Korine at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival
|Occupation||Director, screenwriter, author, artist|
Rachel Korine (m. 2007)
Harmony Korine (born January 4, 1973) is an American film director and screenwriter. He is best known for writing Kids (1995) and for writing and directing Gummo (1997), Julien Donkey-Boy (1999), Mister Lonely (2007) and Spring Breakers (2012). His film Trash Humpers (2009) premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and won the main prize, the DOX Award, at the CPH:DOX. In 2019, Korine directed his first project in six years, The Beach Bum.
Korine was born in Bolinas, California, the son of Eve and Sol Korine. His family is Jewish. His father was a tapdancer and produced documentaries for PBS in the 1970s about an "array of colorful Southern characters"; he would take Korine to carnivals and circuses and taught him how to use a Bolex camera. As a child, Korine watched movies with his father, who rented Buster Keaton films and took him to see Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) in the theater. Korine reminisces, "I knew there was a poetry in cinema that I had never seen before that was so powerful."
Korine spent his early childhood in the San Francisco Bay Area living with his family on a commune. In the early 1980s, they relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, where he attended Hillsboro High School before moving to New York City to live with his grandmother. As a teenager, Korine spent his summers in San Francisco, "skateboarding, living on rooftops, running away from my parents, getting in fights. You know, girls. At that point I was just getting into movies, but the idea of making films happened later in high school." He began frequenting revival theaters, watching films by John Cassavetes, Werner Herzog, Jean-Luc Godard, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Alan Clarke. In an interview with Bruce LaBruce, Korine briefly mentioned that he studied Business Administration in college. Other sources state that he studied Dramatic Writing at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University for one semester before dropping out to pursue a career as a professional skateboarder.
Korine was skating with friends in Washington Square Park when he noticed photographer Larry Clark. Impressed, the photographer asked him to compose a script about skaters and to include in the plot a teenage AIDS experience. Korine told Clark, "I've been waiting all my life to write this story." Within three weeks, Korine wrote Kids, a film about 24 hours in the sex and drug-filled lives of several Manhattan teenagers that has been touted as a realistic viewpoint of youth in New York City during the AIDS crisis.Kids received mixed reviews, but due to its NC-17 rating, few audiences actually saw the film upon its debut. However, it has since become a significant cult film. Among others, the film features Chloë Sevigny and Rosario Dawson in their first movie roles. The film, while controversial, jumpstarted Korine's career. This put him into contact with film producer Cary Woods who budgeted about $1 million to produce Gummo, Korine's personal vision.
In 1997, Korine wrote and directed Gummo, a film based on life in Xenia, Ohio, a town devastated by a tornado in the early 1970s. Forgoing conventional narrative, Gummo is a nonlinear, fragmented series of sketches written by Korine. Much of the cast was found during preproduction where it was filmed in Tennessee, and of all those who appeared in the film, only five were experienced actors. The film is notable for having unsettling, often bizarre scenes, as well as its dreamlike soundtrack, which strengthens the disconcerting atmosphere. It features "an eclectic soundtrack including death metal, Madonna and Roy Orbison.
It premiered at the 24th Telluride Film Festival on August 29, 1997. During the screening, numerous people got up and left during the initial cat drowning sequence. Three months later, Werner Herzog called Korine to give praise to the film overall, especially the bacon taped to the wall during the bathtub scene. He told The New York Times, "When I saw a piece of fried bacon fixed to the bathroom wall in Gummo, it knocked me off my chair. [Korine's] a very clear voice of a generation of filmmakers that is taking a new position. It's not going to dominate world cinema, but so what?"
Although a majority of mainstream critics derided it as an unintelligible mess, it won top prizes at that year's Venice Film Festival and earned Korine the respect of noted filmmakers such as Gus Van Sant, among others. Its stature has only grown since, gaining a cult classic status as a truly shocking and experimental film "unlike anything you've seen in a while - maybe ever" - and that "if you're the kind of person who claims to be frustrated by the predictability of commercial filmmaking, [it presents] a rare opportunity to put your money where your mouth is."
In 1998, Korine released The Diary of Anne Frank Pt II, a 40-minute three-screen collage featuring a boy burying his dog, kids in satanic dress vomiting on a Bible, and a man in black-face dancing and singing "My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean". It utilizes some of the same actors and themes as Gummo, and can be considered a companion piece as the film utilises footage that didn't make the final cut of Gummo. The film "further disgusted critics" and solidified his status as a notoriously shocking and experimental director.
Julien Donkey-Boy, released in 1999, included a signed Dogme 95 manifesto. While it broke a number of the movement's basic tenets, Lars Von Trier lauded Korine's ability to interpret the rules creatively.
The story is told from the perspective of a young man suffering from untreated schizophrenia, played by Ewen Bremner, as he tries to understand his deteriorating world. Julien's abusive and arguably hypersensitive father is played by Werner Herzog. At one point, Korine was to play the son, but he backed down and was replaced by Bremner.
Like Gummo and Kids, it too has since become something of a cult classic, a go-to film for those seeking cinema that is, as Roger Ebert said in his three star review, "shocking for most moviegoers", unlike "the slick aboveground indie productions" that are now the norm.
In 2002, Larry Clark made Ken Park, based on a script Korine had written several years earlier. The film, another adult tale of youth gone awry, was not distributed in the United States. At the time of its release, Clark and Korine had long since parted ways, and Korine had no involvement in its production.
In 2003, he made the television documentary Above the Below about his friend and collaborator David Blaine and his 44-day stunt in a park over the bank of River Thames in London inside a suspended plexiglas box. A documentary commissioned by Sky Television and Channel 4, it also includes jokes, visual poetry, and music. In addition, Korine has worked with Blaine on a number of Blaine's specials.
His third feature film, Mister Lonely, was co-written by his brother, Avi Korine and starred Diego Luna, Samantha Morton, Denis Lavant, Anita Pallenberg, David Blaine, Werner Herzog and Mal Whiteley. The movie was released in 2008 and debuted at Cannes. His largest film with a budget of $8.2 million, it received mixed reviews and earned $386,915 in its first 9 months.
The film is the story of "a young American man lost in Paris. He scratches out a living as a Michael Jackson look-alike, dancing in the streets, in public parks, at tourist spots and trade shows. Different from everyone else, he feels as if he's floating between two worlds. During a show at a geriatric home Michael Jackson meets Marilyn Monroe. Haunted by her angelic beauty he follows her to a commune in the Highlands, joining her husband Charlie Chaplin and her daughter Shirley Temple. The commune is a place where everyone is famous and "no-one gets old". Here, The Pope, The Queen of England, Madonna, James Dean and other impersonators build a stage in the hope that the world will visit and watch them perform. Everything is beautiful. Until the world shifts, and reality intrudes on their utopian dream."
Korine also appeared in the 2007 documentary film Beautiful Losers in which his life and career were one focus of the film, along with other artists such as Mike Mills, Shepard Fairey, Margaret Kilgallen, Jo Jackson and Barry McGee. In the documentary, Korine discusses his motivation as an artist and filmmaker, as well as his inspiration for creating films he has never seen. Footage also appears from one of Korine's rare, early, and untitled short films, which preceded his work on Kids.
In 2008 Korine was signed to MJZ for worldwide commercial representation.
On 6 September 2009 Korine's film, Trash Humpers premiered as part of the Visions section of the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival. Despite being a work of fiction, the film went on to win the top award at the prominent European documentary film festival CPH:DOX - Copenhagen International Documentary Festival - in November 2009.
In March 2011, Korine released a short film entitled Umshini Wam, which is a popular Zulu struggle song meaning "bring me my machine gun". The film starred Ninja and Yo-Landi of Die Antwoord. In September 2011, Korine released a short film entitled Snowballs, sponsored by the Proenza Schouler fashion label.
Korine's next project was the crime drama Spring Breakers, which was produced in 2012 in Florida, and starred James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Korine's wife, Rachel Korine. In looking at early scenes being filmed and in speaking toward the plot, cast, and earlier works of the filmmaker, Indiewire wrote "this might be the weirdest movie the director has ever made simply by nature of being totally unlike his previous work." "That Mr. Korine appears to be having it both (or many) ways may seem like a cop-out, but only if you believe that the role of the artist is to be a didact or a scold." wrote The New York Times. Principal filming wrapped up on March 30, 2012. The film was selected to compete for the Golden Lion at the 69th Venice International Film Festival.Spring Breakers received its world premiere at the 2012 Venice International Film Festival, and later was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival before being released to the general public in March 2013.
Korine has also published a number of books. In 1995 a screenplay for Kids was published by Grove Press, followed by a collection of the screenplays for Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy, and Jokes in Collected Screenplays, published by Faber and Faber in 2002. In 2008 the screenplay for Mister Lonely was released by Swiss publisher Nieves with photographs by Rachel Korine and Brent Stewart. The majority of these books differ substantially from the movies eventually produced.
In 1998 Korine published a book entitled A Crack Up at the Race Riots, an experimental novel, described as his attempt to write "the Great American Choose Your Own Adventure novel". On the Late Show with David Letterman episode from March 25, 2013, Dave Letterman and James Franco discuss Harmony Korine's ban from the show. David Letterman says that he caught Harmony rummaging through Meryl Streep's purse. In November 2008, Drag City published a collection of his fanzines called The Collected Fanzines with skateboarder/writer Mark Gonzales. 2009 sees Korine returning to the collaborative zine process alongside fellow avant-garde artist Noel Sinclair Boyt.
Korine released a number of photographic collections, usually in conjunction with gallery exhibits. In 1998 he published The Bad Son in conjunction with Taka Ishii gallery in Tokyo, documenting his various photo shoots with Macaulay Culkin. In 2002, Pass the Bitch Chicken was released, a collaboration with artist Christopher Wool, which consists of Korine's photographs heavily edited by Korine and Wool. In 2009 he published Pigxote in conjunction with the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and released by Nieves. The university describes the exhibition, which ran through February 26, 2009, as culling "together a number of photographs from Korine's private files in order to reveal a side of the artist's creative process that remains largely unexamined. Depicting an unnamed, mysterious young girl moving through a televised landscape of shifting contexts, Pigxote further illustrates Korine's interest in replacing plot lines and expected narrative tropes with intuitively arranged "experiential moments." They also provide a unique insight into the poetic mind of Nashville's most compelling prodigal son." Most recently his works were presented in a 2003 exhibition at agnès b's Galerie du jour in Paris, with whom Korine has often been associated. In 2010, Korine collaborated with New York Visual Artist Bill Saylor on the book Ho Bags. The book consists of drawing and paintings in which Korine and Saylor drew over each other's works. In 2011 Korine collaborated with the New York brand Supreme, releasing a set of two skateboard decks featuring original artworks by Korine.
Korine directed a commercial for Dior Addict Fragrance.
Korine has directed a number of music videos for artists such as Sonic Youth, Cat Power and Will Oldham (e.g., No More Workhorse Blues). In addition, he sang on Oldham's "Ease Down The Road", and co-authored the lyrics of Björk's musical composition "Harm of Will" from her album Vespertine (2001). In 1999 Korine and Brian Degraw of Gang Gang Dance released a music CD SSAB Songs. "I don't really know what it sounds like", Korine explained to i-D magazine. "I only listened to it once. I think it's the kind of album I'd only listen to once". The tracks labeled "Harmony" on Songs in A&E are named after Korine by Jason Pierce of Spiritualized, who also made the soundtrack to Mister Lonely. "Harmony Korine" is the lead track on the solo album Insurgentes by Porcupine Tree lead singer Steven Wilson. He has also directed a music video for "Gold on the Ceiling" by The Black Keys, from their album El Camino. He also co-wrote the song "Florida Kilos" with Lana Del Rey and Dan Auerbach, which is featured on the deluxe edition of Del Rey's album Ultraviolence.
Korine directed the video clip "Needed Me" by Rihanna which was released on April 21, 2016. In the same year, Korine directed a Supreme commercial starring rapper Gucci Mane (who had previously appeared in Spring Breakers), and appeared in the music video for Gucci Mane and Travis Scott's single Last Time. 
Much of Korine's work is based around the dark humor and absurdism involved in dysfunctional childhoods, mental disorders, and poverty. This is often incorporated into surrealist, non-linear forms and presented experimentally (see the mix of Polaroids, Super 8 and 35mm film that makes up Gummo). Blackface, tap-dance, and minstrelsy are common elements to Korine's work. "I'm a huge fan of vaudeville - like Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor, and Al Jolson ... There's this random tragedy associated with the decline of the vaudeville entertainer, which is a theme in Gummo that I completely stole from vaudeville." Like vaudeville, the narrative of Korine's work is abstract and works by association. Korine compares this concept to a book of private photos. On their own each photo would be seemingly random and devoid of context, but because they are compiled in one volume and presented in succession, a narrative exists. "That's how Gummo was written."Improvisation is also an important filmmaking technique for Korine, as a way to maintain his movies as "living thing[s]." Korine does not try to write messages or meanings into his scripts, as he finds it belittling to the audience. With his films, Korine strives to retain a "margin of the undefined."
Despite the scorn of a majority of mainstream reviewers, he has won festival prizes at Venice and Rotterdam, among others, and established directors such as Bernardo Bertolucci and Gus Van Sant are outspoken proponents of Korine's work. On Gummo Van Sant said it "changed his life" and Bertolucci said Korine has "created a revolution in the language of cinema." A significant number of scholarly essays have been written on the importance of his oeuvre to film and art in general.
The Toronto International Film Festival writes, "Such is the dilemma with Korine and his remarkable career; for all the fireworks, there is an impressive coherence in the subject matter of his work. His four feature films all seek to shed light on a certain class of people: unique and bizarre individuals usually lumped under the heading of 'subculture.' ... His portraits come from many angles - the baroque stillness of Gummo contrasts radically with the rough-hewn melodrama of Julien Donkey-Boy. His last film, Mister Lonely, had an epic quality and interest in celebrity that Trash Humpers disdains, preferring instead a low-end surveillance-video look with frequent in-camera lighting distortions and a cinéma-vérité authenticity.
Recurrent in his work (with the exception perhaps of Mister Lonely) is a portrait of what Korine calls the "American Landscape." He recently stated "to me, the most beautiful thing in the world is an abandoned parking lot and a soiled sofa on the edge ... with a street lamp off to the side. America seems like a series of abandoned parking lots, streetlights and abandoned sofas."
Korine has frequently been labeled as an enfant terrible and been accused of exploitation and self-indulgence, to which he has responded, "How can an artist be expected not to be self-indulgent? That's the whole thing that's wrong with filmmaking today ... To me, art is one man's voice, one idea, one point-of-view, coming from one person." Korine feels there is no need to justify or explain the images he puts to the screen, in that they are simply the result of "a cinema of passion and obsession." "I mostly just make things to entertain myself and at the same time hope that there's some type of audience that likes what I'm doing." Korine adds, "Film is like a dead art because of people not taking chances." To Korine, the only films that matter are the auteurist works.
On the current state of cinema, Korine comments, "When I look at the history of film - the early commercial narrative movies directed by D.W. Griffith, say - and then look at where films are now, I see so little progression in the way they are made and presented, and I'm bored with that. Film can be so much more."
On looking for meaning in his films Korine states, "I think people will lose the film as soon as they start trying to figure out my logic or what I'm doing or while they're watching it start to dissect metaphors ... I'm not really so interested in it working on a purely cerebral level. I'm much more concerned with it on an emotional level and that you leave feeling a certain way." Korine states that if there is at least one image that sticks with you after viewing the film, then it is a success.
Producer Cary Woods writes, "I think the best hope for cinema is allowing people who are artists to make a movie that isn't wholly ruled by screenplay structure ... [Korine's] a storyteller, and he's gone out of his way to put images that are moving on the screen, and meaningful in some way."
As critic Roger Ebert said in his review of Julien Donkey-Boy, "Korine, who at 25 is one of the most untamed new directors, belongs on the list with Godard, Cassavetes, Herzog, Warhol, Tarkovsky, Brakhage and others who smash conventional movies and reassemble the pieces ... Harmony Korine is the real thing, an innovative and gifted filmmaker whose work forces us to see on his terms."
In a 1999 Dazed and Confused magazine article, Korine listed his top ten films as: Pixote by Hector Babenco, Badlands and Days of Heaven by Terrence Malick, Fat City by John Huston, Stroszek by Werner Herzog, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and A Woman Under the Influence by John Cassavetes, McCabe and Mrs. Miller by Robert Altman, Out of the Blue by Dennis Hopper and Hail Mary by Jean-Luc Godard.
Korine met Chloë Sevigny in Washington Square Park in New York City during her senior year of high school in 1993. The two became close friends, which resulted in her being cast in the low-budget independent film Kids (1995). They had a romantic relationship that ended in the early 2000s. He is now married to actress Rachel Korine (née Simon), with whom he has two children.