something at that length that I was excited by," he said. "So I thought it'd be good if it's just its own thing, like maybe not even a movie, or maybe it's something more like a speech, a live performance, an experiment or something. And that's how I started thinking about Val as the world's worst motivational speaker.” Regarding casting Val Kilmer in a role that most people wouldn’t immediately think to place him in, he continues, “The idea was that -- I always kind of felt like at his essence Val was like this guy in some ways. Like, this could be a great secondary career for him.“

Tommy Lau, courtesy of San Francisco Film Society

In the “Lotus Community Workshop” short, Kilmer plays an over-the-top motivational speaker that has no discernible expertise besides talking nonsense and working a crowd. On playing the outrageous character, Kilmer admits to dealing with some concern during the process of making the short, saying, “Well you know because the guy says so many idiotic things and his taste is questionable, at best, in a number of areas I had a real concern because the character's name is Hector but [Korine] would have people call me Val. And I'd say, 'Some of this stuff that I'm doing and saying, if it's not cut in the right spirit someone might confuse it with me. There's a sign behind my head that says 'Welcome Val!' And you've got your wife playing my girlfriend.’ It's just like this alternate universe, like the spirit of the film.”

Kilmer recognizes that the director has a unique process when creating a film, describing him as a “trickster.” The actor doesn’t feel unnecessarily excluded from the creative process though, in fact he can relate to it himself, disclosing, “If I was excited about an idea, like obviously he was or he wouldn't have made it, I'd want to share it with everybody. Except the private things in acting, it's your fuel and you wouldn't give away the fuel. There were several aspects of the story, like calling me by my name, that I would have to just trust him on because he wouldn't talk about it. And now when I mention it he just laughs. There's a real specific reason to a lot of things he does but he acts like he doesn't know what he's doing, like tricksters do. That's how he lives so it comes out very often in him, in his films. It's like there's some kind of strange magic going on. ”

Though Korine is often described as a director with a singular vision, that doesn’t mean he isn’t collaborative in his own way. Despite Kilmer’s unease at playing a version of himself, which could easily feel jokey and overdone, Korine feels confident in his approach to the character. The “Val” in the film explodes through the scene with an energy and pace that passes for improvisation, but Korine scripted the entire speech within a few hours of being asked to participate in the project. The director expresses a mutual level of trust with his star, saying, “Once he got the lines down it was about his interpretation. The truth is, I like the idea that with actors, once they give themselves up to the character, when they become the character, there's not really a right or wrong. They are that person. So I felt like what he could do was either just good or great. Cause he is that person, it is the truth already going into it.”

“Lotus Community Workshop” has some intentionally rough edges, with cameras from the shoot showing up on-screen and Kilmer speaking directly into the lens on few occasions, seemingly breaking character. This blurring of realities is a common element in Korine’s work; one that the director hopes engages the audience is a way they’re not accustomed to in most narrative films, as Korine illustrates, “Movies to me are more of a feeling. I like the idea of not always knowing what I'm watching. There's something interesting when you can go from something that's more written, more set up and then have it blend into something that's completely spontaneous and real and natural, but then never really know which is which. I like the idea of never being comfortable when you watch a movie. I don't want you to be able to just sit there and relax. I want the films to be more sensory. I want them to kind of go through you. I want them to be something more.“

Pamela Gentile, courtesy of San Francisco Film Society

An actor could understandably become worried about being thrown into a film that might aggressively challenge an audience without regard for how the actor might be perceived within that frame. Kilmer seems comfortable with the risk though, telling us, “Harmony saying, 'I just don't care about being judged,' is a big part of it. A lot of his experiments are exactly that. Experiments where you can sort of see into that experiment in the finished product. He has such wonderful courage; it inspires everybody.”

Since the beginning of his career, Korine has been known to be a notoriously quick writer, pounding out the script for his first produced script, “Kids,” in just six days. The same holds true to this day, as the director tells us, “I try not to write a script that will last more than a week. This was a couple hours, but ‘Spring Breakers’ was like a week. I just try lock myself in my room and imagine there's some guy with a gun at my head. Or else I could see that it just goes on for five years.”

As we previously reported, “Spring Breakers” will be Korine’s next feature film following his 2009 VHS-shot “Trash Humpers,” which will star James Franco, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens as well as Korine’s wife Rachel Korine, who has become a frequently seen talent in the director’s recent work. The director notes that the shoot is indeed over and expresses quite a bit of excitement about the production, remarking, “Man this thing's very special. I can't say too much about it but I'm really excited. I honestly don't know what I'm doing after that. ‘Spring Breakers’ was so intense. I'm sure over the next few months as I'm finishing up the edit I'll start to dream things up again.”

“The Fourth Dimension” is scheduled to play festivals worldwide throughout 2012 and is still seeking distribution. The San Francisco International Film Festival continues through May 3rd.

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1 Comment

  • Tyrannosaurus Max | April 27, 2012 11:41 AMReply

    Thanks for this, Sean. <3 Korine <3

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