Monday, March 10, 2008

In Harmony with his feelings

harmony korine
Getting to grips with life: Writer and director Harmony Korine has been a key figure in independent cinema and art for the past decade

When Michael Jackson falls for Marilyn Monroe, she invites him to shack up with her, Little Red Riding Hood, Madonna and the Pope. Sounds like the start of a dirty joke, doesn't it? Actually, it's the premise of Mister Lonely, the latest movie from newly reformed American wild child auteur Harmony Korine.

It's a wacky romance that sees gentle Parisian Jacko impersonator (Diego Luna) ditch his lonely existence of boulevard busking and old folks' home gigs for a new life in a remote Scottish commune – entirely populated by fellow impersonators, including new friend 'Marilyn' (Samantha Morton). 'They are delusional, but I think they have a beautiful dream. A pure dream,' Korine tells me, dreamily. 'Sometimes the purest dreamers are the ones that get hurt most.'

It's hard to believe I'm talking to the same guy who, at the age of 19, wrote Kids (which was released three years later, in 1995). Korine's screenwriting debut, based on the true, meaningless, drug-fuelled, underage sex lives of shockingly young teens, starkly viewed childhood innocence during the Aids era as all but a sentimental myth.

Now 35, he's been through rehab and the tender, whimsical and sweet Mister Lonely is the surprising result. Creatively it feels like an indulgent, safe playground. Imagine Amy Winehouse ditches the drugs and records the Winnie The Pooh songbook. So, has this enfant terrible grown up – or regressed? 'Each of the films I've made reflects my mental state at the time,' he explains. 'Turning 30 wasn't a big thing for me; it was more like getting off the drugs. I had such a dark period in my life for eight or nine years. I didn't have any money, no place to live, no friends.'

Former girlfriend ChloĆ« Sevigny has told how she left him over his heroin and methadone abuse. 'I didn't know if I was going to make another movie again – if I wanted to, or if I was capable of it. Then one day, I saw a small woman walking her invisible dog down the road. She told me it was time to make the movie. I took her word for it.'

Is he joking? It's hard to tell. Korine is no longer a child, but he's still ever the kidder. He takes things to such seriously bizarre extremes, the joke's often on him – whether it's a joke at all. There's dropping out of English at New York University after one term to become a professional tap dancer and the proposed adaptation of Ulysses starring Snoop Dogg. Then there's Fight, Harm, a movie where Korine says: 'I would walk around the streets and incite people to beat me up.

'My idea was to try and make a great American comedy, inspired by Buster Keaton's The General. A guy slips on a banana peel and cracks his head – it's funny, right? So I'd approach, say, a cab driver and smash his head in with a mandolin. But I forgot how short real fights are. I broke lots of bones and I just kept getting arrested. After my ninth fight, I spent two-and-a-half months in prison.'

Equally, it's hard to tell what the heck Mister Lonely is actually about. This is nothing new, as his undeniable low-budget masterpieces Gummo (1997) and Julien Donkey-Boy (1999) have already showed. Korine's non-sequential movies, with their freak-show characters and dreamy camera work, require a certain leap of faith by his followers as to this young auteur's genius. It's more the sense that his breathtaking personal vision 'works' as art, than anything more intellectual.

Take Mister Lonely. Some critics consider it to encapsulate the impossibility of establishing an authentic individuality in the new millennium; others think it is just profoundly silly. Korine couldn't care less: 'All I ever wanted to do with my movies is convey a certain feeling. An essence. Or a kind of ambience and tone. That's what I care about far more obviously than plot.'

So, is Korine saying Mister Lonely is a critique of our celebrity culture? dreams'I dunno,' he ponders. 'Interestingly, Little Red Riding Hood's character was originally Britney Spears. But then when we dressed her up it was like, man, she just looks like a normal slutty teenager! And I wanted these characters to be more like archetypes. It's not technically about Michael Jackson or any of the others – it's about the person that's impersonating them. It's about the person underneath.'

Ironically, this is where Korine himself hates to pry. I try exploring the concept and find it's toys-out-of-pram time. 'I don't really want to know why I do s*** to be honest with you. I don't see a shrink. I just want to live life. People often ask me for advice on how to get started making movies and I tell them to get into some kind of crazy illegal activity. Maybe rob a bank or something, because it tests you – and if you survive that, you have some good stories.' And I really don't think he's kidding. Beneath that dreamy surface, this enfant's still defiantly terrible.

No comments: