Sensational filmmaker and artist Harmony Korine is known for his strangely brutal and oft twisted works that expose the absurdities in everyday life and the unique worlds lying just beneath the surface. And when it comes to the places he loves to inhabit, it’s his affinity for the American south and the particular culture of everyday people that strike him.
It’s probably from being a skateboarder and being very young and free and, like, “My parents are letting me do what I want to do,” and spending the summer on rooftops and just floating and hanging with different characters and getting drunk in abandoned parking lots. It becomes that world, that vernacular—it just becomes part of what you know. It’s hard to say what attracts you to a blonde-haired chick with big tits—it’s just like, you go where you go.
But speaking of his parents, Korine’s father Sol Korine was an artist in his own right, making and producing films for PBS. And in 1981, he co-produced a ten-part series with Blaine Dunlap called Southbound which “documented roots music throughout the United States.” Speaking to the doc, The Seventh Artnotes that:
Viewed today, it almost seems that Harmony Korine’s directorial works — most notably Trash Humpers (2009) and Gummo (1997) — are nearly an extension of his father’s, both aiming to show the South, in all of its idiosyncratic wonder, as an animate and culturally rich section of America.
You can watch the first episode of the series below, titled Mouth Music, which is a fantastic look into a world that has obviously played a tremendous influence on Harmony and his work. The Seventh Art also refers back to an interview with Death and Taxes in which Korine spoke about his father’s influence and living in the south, saying:
It’s just life there. You see a lot of stuff. But there was an energy: something kind of strange and sinister, something fun, but something bubbling beneath the surface. Something really American.
Last spring, we were thrilled to learn that after more than a decade and a half off the shelf, surrealist the absurd realist filmmaker, writer, photographer, and artist Harmony Korine was releasing his 1998 novel A Crack Up at the Race Riots—”just in time for all those sixteen year old kids who went to see Spring Breakers and walked out of the theater clutching their smart phones, faces permanently frozen in an expression of, ‘What the hell, man, that wasn’t like The Hangover but with chicks?!’
And what you’ll get from A Crack Up is an unhinged and fragmented multimedia portrait told through slices of conversations, frantic drawings, news clippings, hypothetical lists, suicide notes, letters from Tupac, and much more, giving you a glimpse inside the mind of one of our generations most radical and bizarre voices. ‘It’s about a race war and it happens in Florida. And the Jewish people sit in trees. And the black people are run by M.C. Hammer. And the whites are run by Vanilla Ice,’ Korine once said on Letterman and well, you’ll just have to read it for yourself to find out what that all means.”
So now, without any word from Harmony on the project, it appears that the ATL Twins have told the New York Post that they’ll be working on a film adaptation of the A Crack Up alongside, none other than, James Franco. “[Franco’s] going to be like a KKK leader and we’re gonna be his goons. It’s really strange, in a good way,” they’ve said. And let’s be real, this is little to go on, but if Korine is indeed transforming his bizarrely brilliant work of early hyperreal fiction into a film, there’s no doubt Franco would be at the center of it. Speaking the book, Korine told me:
It’s hard for me to remember exactly how it happened because it was a long time ago and I was tripping out really, and some of the pages are even just like hallucinating or something. I just had all these ideas and I was seeing all these connections in things—micro-movements and ideas about authorship and anti-authorship. So I was trying to write a novel that existed in the margins that had as much to do with what was undefined as what was written, that had as much to do with the whiteness around the ink, you know? And so I’d walk around and hear someone like on a bus talking to themselves or ranting to themselves or hitting themselves in the head or singing some type of opera or something and I would just write what I saw. And then I would imagine like, what if Woody Harrelson said that? Or what if that conversation those two gay vagrants on the corner were having was between John Ford and his wife? And I liked how it would transform it and turn it into something so hilarious that so much of it was about context and the shifting humor and the re-contextualizing of things. I love those Sherrie Levine photos of all the Walker Evans pictures that she re-photgraphs and I remember wanting to do that but in words, in a way that was not just an experiment or just an exercise in craft but had a heartbeat and told a story. So I did that and the process was more abstract and I started writing a lot of that stuff in my early 20s and it took place over a couple years. I would just write notes and ideas and fragments on paper and crayon on the side of my wall. And then after I felt like there was enough of that stuff around me, I tried to make sense of it and re-collage it and re-contexualize it and give it some narrative in its own way to tell a story.
So in the meantime, if you haven’t read A Crack Up At the Race Riots, I’d recommend you do that immediately, and of course check out what Korine had to tell us about it HERE.
As I find myself sitting on my knees typing away and thinking of the year behind and year ahead, I can’t help but wonder where the time has gone. Has it really been an entire year sinceI lamented over my least favorite films of 2012, or did I just blink a little too hard?But as 2013 draws the curtain on 2014, and for all of the myriad life changes, pleasures, heartbreaks, existential quandaries, and obsessions endured, a great deal of my emotional memory is centered around cinema. I can pinpoint my own state of being in correlation to the films I loved and the work that truly moved me. I look back on my absolute favorite film of the year, Shane Carruth’s confounding and beautiful Upstream Color and can remember precisely the person I was at that time and just what compelled me to see the film 23 times in a span of two months.
But whether it was 2013’s highly anticipated heavy hitters like Steve McQueen’s fearless 12 Years a Slave or hidden gems recently to have their premiere such as Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, it’s safe to say that it’s been a pretty damn good year for film. From psychotropic teen nightmares and 90s dinner party-esque Shakespearean adaptations to transcontinental love stories and visceral documentaries, the films of 2013 surely offer a bit of something to please every cinematic appetite. So although I’ve sadly yet to see some of the year end blockbusters—which I am sure they’re worth praising—I thought it still necessary to share my favorite films of the year, as well as a look back on our extensive interviews with the filmmakers behind the pictures. I’ve opted to not rank the films, as I believe they’re all vital and brilliant in their own right, but must give away my personal Best Feature award to my favorite treasure of the year. Hope you enjoy.
***UPSTREAM COLOR, Shane Carruth***
With Upstream Color, Carruth has created a tactile film in which the sounds and textures engulf you in its layered and complex narrative that’s as much about the interdependence and madness of love as it is about our inescapable connection to nature and the world around us. There’s a poeticism to the film despite its rich sense of structure and science that allows it to possess a spiritual quality that hits the heart more so than the mind.
Upstream Color is a fractured story about broken people, shattering your notion of love’s conventions and what draws one person to another. It forces you to let go and immerse yourself in their world and the story Carruth has created in a way that you rarely feel compelled to with most contemporary cinema. You sink into the story and allow it to ripple over you with its subtle yet absolute approach, and although it may fall into the realm of the metaphysical, it remains emotionally tangible. And I will freely admit that this is not simply one of my favorite films of the year thus far, but perhaps one of the most incredible films I have ever seen. There are few things I cherish more than the physical act of watching a film, and the experience of sitting down for two hours and allowing myself to be overcome. From Upstream Color‘s first moment, something clicks inside of me and I’m hooked, mesmerized and embedded into the roots of its world.
Filled with striking cinematography and grandiose imagery that heightens everyday existence and existential quandaries into matters of personal faith, his work exposes a universal truth lying in his subjects. Whether he’s taking us on a perfectly scored journey through the vast open roads of the American landscape or through the hallowed halls and lamp lit streets of Rome, there’s a distinctly fantastic thrill, haunting charm, and absolute pleasure evoked from his sense of cinema.
And with his latest feature—both his personal best and one of my favorite films of the year—Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty is as ambitious as it is stunning. Starring the always captivating Toni Servillo—with a look that may be familiar but a freshness that enthralls—he and Sorrentino takes us into the world of Jep Gambardella (Servillo), a writer who has been drifting through a lavish lifestyle of parties and empty experiences since the success of his first and only novel. Examining the dichotomy between the history lingering in Rome’s landscape and psyche and the hollow artifice of modernity’s ephemeral charms, The Great Beauty studies Jep’s life as a “grand indictment of a man, and a society, that has lost its way.”
With an strange and oft grotesque hand—but one that’s always full of wonder—Sorrentino explores how we deal with love and loss, life and death, and the questions we must ask ourselves to give our existence meaning. “The great attraction of human beings, is that this beauty manifests itself in fleeting moments and thunders,” Sorrentino told me. “Exterior beauty is ephemeral, it comes and goes.” And it’s that sentiment which lingers throughout The Great Beauty,giving us a keen observation into the soul of both Jep and the Italy he strolls through night after night.
Frances Ha not only reflects what it means to simply exist at that time in life and in that universe, but shows the beauty in the mistakes made along the way, underscoring the idea that just because something isn’t working doesn’t mean it’s broken. Baumbach has crafted a film that feels refreshing and contemporary yet harkens back to to such European cinematic masters as Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, and Jean-Luc Godard in its casual essence, reminding us of what we love so much about the filmmaking of days past.
Co-written with the film’s brilliant and versatile star, Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha is infused with a unique magic that comes from a true meeting of minds. If you look back on Baumbach and Gerwig’s early work, it’s evident that the two are cut from the same cloth—both sharing an affinity for a particular kind of character’s journey, dealing with a sense of malaise as they meander through life, yet filled with a yearning for more. And whereas many of Baumbach’s film’s tend to err on the side of the misanthropic,Frances Ha is a film that makes you want to go out and engage in life. It’s an inspired and intelligent love letter to cinema that never stops moving while we follow the endearingly strange Frances as she dances from life to life.
At its core, Frances Ha is both a journey of self-discovery and a love story between best friends. With Gerwig’s frank yet tender touch, we see a realistic look at a fractured female friendship and the mourning that comes from feeling as though you’ve lost a part of yourself to someone else.
Read our interview with Baumbach HEREand our interview with Gerwig HERE.
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Joss Whedon
Playing out as a love letter to Shakespeare’s comedic tale of a merry war betwixt two lovers, Much Ado is brimming with charisma and sensual thrill. You don’t need to be a scholar of the bard to find yourself captivated by the story, with its silky smooth and velvety jazz-filled atmosphere, you’re eased into the film in a way that’s far from intimidating. Whedon infuses a conversational style to the story that makes it more accessible than any other Shakespearean re-workings in recent memory, adding to a charm that’s heightened by its phenomenal cast of characters.
Filmed in his own home in Los Angeles, for the director best known for hit shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, or Hollywood blockbusters like The Avengers, Much Ado was a welcome surprise. The comedy feels like a breath of fresh air, a respite from major studio pictures that allows Whedon the freedom to let loose with a rapturous mix of refinement and playfulness. Much Ado may seem minimalistic in its production style, but that speaks nothing of the beauty with which it was shot and the wonderfully nuanced performances by its sprawling cast.
The brilliant Texas-born director’s latest film, The Act of Killing, exposes its frightening subjects with a generosity and candor that you’re at once drawn to, yet viscerally unable to wrestle with. What you’re hearing and seeing on screen so unnerving that it almost feels like fiction. Executive produced by documentary film legends Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, Oppenheimer’s work focuses on the perpetrators behind the Indonesian genocide that occurred in the mid-1960s, a mass murdering of communists and Chinese by the death squad leaders who ushered in a regime of fear over the nation. But rather than simply tell the overarching story of these heinous acts, he worked with these now aged and troubled leaders to recreate their crimes in a highly theatrical and shocking way. Having murdered over a million people, one of the men to lead in the atrocity was Anwar Congo, whom Oppenheimer’s documentary focuses in on.
In a groundbreaking and uniquely evocative way to approach the subject, they reenact their crimes, playing out like homages to the American films that these gangsters idealized. Having spent years working in Indonesia, hearing these men’s stories and the plight of the survivors, he gives a raw and extremely personal look into the imagination and psyche of Anwar and his contemporaries. The film exists in the dichotomy of pure evil without remorse and the denial of that villainy in order to survive, and the result is a brilliantly executed exploration into a horrifying truth never before uncovered.
Bursting onto the screen with frantic gasp of air, Amy Seimetz’s Sun Don’t Shine grabs you by the neck and holds you captive. From its fierce and emotionally-charged opening scene—a rough and muddy lover’s quarrel—to the dreamy back road driving sequence that follows, you’re entranced in the film’s hot and sticky world straightaway, teeming with tension, anxiety, and fear. With swampy earthy tones of the Everglades and rosy hues of passion, Seimetz’s directorial debut is both visceral and expressionistic, playing out through feeling and texture, guiding you with potent emotion as you follow a young couple on the run.
A character study that picks up after the act of murder, Sun Don’t Shine exists in the balance of what comes after, the post-crime delirium and limbo before consequence. Hazy voiceovers that harken back to memories of hopeful intimacy are woven throughout the unraveling and unnerving narrative, shedding light on the paranoid couple that ventures into the seedy tourist trappings of southern Florida with a dead man in the trunk. Kate Lyn Sheil and Kentucker Audley bring a frightening sense of life into Crystal and Leo, playing them with every nerve exposed and emotions seeping out and fusing into the sweat on their skin.
With only a handful of features under his belt, director Steve McQueen stands out like a beacon for modern filmmakers. The fearless and outspoken filmmaker whose work is as brutally human as it is viciously beautiful, has given us the Michael Fassbinder-led Hunger and Shame, and now the absolutely visceral and exquisite 12 Years a Slave. And not only is McQueen talented, but it’s his self-possessed and outspoken nature and his refusal to pander to Hollywood or hide from challenge that sets him above his contemporaries. ‘Right now I couldn’t do a better film than Shame,’ he said back in 2012. “I couldn’t do better, but I hope the next one that I do will be better. It will be better.”
And although Shame was an masterpiece of emotionally gutting intimate psychology in its own right, McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave has proved to surpass everyone’s expectations, and apparently, even his. As an unflinching and astounding director whose brilliance is evident in everything he touches, McQueen has delivered, what is sure to be, the year’s most epic film. With a passion and talent for exposing brutality with an honest and emotional eye, McQueen’s film showcases the work of a man who harbors an unwavering vision and an incredible ability to pull performances from the marrow of his actors. Without pandering to an audience, without trying to dull down the absolute horror of Solomon Northup’s story or the atrocity of slavery, McQueen’s film unravels you emotionally from its very start and leaves you with the sensation that you have truly just watched a film—that feeling you cannot shake even hours leaving the theater, that’s what cinema is about.
‘It may not be the first film about slavery, but it feels like the first to treat it with no filter, no safety net, no redemptive catharsis , but as an American holocaust, told entirely from the black perspective. To watch it with an audience is to participate in an act of communal, immersive exorcism, and the element that makes it not just bearable, but transcendent, is the pure, jaw-dropping artistry at every level of its production. The true life tale of Solomon Northup’s Kafkaesque nightmare—kidnapped from his free life and sold into brutal slavery—feels like a major step in healing the wounds of slavery’s past, by allowing us to take collective responsibility as we watch horror turned to exquisite art, without lessening any of its impact. In a perfect world, it would win every Oscar hands down, but given the Academy’s predilection for unchallenging feel-good entertainment, it doesn’t stand a chance. Fuck ‘em. It’s not just the best film of the year, but one of the best films ever made. And here’s a few of those superlatives to underline my point: Unmissable. Essential. Fearless. Profound. Unforgettable.’
SPRING BREAKERS, Harmony Korine
Sure, Spring Breakers has an easy allure: sex, drugs, violence, and gun-toting saccharine-sweet Disney stars in bikinis. But there’s more to Harmony Korine’s neon-fueled rite of passage tale than meets the bloodshot eye. Like a candy-coated nightmare, Korine gives a raw portrayal of what at first appears to be a fun and breezy ride filled with sparkles and the promise of escape from life’s mundane ennui, but Spring Breakers cuts deep and goes dark and filthy into places that frighten, mystify, tantalize, and thrill with a mix of pure pleasure and pain.
Getting his hands dirty in just about every medium, the 40-year-old auteur has been working for nearly two decades now, creating work that’s unapologetic and uncompromising, filled with morally ambiguous and socially maligned characters that exist in a very specific world on the fringes. Although Korine’s work breathes with a mise-en-scene of the hyper-real, there’s an element to his films that holds up a rusty, all too familiar mirror for ourselves in the most unexpected way. And with Spring Breakers, this is a new side to the director who has been warping our minds ever since the premiere of the Korine-penned Kids eighteen years ago.
Like a scratched album stuck on repeat, Spring Breakers follows four college girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine, and Ashley Benson) who rob a diner a in order to fulfill their escapist fantasies of heading down to St. Petersburg, Florida for a debaucherous once-in-a-lifetime vacation. But when their beer-soaked and sexually charged trip goes sour, it’s rapper and drug and arms dealer Alien (Jams Franco) that comes to their rescue. And that’s when the nefarious story really kicks in as the world becomes much more rough and dark. With the tone of a haunted pop song, the film evokes something physical, leaving you in a trance that’s both erotic and dangerously chilling. It’s entertainment with a bullet, cinema with a bite of fantasy—it’s fizzing and bursting to the surface with color and entirely intoxicating.
When a film intersperses its usual narrative with super 8 home movie footage, my mind tends to wander to movies like Paris, Texas and the ways in which these reels of images presented to us are not simply reminders of the past, but the physical manifestation of memory—an artifact lost to time. There’s a quality to our personal bank of recollections that’s fallable and always subjective, pitting itself against reality. And with her fourth directorial feature and first documentary, actress and filmmaker Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell is by far her most stunning and human work to date.
As a personal essay about the hidden past of her family, the feature beautifully weaves together an incredibly well-constructed experiment in storytelling. In the film, there’s a line that reads: “When you’re in the middle of a story, it isn’t a story at all but only a confusion, a dark roaring, a blindness. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story when you’re telling it to yourself or anyone else.” And that sentiment plays out as the through-line for the feature, as Polley’s family and those close to it reveal familial secrets, shared truths, and show us the ways in which we create the own narrative of our lives.
Stories We Tell also confronts the challenges of love—be it romantic or maternal—while exposing the myriad ways our own memory can deceive us. There’s a delicacy and heartwarming touch in Polley’s style of filmmaking that shines through in all of her work but is never more present here. It’s absolutely enthralling and fascinating to watch but heartbreaking in its honesty—always leaving you hungry to discover more. The film works as a eulogy as much as it does a perfect vehicle for self-discovery, yet feels universal in its open-ended questions and speaks directly to your soul in way that’s both rare and tender.
BLUE JASMINE, WOODY ALLEN
With his latest summer film, Blue Jasmine, Allen delivers his weightiest film in years—putting to bed the shallow, slight nature of his previous work, To Rome With Love. Whereas my main argument with the latter rests heavily in his flimsy, two-dimensional portrayal of female characters, with Blue Jasmine, Allen has written a character ferocious and full of force, allowing Cate Blanchett to deliver one of the best performances of her career. From her opening line of dialogue spoken to a kind, elderly stranger on a flight to San Francisco, you see Blanchett has completely vaporized into the skin of Jasmine—tear-stained eyes, anxious cadence, and all—fully sunken into the character’s fractured psyche. In the way that you felt exhausted—both physically and emotionally—after seeing Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Freddie Quell in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master—the actor’s stamina in the role a marvel to watch—I left my screening of Blue Jasmine feeling more shaky and distressed than when I entered, my own anxiety and emotions unraveled by Blanchett’s bewitching performance.
Like a destructive force of nature that waltzes in and sucks the air out of the room, Blue Jasmine tells the story of a woman completely in the throws of a nervous breakdown. After losing her husband, her fortune, and any sense of security, Jasmine goes out west to San Francisco to move in with her adopted sister, Ginger (played brilliantly by Sally Hawkins). As a broken-down New York socialite cast into a middle-class world populated with “losers” she doesn’t find worthy of her time, Jasmine attempts to assimilate to circumstances but finds herself trapped by her own fantasies. After changing her name from Jeanette to Jasmine in college, she re-imagined a life for herself, elevating her place in society and relying on the kindness of rich men to aide in her fantastical delusions.
With a supporting cast of Andrew Dice Clay (as the tough blue-collar ex-husband of Ginger), Louis CK (as the seemingly romantic side-jawn of Ginger), Bobby Cannavale (the brutish yet vulnerable boyfriend of Ginger), and Peter Sarasgaard (Jasmine’s unsuspecting and ambitious boyfriend), the film lacks Allen’s typical sense of romantic flair and swaps it for a substantial and darker sense of emotion. There’s no fourth wall breaking, no slapstick, no giddy romance—even the romances in the film seem slight and tragic in comparison to the greater weight of existential and psychological unrest. It’s a colder, bitterer pill of a film from Allen than we’ve seen in recent years, and as it cuts back and forth from Jasmine’s fruitful past to her desolate present, we see how one person’s life can spiral down into oblivion as the agent of her own disaster and that of those around her.
Read our interview with the Blanchett, CK, and Clay HERE.
BEFORE MIDNIGHT, Richard Linklater
At one point in Before Sunrise, Jesse begins to admit that in the months leading up to his wedding, he couldn’t stop thinking of Celine. He would see her everywhere, all the time, always in New York—especially once folding up an umbrella and entering a deli on 13th and Broadway. But she was off living in Europe somewhere, so he knew he was crazy. And of course, Celine then tells him that she was actually living in New York at that time—on 11th and Broadway. It’s a small moment but an absolutely heartbreaking one—knowing that their lives could have been entirely different had he just glanced out of the car window again to see if it was her, knowing that this person whom he met once, yet possessed him so completely as an intangible longing inside him, was in fact right under his nose— and he never knew it. They never knew it.
But yes, that’s is just one of many painfully wonderful and sob-inducing moments in Richard Linklater’s transcontinental love trilogy. And since Before Sunrise‘s premiere in 1994, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke have been our Celine and Jesse, playing out the epitome of rare requited love thwarted by time and space. You watch these films, and for all the tears you cannot help but shed, you’re always left with the pangs of hopefulness. It excites something in you and tickles your heart to know that somewhere on a tram in Europe, your ideal soulmate could be pensively starring out a window wondering if there’s something he’s missing.
But in the words of Anne Sexton, “To love another is something like prayer and can’t be planned, you just fall into its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief.” When it comes to matters of the heart, we’re often powerless to our desires, consumed by emotion over our will and no matter the time or distance, feel inextricably linked to the soul of another. And almost two decades ago, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy first simultaneously ignited our hearts and ripped them apart with Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, only to do it all over again nine years later with Before Sunset.
But fast forward into the future with Before Midnight, we’re brought into the life shared between our Jesse and Celine—and it isn’t all romantic walks and silent longing that speaks to our hearts, but the way in which Linklater and his cast exposes what it truly means to love someone, and the struggles of a shared existence. Although still incomparably romantic, there’s a maturity and candidness about Before Midnight that’s mesmerizing and complex.
SOMETHING IN THE AIR, Olivier Assayas
Opening with the Blaise Pascal quote: “Between us and heaven and hell there is only life which is the frailest thing in the world,” Olivier Assayas’ Something in the Air takes us into a world of youth committed to the present. Going back to the year 1971, which he first explored with the poetic Cold Water (1994)—a film about the emotions of being a teenager—Assayas draws direct parallels between the two, yet where the former dealt in the abstract, Something is a more direct autobiographical look at his own memory of coming of age in that time. Paying tribute to those who inspired his own sensibilities as an artist, the film merges the person with the political, exploring the identity of youth in the aftermath of the May ’68 and the choices that inform our maturation into adulthood.
It’s a film about the intersection of creative passion and ideological inclination, where self-discovery for the teenagers in the film, comes through their devouring of films, books, music, and art of the time—from the poetry of Gregory Corso to the music of Syd Barrett. As representation of his own youth, Something in the Air tells the story of Gilles (played by Clément Métayer), a high school student in Paris who finds himself swept up in the political fever of the times. However, his passion really lies in his art—painting, drawing, filmmaking—which becomes a struggle with the others around him. Heavily embedded in the countercultural movement, we follow Gilles through his various muses/love interests Laure and Christine (played by Carole Combes and Lola Créton), and the evolution of his maturity. And as Assayas is a believer that cinema is a place “where what’s lost may be found, where the world can be saved,” he recaptures his idealistic outlook on the world that he sought to be a part of.
Originally titled Après mai, or After May, the film exists in the echoes of chaos, yet feels idyllic and gorgeously cinematic—but without over-sentimentalization or nostalgia. Rather, Something in the Air exposes the “places and emotions that exist in the daylight,” showing an arcane world slowing unraveling as a youth countercultural rebellion take precedence.
Spanning the course of an entire decade, Laurence Anyways tells the story of two people passionately and deeply in love with one another who are forced to confront their own notions of love and acceptance when the fabric of their relationship turns inside out. For Fred and Laurence, played brilliantly by Suzanne Clément and Melvil Poupaud, their romance is forced to change when Laurence reveals to Fred that he is becoming a woman. Together, they’re forced to examine not only the prejudices and fears of those they know and the society around them, but that which they unconsciously harbor within themselves. For ten years, Fred and Laurence find themselves breaking apart and coming together, ripping out their own hearts and that of each other, and dealing with the ultimate expression of dedication to another person and what it means to truly love unconditionally. Whether they’re physically together or apart, Fred and Laurence share an inescapable connection that is as volatile and potent as it is beautifully delicate and tender.
With his first feature, I Killed My Mother, Dolan crafted an artful yet minimalistic feature that bared the mark of his youth aesthetically but emotionally held an incredible amount of weight. And in his second feature, Heartbeats, he opted for ambitious style and gorgeous mis-en-scene over narrative complexity. But with Laurence Anyways, Dolan has melded the best qualities from his previous work into a film that is both absolutely stunning and wholly fantastic, yet hits that psychological and emotional sweet spot we so long for in a cinematic experience. And as his films are all wont to be, Laurence is impeccably scored with music that echoes the period of the film (the 1990s), utilizing the songs to reflect the interior of its characters and entwine us that much deeper into Fred and Laurence’s story.
After watching Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s collaborative documentary, Leviathan, there was no question as to how I was feeling. There was no other way to experience their film, that leaves you bruised from its wholly immersive and visceral cinematic ride that feels more like you’re looking in through a keyhole on frightening and isolated world beyond our reality, than to feel both exhausted and absolutely in awe.
More easily comparable to the anxiety provoking and emotionally stimulating sensations of looking at the work of Francis Bacon or Edvard Munch while listening to a dark, metallic piece of music filled with pleasure and fright,Leviathan is almost inarticulate in its possession. As a sensory ethnographic investigation that leads you through the world of commercial fishing, the sum of the film is far more than one might expect. Having first premiered in competition at the 2012 Locarno Film Festival, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel‘s film has been entrancing audiences’ since with its entirely unique wordless wonder and gives the perspective of the fishermen but also echoes their own haunting experience out at sea through the interminable sense of unease. But this anxious perspective is matched by the most striking cinematography that’s shocking in its beauty as it casts a light on every perspective of the boat and blends colors like an impressionist painting being thrown against the waves.
Read our interview with Castaing-Taylor and Paravel HERE.
STOKER, Park Chan-wook
As deliciously evil and thrilling as it is visually-rich and haunting, Park Chan-wook’s fantastical gothic thriller Stoker plays out like an erotic waltz with sinister intentions. As his first English-language film, the acclaimed Korean director has crafted a quiet kind of suspense that shows the graceful unraveling of an isolated American family.
Stoker tells the tale of a highly intelligent girl, India (played by Mia Wasikowska), after her father dies in an auto accident on her 18th birthday. Following his death, her mysterious yet absolutely charming Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) comes to stay with her and her unstable mother (Nicole Kidman). India’s questions arise as to the nature of Charlie’s appearance in their lives and although sensing his dark ulterior motives, she becomes infatuated with him, inexplicably drawn to this dark figure who has crept his way into her world.
It’s a story about he inherent nature of evil, as well as the sexual awakening of a young girl when first tempted by the desirable. India’s coming-of-age is the undercurrent for this bone-chilling and stunning feature from Chan-wook and writer-actor Wentworth Miller. Staying true to Park’s strong affinity for character-driven tales and his arresting visual style, Stoker is also enhanced by its biting and beautiful soundtrack from Clint Mansell that acts as its own character in the film.
As one third of Borderline Films—alongside Sean Durkin and Josh Mond—Campos produced Durkin’s Martha Macy May Marelene, just as Durkin had his hand in producing Campos’s latest feature, the brooding and visceral Simon Killer. The film tells the story of a lonely, heartbroken, dangerous, and horny college grad who heads to Paris, where he becomes involved with a prostitute (played wonderfully by Mati Diop), Simon Killer is an entrancing waltz with destructive impulse led by star Brady Corbet. As interesting as he is talented, the 24-year-old gives a haunting performance, playing Simon with utmost complexity—vacillating between evil boldness and desperate vulnerability.
Simon Killer goes deeper into Campos’s affinity for the disturbed male psyche with a film that’s rich in texture, tone, and color. It’s a dance between passionate aggression and emotional isolation that’s primal and fiercely enjoyable in its discomfort. Filled with stunning visual interludes like psychological cues that bring you closer into Simon’s sociopathic, music-fueled, and violently sexual world, the film is an optically and emotionally stimulating character study that packs a punch. No stranger to portraying morally unsound characters that walk the line between tantalizing and creepy, Corbet carries out Campos’s vision with a frightening possession.
Abstaining from the harsh, political bent of most documentaries focused on the subject of abortion, Lana Wilson and Martha Shane’s After Tiller takes a tremendously emotional and controversial subject and endows it with warmth and humility. Providing an illuminating and wholly important look at the power of personal choice, the film leaves the floor open for discussion—both giving insight into the intricacies of late-term abortion and the incredibly challenging lives of those who provide them. Dr. George Tiller, the leading physician to provide third-trimester abortions, as well as a strongly religious and loving family man, was assassinated in his church in 2009 by a pro-life extremist. And it’s in the wake of the tragedy of his death, where After Tiller picks up.
Focusing on the four doctors across the country that still provide these services to women in crisis across the world—Susan Robinson, LeRoy Carhart, Warren Hern, and Shelley Sella—the film gives us personal look into the day-to-day lives of these doctors, allowing them a stage to voice their opinions and knowledge, while giving a compelling look at the exceptional challenges the women who seek their care must face. And after feeling both confused and shocked when learning about Dr. Tiller’s death, and seeing the way in which the news coverage of the tragedy failed to focus on who he was as a person, Wilson and Shane set out to make a feature that examined the intimate details of these physicians who are at the center of a debate that continues to rage on. And as an extremely moving portrait with unprecedented access into these clinics, through the lens of After Tiller, we bear witness to first-hand accounts of the women undergoing these abortions, the reasons why they’ve made their decision, and the immense weight of that on their lives.
With his latest film, the absolutely devastating and remarkably wonderful The Broken Circle Breakdown, he explores the complex ways in which we deal with loss, how grief can fracture even the most solid foundations, and the way in which love may never be enough. Telling the story of Elise (Veerle Baetens) a beautiful and full-of-life tattoo artist and Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) a strong and passionate blue grass musician, The Broken Circle Breakdown follows their relationship from the instantaneous bond and fiery romance of love’s first flames, to the disintegration of that connection and the despair that ravages their lives.
Adapted from the theatre play of the same title written by Heldenbergh, the film comes alive through its musical interludes that play like cue cards for our emotions, guiding us further into the story and allowing us to take a step back from the intensity of the narrative and slip into the visceral feeling living between the characters. And although the original stage play was a bare bones and simple expression construction—with only two characters narrating their tale between musical numbers—van Groeningen has managed to convey that same rawness and immediacy onto the screen. By telling the tragic and novel-esque drama with a non-linear structure, we’re forced to dive head first into the potent heart of the film, while Elise and Didier’s most sorrowful and blissful moments are presented side by side, giving even more weight to each unfolding moment. There’s a natural beauty and honestness to the film and in the performances of its brilliant cast that invites you in gently, entrances you, and then holds you in its tight grasp—digging itself down deep under your skin and into your veins.
Set in the neon-lit back alleys and seedier parts of Bangkok, Only God Forgives is Refn’s penetrating and evocative take on the Western. It’s a film so dark—both aesthetically and tonally—that when I first arrived to see the film fifteen minutes late, I found myself sitting in the isles because there wasn’t a shred of light emanating from the screen with which to find a seat. The revenge story about the connection between mother and sons, the struggle for morality, and the fear of submission plays out like a psychotropic nightmare, aided by a brilliantly visceral score from Cliff Martinez.
Starring Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Vithaya Pansringarm, Only God Forgives is a shot to the arm of pure id Refn. He employs the close-fisted anxious aggression of his pre-Drive days while taking his visual cues from a post-Drive world, completely blanketing us in the violent underbelly of Bangkok and putting a sword to our throat. Although the film is riddled with silence and languidly glides through darkened moments, Refn manages to hold us captive with his always-present sense of ecstatic desire. He plays on the dichotomy of what’s in and out of frame as well as what we do and not know is stirring in the characters’ psyche. It’s a film that warrants multiple viewings, but only because there’s a real pleasure in the experience of disappearing into his neon dreams and bloody obsessions, and as he says: that’s where the fun is.
…I think giving away too much information is being disrespectful to the viewerʼs intelligence and own personality. I think I’ve always believed that spectators are just as creative as filmmakers. Filmmakers happen to have been in touch with a camera and production and so they’ve made something, but it doesn’t mean that people who are there to see the film have nothing to think or nothing to say or donʼt have their own creativity. So I just pay tribute to this creativity, not giving too much information. I have my loyalty to real life and in real life we never say anything to the other and we let the other also bring their own information and their own experience of life in the relationship that have with us, so why should it be different in film because you are sitting in a theater in front of a screen? Do you have to leave your curiosity and your own thinking aside and be fed by the film? Whenever I have the opportunity to see the people who are sitting in a theater after seeing one of my films, I look at their faces and I look at the features of the faces and I suddenly feel responsible and say well, these people look intelligent and thoughtful, they have plenty of things to say and so thereʼs no reason why I should be the one who tells them, they have things to tell me. So I create but then I need their creation back.
…this again is only loyalty to the real complex nature of human beings. I think even painters in classic paintings, they tried to show the soul of the portrait, of the human beings that they were drawing or painting because they realized that human beings were not uni-dimensional. So there was no reason why they couldn’t try and give something to this complexity of this plain character, this fool character. So in cinema, we have moving images, we have three dimensional images and why should we show people just as blind characters. Of course they are complex, and this complexity and even this secretiveness is part of human nature. Your soul dictates you not to reveal yourself immediately and not to appear naked and to have your own complexity, your own intelligence. So this intelligence should be considered. It has been in art and paintings so it definitely should be in filmmaking too.
Back in 1984, beloved German filmmaker Wim Wenders brought together a handful of film’s most iconic and brilliant minds—from Jean Luc-Godard to RW Fassbinder (just before his death)—to discuss the future of cinema. TitledRoom 666, the 45-minute film makes you ache so badly to have been a fly on the wall in the Cannes hotel room in which they shot. But in a similar vein of cinematic discourse—and one that feels more candid and personal—in 2000 Marie Berthelius and Roger Narbonne made FreeDogme—a film in the form of a video conference call between Lars von Trier, Win Wenders, Lone Scherfig, and Jean-Marc Barr—noting that Harmony Korine was supposed to show up to the party but was sadly absent.
Intended to explore the ways in which technology and its constant evolution effects the art of film and cinematic practice, we see the filmmakers in their personal spaces, stripped of the usual interview facades engaging in a conversation that’s both fascinating and inspiring, as well just absolutely delightful to watch. Smiling and more buoyant than we’re used to seeing, Lars is clad in a t-shirt and shorts outside in sunny nature, and claims that it was Wenders’ early work that inspired a large part of his desire to create Dogme95—to get back to a kind of poeticism and simplicity. Of course Wenders denies his responsibility in Dogme95, but says that most of the films he made in the beginning were not “necessary” and that attracted him to Dogme95’s aesthetic and sensibility was that Lars and his cohorts were making movies out of necessity again—and “with an existential approach.”
Wim recollects of his early films, which again Lars found inspirational for Dogme 95, that they had an existential necessity he felt he subsequently lost, but that he was rediscovering via the technological innovations appropriated by, for instance, Dogme 95. Wim is suggesting that the new technology again makes possible, for him, a kind of necessity to film.
Marie Berthelius asks Lars to sum up the “spirit” of the rules. Lars replies “the spirit of the rules was only to have rules” because this would enable a withdrawal from conventions where “everything looks like everything.” Dogme 95, in this sense, renews the artistic idea of making it new. The rules were also intended to facilitate discussion about making films, for Lars, in the sense that, as in a church, a few central dogmas provide a common vocabulary, premised on shared background assumptions.
Participants discuss whether or not the Dogme 95 rules and technological constraints increase precision in the act of filming, and in what sense.
So with all the teasing of Lars’ Nymphomaniac tickling away at you and the anticipation for Wenders’ Every Thing Will Be Fine running high, take a look at the wonderful cinematic exploration below.
For quite some time, things weren’t looking good for Harmony Korine, the 35-year-old writer of Kids and experimental director behind dogmatic and divisive films like Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy. But, rather triumphantly, he overcame a crippling drug addiction and was welcomed back into the spotlight with last year’s heartbreaking Mister Lonely, his first feature in eight years.
He just released The Collected Fanzines (Drag City), a series of eight amateur publications that were produced over the past 15 years, which feature musings, ramblings and Matt Dillon’s old phone number. Here, the ultimate bad-boy of American cinema, unleashed.
I once walked a poodle at a dog show in the summer of 1988. The judge pulled me to the side after the contest and whispered in my ear, “I like the way you work a leash.”
Best Celebrity Rumor:
I can’t say exactly, but it involved a dead starlet and a swimming pool of semen.
An illiterate fifth grade teacher I had from the Ozarks burned my cheek with a scalding metal spoon. I had caught her meditating in the dark after school — she had made an altar out of hundreds of stuffed animals. She was burning a tiny effigy of her husband. The hot spoon was a silent reminder of what was to come if I dared inform the authorities. Ten years later, this same woman went on to become a prominent member of the House of Representatives.
Most Colorful Lie:
The last lie I told was in the spring of 1998, and it was a whopper, I’ll admit. But it saved my life and allowed my second cousin twice removed to have an early release from a rural, sub-par mental institution.
Worst Run-in with Police:
That involved a hit-and-run on the part of the pigs. They know what they did.
Juggling three small egg crates filled with dookie in an attempt to seduce a wayward MILF named Tammy.
Peace of mind. A mellow life. Crunk music. Investing in spy equipment and communist memorabilia. Having dance contests with myself. Placing last in the local triathlon. All of these things, plus a firm belief in the Lord.
what life was like when I was an orphan.
First Childhood Memory:
Getting smacked in the face by a gimp.
When I gave up glue.
Milk sacks and diet cola.
Best Way to Die:
Wrapped in tin foil and praying to Allah.
I’m not quite sure which cinematic hole of sand I have been burying my head under, but it appears that 2013 is already halfway behind us. And although many of the films which had their premieres at this year’s festivals that have been lauded as the best of the year have yet to be released, the movies that we have been enjoying in theaters since January proved pretty damn incredible. From Shane Carruth’s confounding metaphysical beauty Upstream Color and Harmony Korine’s Skittles-lit nightmare party Spring Breakers to Richard Linklater’s decade-spanning classic love story Before Midnight and Joss Whedon’s absolutely charming take on a Shakespearean tale Much Ado About Nothing, there was surely something for every cinematic appetite. So as we await the next six months of premieres, let’s take a look back on my picks for the best films of 2013 thus far, plus, read our extensive interviews with the filmmakers behind the picture. Enjoy.
I love narrative and how it exists and why it exists and how it’s meant to be used. You can come up with a paragraph full of some truth, something that’s universal, some exploration, and it can be really informative, but it’s likely to not be that interesting. But you can spin a story, you can tell a narrative, and you can infuse it with this stuff, and if you’ve done your job right, you haven’t just captured somebody’s attention long enough to take them on this journey, you’ve also figured out something about the exploration through the act of the story because that’s what we key into. So I love narrative and I think that film is the height of narrative, and I don’t know what 100 years from now looks like, but from right now, to be able to communicate non-verbally but still explore, I don’t know what would be better than that. That’s what I love about it. It’s like you’re feeding right into the main line of how we experience things. READ ON
We knew we wanted this very brash, loud soundtrack to the movie and it was part it from the beginning—it was always going to have these musical interludes following Simon. Then the score came about when we felt like the soundtrack needed a counterpoint—something more primal and stripped down, whereas the soundtrack was so spruced and poppy. Design-wise, we do this quite a bit: getting tones that capture something about the character. We tried to give those visual interludes a sound that was more of a frequency or a pulse. But it was all, again, a way to get closer or inside Simon’s mind without every directly saying it. READ ON
I’m very interested in the reality of these actors on the screen, so I know you can’t just say lines that are written by someone else. The script, the text, has to work its way through the person, and so by having Julie and Ethan kind of work with me in rewriting that script, and personalizing it and demanding they give a lot of themselves, I thought that was the only way that film could ultimately work the way I wanted it to. The script was really a first step, but for it to give the effect that I wanted, I was looking for the two most creative young actors to fill those shoes, because I knew what would be asked of them.
We’re like gardeners, we come to the garden and dig the soil, plant the seeds, and water it. Then we tend together. But it’s also about being kind to each other, you know, when ideas are first starting they’re so weak, they’re like these little single cell organisms, they’re like amoebas and they’re gelatinous and you have to hold them really delicately like this little jelly fish creature and it goes from my hand to Brit’s hand. You just have to hold it and and it’s a very soft enterprise—it’s something that if you do with someone you don’t really trust it feels silly. And also, if you feel a lot of push back that little character or idea will die, so you have to create a space where you can do that back and forth with each other. It’s funny how it just starts growing and pretty soon it’s not in your control anymore. READ ON
I never try to do anything or speak to anything specifically; I never try to prove a point. But at the same time, it’s definitely of that world. It’s the idea of that world, that sort of post-everything. I wanted the filmmaking style to be very much of that. There was no real conscious referencing of other films, just more the idea: now things just live inside of me and of people and images and sound coming from all directions and falling from the sky. I wanted the film to never stop moving; I wanted it to be floating and falling and breaking apart and coming together and then smacking the shit out of you and then disappearing. And at the same time, there’s a world that’s created—the way things look and feel—that I want people to identify with that and say, "I’ve been to those places and have experienced those things." READ ON
We were certainly not attempting something highbrow and sophisticated, this was not a reproduction of Elizabethan theater, and we’re not attempting to present poetry to people. We wanted to get under the skins of these charters, and bring them to life, and find a journey through these relationships, and bring a real contemporary authenticity to it, but still respecting the fact that this was written 400 plus years ago. Some of it is very poetic, but we wanted to let the audience find that poetry rather than present it to them. So it’s very conversational and we took a very relaxed approach with the language. I think the roots go back to the readings at Joss’ house where we would have fun with plays and you could do whatever you want and weren’t’ necessarily cast in a role that you would ever play—but who cares, it was a reading and a glass of wine. READ ON
But not wanting to make a simple getaway film about a man on the run, Nichols thought about young boys finding Mud, and who those boys were. "A girl had broken up with me and I was feeling defeated and pained," he admits. "I started thinking, yeah, what if this kid’s going to get his heart broken and there’s this guy who always gets his heart broken, but for some reason always keeps coming back. All the sudden I had what ended up being the core of the story." And that core being love–first, unmerciful love. "A lot of the time we look down on that young love we had and think, oh wasn’t that cute or puppy love and all, but its kind of the fiercest love there is," he says. "You don’t have your hands up yet, which makes the fall so hard because you’re fully committed to it, you’re all in. And oh man, it hurts." READ ON
Sometimes you get in situations where love seems like the most important thing, whether or not it’s hard and upsetting, and you suddenly feel like it needs to be solved right now. You’re stuck with this person or you want to figure it out with this person, and so the voiceover is another metaphor. I know they’re trapped in the car most of the time and they’re trapped it these situations where it’s just them, but its also like in love. There’s this idea that as long as you just don’t leave the bed or the bedroom that you guys are going to be totally fine, and then once you start thinking about society and introducing all of these other elements and these other people into the equation, it starts to unravel. READ ON
The early ’70s in France—the way I experienced them—were obsessed with politics, it invaded the whole space. There was very little left for anything else, even when you were a teenager or a kid there were questions about your place in the world. Of course it has to do with France because of the aftermath of May ’68; because that was a historical event, it was something that exploded like a bomb within the fabric of French society and it echoed profoundly. It was a failed revolution in many ways in the sense that it didn’t overthrow the government, there was no major change overnight, so it was perceived as a failure. But again, there was a sense that a successful revolution would be coming. And although that revolution never happened, the echo completely changed the values in French society. Kids are extremely sensitive to change, sensitive to what is happening in the present, they are like echo chambers. So yes, now it seems crazy looking back how focused we were on politics and how much we knew about politics. We really were extremely educated in Marxist theology and we knew about the social history of the 20th century. I don’t think it was good or bad but an interesting factor, and I don’t think anybody really ever made a movie that even remotely tried to capture that. READ ON
I do believe a relationship is a mix of the relationship you have with your parents and the relationship you have with your best friends. And for me, the way to have access to relatable truths is to base it on some of the closest relationships I had to my best girlfriends or best boyfriends, as well as the tenderness of a mother to her son. I think the goal of Laurence Anyways is to invite the audience in the story and because it’s so long and spans a decade, to make people feel like they’re part of that love story. So that’s why they’re introduced to so many things about these characters and their rituals and inside jokes. And then sometimes there are bigger cinematic manifestations of those rituals, as if it took such volume and importance and the life itself was acknowledging their love and granting them permission. READ ON
I’m interested in how psychology becomes behavior. Takes Frances. What she accomplishes at the end of the movie, out of context, is relatively minor in that she takes a desk job and she finds an apartment. But in the context of the movie, it’s kind of heroic. And, to some degree, it’s always trying to find the context for these things, these little movements we make in life. Like the end of Greenberg, where he goes and picks her up at the hospital, this sort of little thing for these characters means a lot. I’m always thinking of those things as cinematic and big and I see no reason why they shouldn’t be. READ ON
It’s sort of a 90-minute blow up of all the fear and trembling and beauty that we ourselves witnessed, but not in a narcissistic way. It’s an experience that we had and we shared but we also felt we shared with the fisherman, even though they had a much more long-standing experience than we’ll ever have. So I don’t think there’s an easy way of dissociating our experience from their experience but we didn’t ever have the presumption that we’d come up with some dispassionate portrait of their experience that was disassociated with ours at all. And I think we always constantly improvising and experimenting with technology and style and how can we do justice to this world. It’s a world in which we had our experience, the fisherman’s experience, the fish’s experience and the—completely overwhelming acoustically as well as visually overwhelming—unremitting presence of the boat, the noise of the boat, you cannot get away from the boat. You’re out there in this sublime seascape, you’re in the middle of the Atlantic at night, and you suffer from agoraphobia in the unbelievably claustrophobic space of the this boat. So we wanted to bring into play— everything: the elements, the birds, the fish, all of the crustatians, and all of the death and blood. READ ON
Yes, absolutely. The fact that Stoker is a coming of age story about a young girl, it’s actually an extrapolation or a continuation of the themes I explored in I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK. Also, the fact that I have a daughter that’s exactly the same age as the protagonist, and as a father, that has to be a subject matter that sparked my interest in the first place. And because of this, I actually focused more on this aspect of coming of age and expanded it from what he had found originally in the script. But rather than to say that I was interested in sexual awakening itself, in this film India’s sexual awakening is very much linked to her violent urges and what this has to do with, you know this cathartic feeling of allowing yourself to be drawn to something that’s evil? That’s acutely true of those young girls and boys who are going through their teenage years and he wanted to depict and describe the kind of chaotic state that you go through. READ ON
It’s one of the big questions of the movie and I don’t think 237 set out to answer that but how much of this is intentional—of course a fascinating question but unanswerable. I think he was trying to do something much more ambitious than the story of three people trapped in a haunted hotel but he would also never want to explain that kind of stuff in an interview. But some of the research he did and the places he went, like Freudian ideas of the uncanny and the research he had already done about WWII and themes, moments in The Shining that seem evocative of his earlier films—the ghosts seem to have a kinship with some of the characters in Barry Lyndon or Paths of Glory and that sort of corrupt ruling class. But since he would never explain it in an interview and if he said something it might not always be thoroughly reliable. People can often work subconsciously, make a thousand little decisions without ever exactly thinking why—I get kind of lost in exploring the area around it. READ ON
I couldn’t make Blue Valentine for 12 years and I just sat on the bench and thought about what kind of films I wanted to make and thought about the failings of my first film. That was a very formalist film; it was very much, look Ma, no hands! It was very fancy and tricky and in those 12 years, in order to keep moving as a filmmaker, I started making documentaries. And in doing so, I just fell in love with people and embraced true characters, human beings. In that time, I was able to formulate a new way of seeing movies—which was to try to approach them with just an honesty and approach every one of my characters as a human being and every one of my actors as a real person, not as an actor, but the same way I would treat someone I was shooting a documentary about. So when I make films, I’m trying to make pure, human, honest, stories that get at some sort of emotional truth and respect the audience. I’m trying to challenge too. Structurally, what this film is doing, it’s definitely trying to tread new ground. I think part of the job of the filmmaker is to tell new stories in new ways and provide new images and ways of seeing things. READ ON
If you ever feel like you’re losing your mind, like you’re hanging by your toenails on the brink of insanity, watch some videos of Harmony Korine from the late 1990s. Not only will you realize, okay yes, I am probably selling my lucidity short, but also, if there’s anyone who can turn manic energy and a deranged psyche into something brilliant, it’s Korine. And in 1998, the absurd realist filmmaker, writer, photographer, and artist sat down with David Letterman for one of many strange and hilarious appearances on his show to promote his new novel, A Crack Up at the Race Riots.
In his previous visits to the show, Korine had been dressed like a well-mannered schoolboy in sweaters and khakis, the words coming out his young mouth standing in sharp in contrast to the pleasant looking fellow sitting in front of you. But when he appeared this time, Korine came clad in a ratty yellow sweatshirt, scruffy-faced, and very twitchy. It was his final time on the show before being banned after Letterman caught him snooping through Meryl Streep’s purse in her dressing room. But he did love having Korine on there, shining a light on this odd specimen, a sample of youth culture to show the world before telling the very jittery Korine to “go back the hotel and take a long shower.” But the book he was there to promote was not only his debut work of fiction, but would go on to be a cult classic that perfectly encapsulated Korine’s geniusly crazed and frenetic mind, but would however fall out of print until this month, sixteen years later.
And after more than a decade and a half off the shelf, A Crack Up at the Race Riots is available again—just in time for all those sixteen year old kids who went to see Spring Breakers and walked out of the theater clutching their smartphones, faces permanently frozen in an expression of, “What the hell, man, that wasn’t like The Hangover but with chicks?!” And what you’ll get from A Crack Up is an unhinged and fragmented multimedia portrait told through slices of conversations, frantic drawings, news clippings, hypothetical lists, suicide notes, letters from Tupac, and much more, giving you a glimpse inside the mind of one of our generations most radical and bizarre voices. “It’s about a race war and it happens in Florida. And the Jewish people sit in trees. And the black people are run by M.C. Hammer. And the whites are run by Vanilla Ice,” said Korine on Letterman and well, you’ll just have to read it for yourself to find out what that all means.
With the reissue out now from Drag City, I got the chance to chat with Korine for the second time this year about letters from Tupac, schizophrenic cohesion, and replacing Barbra Streisand with John Holmes.
So why did you choose to reissue the novel now, after sixteen years? It’s been out of print now for more than a decade and I know that people were selling it for a lot of money, and I didn’t really like that. I thought enough time had gone by that it would be good to republish it and let people see it again.
So you said recently in an interview with Little White Lies that you haven’t read a book since the 7th grade. Now how does that fit into here? Well, I’d read a lot of joke books, I’d read the beginning of a lot of books, or certain like middle parts of certain books but just on principle I never finished the book. So technically, I probably haven’t finished a book since That Was Then This is Now. I had also read a bunch of Choose Your Own Adventure books in the early ’90s.
And you originally said that you wanted this book to be a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. I wanted it to be the Great American Choose Your Own Adventure novel with pages missing in all the right places.
So how did A Crack Up at the Race Riots become your version of that? Where did all these fragmented bits and pieces come from? It’s hard for me to remember exactly how it happened because it was a long time ago and I was tripping out really, and some of the pages are even just like hallucinating or something. I just had all these ideas and I was seeing all these connections in things—micro-movements and ideas about authorship and anti-authorship. So I was trying to write a novel that existed in the margins that had as much to do with what was undefined as what was written, that had as much to do with the whiteness around the ink, you know? And so I’d walk around and hear someone like on a bus talking to themselves or ranting to themselves or hitting themselves in the head or singing some type of opera or something and I would just write what I saw. And then I would imagine like, what if Woody Harrelson said that? Or what if that conversation those two gay vagrants on the corner were having was between John Ford and his wife? And I liked how it would transform it and turn it into something so hilarious that so much of it was about context and the shifting humor and the re-contextualizing of things. I love those Sherrie Levine photos of all the Walker Evans pictures that she re-photgraphs and I remember wanting to do that but in words, in a way that was not just an experiment or just an exercise in craft but had a heartbeat and told a story. So I did that and the process was more abstract and I started writing a lot of that stuff in my early 20s and it took place over a couple years. I would just write notes and ideas and fragments on paper and crayon on the side of my wall. And then after I felt like there was enough of that stuff around me, I tried to make sense of it and re-collage it and re-contexualize it and give it some narrative in its own way to tell a story.
And like you said about how it’s about the white space just as much as the words, or about the context of what’s on the page, for the person reading it, it’s about their own experience with it and how they see it and how they interact with it. The pages of suicide notes with blank spaces from signatures that you have. Those pages are some of my favorites, but for the reader, it’s a participatory element. Yeah, yeah yeah, yeah. Back then I thought that would be insane if you could write a suicide note that was like a form letter. So for someone who wasn’t creative enough, it had a blank signature space at the bottom. It’s horrifying but also, it’s funny.
A lot of the book is horrifying but also very funny. You mix dark humor with the banal, casualness of offensive things like homophobia or racism, but it seems natural because in the voice that they’re written in, you can imagine someone saying it on the street in passing to another person who felt the same way. Which is like the way I remember things growing up.
And there are themes that run throughout that make it not a schizophrenic but a cohesive story. Yeah, I was trying to deal with all the great philosophical strands of the American psyche. [laughs]
Back in 1997 when you went on Letterman to talk about the book, you seemed pretty passive about promoting it. When you see that now do you feel differently? I thought it made sense of the book—like when I went on Letterman I thought I should just promote someone else’s book.
Yeah, you said that you didn’t know why someone would buy this and not an older book. I didn’t understand why you would buy a new book, there’s so many older books that you haven’t read before. So I didn’t want to go out there and tell people to buy this book, I wanted to go out there and tell them to buy some other book. I love the idea of promoting other people’s shit for no reason.
The book originally came out just after Gummo and mainstream people seeing you on a show like that still didn’t really know what to make of you. Do you think the public perception of you has changed in recent years or do you not care? All I wanted to do was just be great. But I never really think about it too much or spend too much time on it. I think it’s all perfect just the way it was meant to be.
And in your early interviews you talked a lot about wanting to create a new type of film. So with this book were you looking to rework the classic confines of a novel and create a new writing style? No, because even the thing with film, what I was trying to do was develop a language and an idea that was very specific to the way I was thinking and the things I was feeling, but I couldn’t necessarily articulate it. And so it was more of a unified aesthetic, this idea that everything’s connected and that I wouldn’t try to differentiate between any of it—between the writings or the films or the actions or even like the demonstrative behavior—it was all connected. In some way it was all part of a single vision or an idea or an energy. It was like Vaudeville.
Do you a favorite section of the book? I like all the letters from Tupac a lot, I like some of the jokes, and I like the list of rumors.
I like the list of imagined movies. Did you ever actually think about making any of those? They were all ideas for films and I thought just the idea would be better than the film. Or like, I was writing the titles of books I wanted to write, but then when I would look at the titles, I just liked the way they functioned on their own. There’s even one page where all it says is the word “hepburn.” And that took me like four or five years to write that one page because I was trying to come up with what you’d think if the greatest novel consisted entirety of one word, what would that word be? And so I struggled with that for years and years and one day I saw the word “hepburn” and thought that word said so much, there was so much, the entire history of the world was just tangled up in those letters.
And some pages just have one word like that or something like “Robert Frost Bite,” some pages are handwritten notes, and some are more formal notes. Were you trying to create a sort of collage of different mind sets and different tones? Yeah, yeah I was making a lot of fanzines at the time and was writing a lot of jokes and obsessed with joke books. I had all the dirty joke compilations and knock knock jokes; I would cut up the joke books. I liked the long set ups like “the guy walks into a bar and blah blah blah” or I had these books that were just lists of Hollywood mythology and specific horrible attributes of dead celebrities, and I thought those were hilarious so I would use those and add things or take them away. Like, what if I read an interview with Barbra Streisand but then you just change Barbra Streisand’s name to John Holmes or something? It becomes so much greater.
I feel like a lot of your work is taking something apart and re-appropriating it or changing people’s perception of something very set in their minds. Do you find that there’s a crossover for that in your films too? I’d say there’s definitely a connection.
So do you think you could write something like this now, or was it specific to being really young and whatever insanity was going on in your world then? I’d like to think that book is just so juvenile and base that it’s something I could only do back then. But I probably haven’t really grown all that much and my humor hasn’t really evolved, so it probably wouldn’t be too far off from something I’d come up with now. I’m writing another one right now though, it’s maybe a bit more centralized or something.
In the same cut-up style though? Yeah, it’s something that someone with a head wound would write.
I can be very into that. But you did write this at a time when you were first getting to make films and produce work and it seemed like you were just sort of bursting with a million ideas. What was that time in your life like? It was great. I used to sit in my room and think like, what if someone had a gun to your head and you had no fingers, and they said to write a book about the history of, I don’t know, prostitution, and you have three hours to push away on that keyboard—what would that look like? And then I would just try to do it. Or let’s say someone duct-taped a tree branch to your hand and then gave you a huge bowl of ink to dip it in and said that you had thirty five minutes to render your version of the Mona Lisa on this canvas. A lot of it was just playing games with myself to see where it would go.
And do you still do that? Yeah but it’s different. I don’t really do it in that way. Now I understand things differently. There are certain things that … I don’t want to use the word refined…
How about evolve? Well, to a certain extent there’s still some of that going on.
Spring Break never really ends does it? Well, not for Harmony Korine’s film which continues to stir up headlines well into its theatrical release. And central to Korine’s Spring Breakers was Alien, the rapper/drug-dealer played by James Franco and although not a carbon copy of real-life(ish) rapper RiFF RaFF he was pretty close. When he "reviewed" the film, RiFF RaFF said that Franco should win a Grammy for his performance and that it was like he "bought the Riff Raff Halloween costume and decided to super-glue it to his body." Although when we spoke to Korine, he told us that he based Alien on people he knew growing up in the south, saying:
I mean, I’ve always loved that whole thing. And then we just went out, going to public schools here, it was a real sub-group here, a real thing here. There’s something obviously hilarious about that whole thing, but then the idea was also to make him have menace and poetry as well. It’s the most exciting thing for me to find someone like an Alien—a character who on the outside is almost laughable, but in my experience, those guys are the most interesting because what I was saying about gangster mysticism, it goes from someone that’s like and then in one second deadly and for real and thugged-out and the next second turns on a dime and becomes kind of rambling and insane.
Anyways, as it turns out, RiFF RaFF will now be appearing in an episode of One Life to Live, somewhat echoing his pal Franco’s recurring spot on General Hospital. But on the daytime soap, which is now on exclusively on Hulu, the rapper will be playing a Miami art dealer named…Jamie Franko. HipHopDX has a screenshot from the episode below.
I don’t know about you, but I fully intend on spending my weekend curled up with a box of Junior Mints in a darkened theatre. It’s been a long week thus far and with the myriad premieres and screenings going on over the new few days, you really have no excuse to not get yourself into a cinema. From Antonio Campos and Shane Carruth’s stunning sophomore efforts to Terrence Malick’s latest poem of emotions, to the wonder of Dennis Hopper and the debut of Darren Aronofsky, there’s a certainly a diverse mix of films to see. So to get you ready, I’ve compiled the best of what’s playing around the city this weekend—take a look and go buy yourself some candy and/or popcorn. Enjoy.