Love him or hate him – American provocateur Harmony Korine has certainly carved out a audience for himself amongst the rag-tag interlopers, grumbling critics, and the youths of today clinging to the Gen X lifestyle. With his anarchic humour and aggressive visual aesthetic, Korine holds a mirror up to his audience. Feeding off of their reactions to the small town communities and side-lined people he discovers. Should we find his work humorous or is it easier to brand his auteur sensibilities as horrendous?
This weekend saw the London Short Film Festival (in partnership with the good people at Mubi) hold a two day event at the ICA to examine the incendiary filmmaker in order to see how his 1997 debut feature Gummo fits into the current climate of filmmaking. Along with Gummo, Gorilla was also invited to the panel event, ‘Gummosium’, Leo Gabin’s YouTube collage A Crack Up at the Race Riots (a loose adaptation of Korine’s experimental novel of the same name), and the final day of short films, promos, and music videos from the maestro himself. Love him or hate him – Harmony Korine is a powerhouse of Avant-garde, outlandish cinema and video projects.
I feel a bit of context is in order before I can proceed. When I first managed to get my grubby hands on a copy of Gummo (which is notoriously difficult to find as it is yet to see a DVD release in the UK) I absolutely despised it. The scenes of cat-killings, a disabled individual being prostituted out to the boys of the neighbourhood, and the (now iconic) young boy with knuckle tattoos and bunny ears; completely rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe I wasn’t old enough or even mature enough to appreciate it. So at 11:15am on a Saturday morning, with a cup of coffee in hand and a weekend of reconciliation ahead of me – I sat down and let Korine’s debut do its thing.
Sitting in an environment that allowed my to fully commit myself to the strange world that Korine captures and I opened up to the movie. The odd nervous chuckle from the audience added an extra dimension to the movie as Gummo is certainly not a film that can be categorised as a comedy yet it was fascinating to see (or hear) which sections of the movie effected people in what way. Whether it is crass lines spouted from two cowboy kids or from a beer fuelled all out attack on a metallic chair in a cramped kitchen.Experiencing it in a cinema is something that rarely comes round as often.
One thing that was interesting about the event was that a VHS copy of the movie was screened, out of necessity rather than choice. I later discussed with Charlie Lyne, of the Ultra Culture blog, how the VHS aesthetic actually added to my enjoyment of the movie; the scratchy VHS pulled me in further into Korine’s style.
Following on from the screening was the panel talk titled ‘A Gummosium’. On the panel were Jason Wood (curator, filmmaker, and Professor at the Manchester Metropolitan University), Ultra Culture editor Charlie Lyne, filmmaker Jennifer Reeder, and Chiara Marañón the acquisitions and film programmer at Mubi. Each member on the panel discussed the movie and what it meant to them the first time they viewed it. Jason Wood told the tale of the film’s distribution campaign and how he battled with cinemas during its UK release in 1997. He noted that Gummo took little over two grand but was considered to have relative success for a movie such as this. Charlie Lyne spoke elegantly about his experience with Korine’s other movies stating how he’d been a tag along at the Trash Humpers UK premiere and met Korine himself. Jennifer Reed who spoke about Gummo’s cultural appeal in the States and how filmmakers such as herself have been inspired by Korine’s work.
Following this was an adaptation of Korine’s novel A Crack Up. Despite only being a loose adaptation, the film, A Crack Up at the Race Riots, was not my cup of tea (to put it mildly). The Belgian experimental filmmaker Leo Gabin took several themes and lines from the book and created something that felt empty and laborious. A Crack Up at the Race Riot is a collection of appropriated YouTube videos that failed to form a cohesive video overall. What we are shown is a collection of young female webcam wannabes and machismo montages of African-American males proudly showing off their wheels. Set to an excruciating remixed soundtrack with lines from Korine’s book peppered throughout the whole thing. It felt very pretentious. I’ve never read the book myself but if it is half as bad as this art gallery installation then it must be insufferable. Gabin reportedly collaborated indirectly with Korine on Spring Breakers, but his own work is a far cry from the electric attitude Korine brings to his projects.
After A Crack Up… it was a breath of fresh air to watch some of Korine’s short films and music videos, although calling it a breath of fresh air, might not be wholly accurate. The eclectic choice of shorts that were shown really displayed the range which Korine dances around. For example, he has made simple and controlled music videos such as his video for Sonic Youth’s Sunday as well as more eccentric works like the man himself tap dancing across sidewalks with a creepy puppet in Curb Dance. Except for Umshini Wam, which Korine made with Yo-Landi and Ninja of Die Antwood, the other video projects shown were brief and kept the flow of the whole event. As previously mentioned this program really demonstrated Korine’s ability to be a controlled and visually dominant filmmaker on the one hand, and on the other be a rebellious and provocative maestro of madness.
Topping off the screening was a breezy documentary piece produced by NOWNESS and made ahead of his 2014 good-girls-gone-bad film Spring Breakers, entitled Collected Harmony. Overall, I walked away from the ICA with a new found appreciation for the divisive filmmaker.
Harmony Korine is set to have a talk at the BFI next month and is in the midst of filming his next feature, The Trap, with the likes of Al Pacino, Benicio Del Toro and James Franco (who’s back for more after Spring Breakers). It would appear that the avant-garde provocateur is still breathing life into the American independent scene.
If you missed the event be sure to look out for his short films and promotional pieces that are scattered around the Internet. Love him or hate him – Harmony is here to stay and hard to ignore.
The Harmony Korine Weekender took place on January 16-17 as part of the London Short Film Festival in partnership with Mubi UK.