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Thursday, 4 April 2013

"Where life is like a bag of Skittles..." Harmony Korine's 'Spring Breakers' (2013) at the Curzon Soho + Director Q&A



Cold, freezing early April heading towards London's Soho. The coldest for - however many years the media want to cheer us up with. Maybe almost one hundred years. One hundred years of freezing solitude. What's to do to warm up on a freezing dark night like this? Because, right now in America, college and university kids are heading over to hot and wild destinations such as Florida for their annual knees up on their Spring Break. Girls and boys gone wild. The closest I will come to that tonight (as light snow starts to fall again in London) is a screening of director and screenwriter Harmony Korine's latest movie SPRING BREAKERS at the Curzon, Soho - and bake in some of that on-screen warmth and scorching hot sunshine. If I get there on time that is. Oh to be in Florida right now ...

I'm really late, the train tracks were done to death thanks to sub-zero metal freeze and I arrive half an hour over planned time at Victoria station - 6.30pm, the time the film is due to start.



I have pains in my stomach thanks to what I assume is a dodgy prawn sandwich so I realise I have to stop at Boots on the station concourse to buy some Gaviscon. Those prawns - all that mayo. Eeuch!

It's a special occasion. This preview screening of SPRING BREAKERS has advance word of greatness attached - it's Korine's most successful movie since he wrote KIDS back in 1995. That film was directed by Larry Clark and rippled the media with provocative angst and scenes of a nubile cast lost to sex, drugs and sexually transmitted diseases.


It was a pivotal film for Korine, Clark and cast member Chloe Sevigny especially. Since then, Korine has written other controversial, wild, meandering, ecstatic movie deliriums, especially important films; from KEN PARK (2002) and GUMMO (1997) to TRASH HUMPERS (2009) and MISTER LONELY (2007). Just so you know - KEN PARK (a kind of sleazier, more explicit, distressing, bleaker, wilder follow-up to KIDS), GUMMO (oddball stream of abusive desolate consciousness), TRASH HUMPERS (wild wanton old people horror hysterics), MISTER LONELY (meditative romantic paean to the weirdness of fame). Well, you make of a Harmony Korine film what you like. In a few seconds time I will change my mind. I will describe them as something else. There is no structure, deliberately so, as such. But equally - there is absolute structure. Korine also directs films: GUMMO, JULIEN DONKEY-BOY, MISTER LONELY, TRASH HUMPERS and now SPRING BREAKERS.


Harmony Korine at the Q&A tonight speaks of his films having only initial basic structure and script - to attract a cast as much as anything, to the project. The chosen cast are important to Korine, he likes "to work with people I love", and in Spring Breakers this includes his wife; Rachel Korine, as one of the wild girls (Cotty). She's excellent in this and will be a huge star, alongside established players like Selena Gomez and James Franco, she holds her own; all the four main female leads are equally as good - part blast of icy cool detachment and far bigger part dangerous (like - killer dangerous) to know party girl. It's Franco though; the male petal among this circle of taut, cackling female thorns who deserves an Oscar next year for his outstanding, and quite deliciously wounded and sleazy, performance - he is, in this movie, just lip-smackingly brilliant.

The four central 'good girls gone bad' of Spring Breakers are conceived by Korine as being the same person; four people, the same character. They act and play as one (though tellingly the structure cracks when doubts set it - and it's Gomez who starts this off). They are interchangeable roles at first, but have distinct personalities and fears as the movie progresses. You can't tell them apart/ you can tell them apart. This, my friends, is a Harmony Korine film.



OK, maybe I'm going to miss this sold out screening. It's 6.40pm and I'm stuck on the underground between Green Park and Piccadilly Circus. When I finally get outside, it's 6.48pm. I rush inside the Curzon Soho. At the back of my head I'm remembering the Curzon website stating there are 20 minutes of adverts before the films start. But does this include special event preview screenings? I ask the girl at the ticket desk. When does the film start? Two minutes. Great, I say. But it's sold out she tells me. I nod my head and hand over my card. Oh, you booked? Yes. I hand her my debit card. And then she gives me a warning: "It's busy down there." OK, I say and head down the stairs, making it to the film with seconds to spare. It's busy down there. I'm beginning to wonder if this is a threat of some kind!

Korine, we are told, asked for the film to be turned up loud as his only introduction. The last time a film was turned up extra loud at the request of the director, we hear, was for Nicholas Winding Refn's DRIVE. I can't find a seat. The event is sold out but there must be one in the audience somewhere. There's a row of seats with reserved signs on. Thank god my stomach pains have gone: thanks Gaviscon. Bye bye prawn sandwich. The reserved signs are taken off. An usherette tells me to choose any seat. The plush seats are free! With extra leg room, and a perfect view, suddenly I'm Korine royalty. I sit in the middle of six seats. Alone, seats seperate from the main throng. Alone, but in a bustling crowd. Much, I suspect, as Korine feels like in Hollywood mainstream.

SPRING BREAKERS has been a surprise hit in the US and publicity in the UK is huge. Korine tells us later that the success is a cool thing - in fact "it's awesome" he tells us, with little emotion and no Hollywood gush; for him it's just a fact. "You never know which of your films will do well," Korine continues - but it seems there was a good vibe about this one. I was about to write next that I don't think it matters to Korine whether a film of his is a hit or not: that's how this man is perceived publicly. Mostly, it probably doesn't matter. Equally, I suddenly realise - I suspect it does.


Like all scripts on a Harmony Korine film; the plot is developed further as the film is shot, helped along by cast, adapting to the narrative sketching - making the film a creative burst of raw feeling, rather than a commercially rigid 'product'. Korine is asked whether funding is important. The basic response: it's just "something that fucking needs to happen or not happen" - it's not part of any creative process; it doesn't drive his work (TRASH HUMPERS had an almost non-existent budget though a fair amount of investment seems to have been put into this latest movie; it shines with sleek visuals and outstanding sets, cast and brilliant cinematography). In other words; the funding is obtained or it isn't. There's little to no studio control on a Harmony Korine film. He's asked how the creative process works. A very, very bored but polite reply follows: "Oh you know, there's a script, then funding, casting, editing - the film really comes together in the editing." That's not to say Korine's not a gracious guest; he's thoroughly witty, enthralling, captivating, brilliant.

The film follows four college girls looking to fund their Spring Break partying. They raid stores with water pistols and end up being arrested by taking hard drugs at a party that gets busted. A local drug dealer and criminal kingpin (Franco as one of two main local rival kingpins) gets the girls out of jail - affording bail no trouble at all for this guy. Further crime sprees follow along with occasional rests for fivesomes, foursomes, and eventually just threesomes. Trouble is brewing and about to kick off with a violent finale - a bloody shootout from which only a few will get out alive.


As the film plays out, the seats around me are filled up with men wearing an aftershave reminiscent of 'been in the bar, had five fags and missed the start' - either critics from the broadsheets or invited guests, I'm guessing! A couple of glamorous young women with designer handbags and oh-so-exotic scents too trundle in halfway through. Man, this sure ain't Lennon's cheap seats I'm in! All these new companions keep popping outside for more popcorn and champagne. I'm in the middle of random cinematic importance here; I can feel it. Sense it. I wish I hadn't had that prawn sandwich now. I probably reek so badly of the seaside that one of these VIPs will get out a lemon and squirt me, put me on their lap and devour me whole with a glass of prosecco. Help! Thankfully the film is too spectacular - too blisteringly colorful, pounding and perfect to care. SPRING BREAKERS is the best film I've seen this year; a truly mesmerising cinematic splash of violence, sex, colour and sound.

The cast of SPRING BREAKERS is outstanding. James Franco as the bad boy, 'Alien' - hair a sleek mess of cornrows and glinting metal teeth, he's unrecognisable as the Hollywood star we all know. I love Alien. He's a complete scumbag, but as Harmony tells us, he's also a mystic, a poet of sorts - the Jim Morrison of the rap scene. He pouts at us with words of wisdom and boasts (in one hilarious, exquisitely played and filmed scene) about all the tat and criminal gangland memorabilia hanging above his bed and his possessions that for him represent the American Dream: Scarface on repeat, Calvin Klein's 'Escape' mixed with Calvin Klein's 'Be', dark tanning oil, shorts of "every fucking colour", blue Kool-Aid and a bed that's like the USS Enterprise ("I go to different planets on this motherfucker") all listed with the boasting mantra to "look at all ma shit..!"

Franco gives us a career-busting performance here that sets him above the Hollywood star quality we already know he has with a big fat splash of a performance. No, more than that - a flooding headscrew of a performance; completely alive and kicking with unrestrained, pitch perfect, blinging badass cool.

Rachel Korine as Cotty, Ashley Benson as Brit, Selena Gomez as Faith, Vanessa Hudgens as Candy are all outstanding as the bad girls, some with self-doubt, some without any doubts at all: with their toned, glistening, lovely flesh on display, it's hard to think of a time when a young cast looked so good; felt so cool. Already a smattering of US music stars have started using the distinct look of this film in their music videos as homage and it's certain that Hollywood royalty will follow this copycat route - you can expect the neon brashness, toned exposed flesh and day-glo colours (also noticeable in the make-up the girls wear, including the bright blue nail varnish and streaks of pink hair dye) to appear in all good fashion magazine celebrity shoots near you soon. Other films may copy this look. Already, today, I came across a fashion website offering 'the Spring Breakers look' - all bright bikini tops and retina-burning hotpants!


What the sweet Florida heights has Harmony Korine done to Disney star Selena Gomez? Formerly best known for shows such as WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE on the Disney Channel, Korine has taken this young starlet, stripped her down to a skimpy bikini top and powder blue hotpants, oversexed her lines and filled the young star up with drug-fuelled, criminal cool. Asked at the Q&A about Gomez, Korine jokes that all the Disney stars in the cast were great as they turn up to work on time and are far more professional than the usual cast he has to work with! Gomez of course attracted the most press attention and was followed around most of the time on set by the paparazzi. Would her fans be allowed to watch the movie, he's asked? "Not yet maybe," Korine replies with a wicked grin, "but they soon will be. The film is essential university viewing already!" Gomez is fantastic as Faith; she lets herself go absolutely; loud, brash and ultimately scared to death, fragile.  A wonderfully fresh and energetic performance from this young star that blends pathos and pout perfectly and blasts her straight into the start of a brilliantly more grown-up film career.

Vanessa Hudgens of course is also well known as a teen idol -  for her role in Disney's HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL movies, but has also appeared in the KIDS-like shocks and angst of THIRTEEN (2003) and teen horror films such as SUCKER PUNCH (2011). Later this year we will see Hudgens in Robert Rodriguez's MACHETE KILLS (2013). I was thinking as I watched these Disney starlets strut their stuff on screen whether Harmony Korine will do to innocent Disney stars what Tarantino does to slightly faded 70s cult movie stars: make them ultra cool again. Idolise them. Create career-defining roles for them. Work with this cute, cool, ballsy crowd again. I hope so.

American Rapper Gucci Mane appears as Alien's sleazy rival -Archie and convincingly portrays a man full of angry, revenge-seeking, drug-fuelled spite; the threatening tone of much of the second half of the film achieved by Mane's  brilliantly boiling over rage and sheer conviction that he will be last man standing whatever.


Korine is asked what Mane is doing at the moment - is he working on any more film projects? "He's in jail," Korine replies wistfully. To which I think some of the crowd thinks he's joking, but he's not, the rapper allegedly recently assaulted a fan with a champagne bottle and a few days later another fan was said to have been punched. Mane is currently in Fulton County jail awaiting a court appearance.

Two other stars of the movie - the male bad boy twins who accompany Alien everywhere are friends of Korine, though he describes them as being (if I remember right, as it was whispered under his breath!): "complete lunatics of course - but still my friends". Korine has unconditional loyalty to the  people he considers to be 'friends'. The twins are memorable in the movie - threatening but also slightly comical in their polite and rabid, if debauched, loyalty to Alien.

The roles are played by Sidney and Thurman Sewell, also known as the 'ATL Twins'. Korine is asked what they are doing now. He grins, nods: "In jail," he almost apologises. The twins are known for a controversial interview with VICE magazine in which they share thoughts on doing everything together. "Double penetration" Korine says when talking about them, "everything's about double penetration" and this is a theme of the film: doing things together, whether in a swimming pool (delicious shots of the girls with Alien in which Korine teases the camera above the surface, diving below like a weirdo voyeur knowing he shouldn't but that he still sort of has to) or in bed or in crime sprees. It's all about doing it together.

Everyone in SPRING BREAKERS is joined in some way; whether four girls having fun as one or two criminal gang leaders facing off against each other (former friends, now sworn enemies when one treads on another's turf). In the end death is also a kind of double penetration - two survive and two die. The audience laugh at all this dirty talk of double daring on stage, but for Korine it's his vision, it's a wayward crazy dreamlike thing that we have to follow - or just forget it. No wonder the VICE magazine piece with the ATL twins so captured his interest. As for the twins 'being in jail' bit - I think he was joking on that one. Wasn't he?

While Korine's films are lovingly adored by ultra-hip youthful style and fashion magazines that like to linger on the young flesh and wild adandoned behaviour stoked up by the coolest rap (courtesy, in SPRING BREAKERS, of SKRILLEX) and the sassiest clothes, I don't think it much matters to Korine that he is thought of as a hip bright young thing; the darling of the glittery media - the kid that wrote KIDS.

When asked whether his most famous movie - KIDS, had any impact on his new film a swift, puzzled reply follows: "No." (Silence. Nervous laughter.) Then: "Not all all - it just wasn't in my head at all". Further pressing gets the confession that the two films may feel similar but that's where it ends. They only feel similar (clearly he doesn't think they are at all though) because, "Well, you know - I wrote them both!" To which there is applause. Great reply. Korine  also says that he wrote SPRING BREAKERS as a dream, mixing up timelines and action, piecing together various scenes, like patchwork -like a seemingly unimportant beat in a pop song that when played over and over again takes on more significance.

Through a relentlessly pulsing soundtrack (from Cliff Martinez who also scored the unmissable DRIVE in 2011) and snappily playful script; in the outstanding and vibrant cinematography (a star in itself) from Benoît Debie (HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION, IRREVERSIBLE) and the wildly abandoned excitement of a young cast indulging in things they would never normally do on screen under a blood-red orange and gunshot-pocked sky - this is Korine's dream; for himself, for us to be part of. A comment at the Q&A later suggests the film is one long wet dream, to which Korine nearly jumps up from his seat in mock outrage: "Hey, are you saying I busted a nut over the screen to do this film for you?" 

Korine wants SPRING BREAKERS to reflect, at times, real life and memories (hey - it is his dream after all!). He remembers taking a school bus and sitting next to passengers - local gangsters, that looked and sounded like Alien does here; metal teeth glowing in great big grins in the bright sunshine. He remembers being at home watching "Pee Wee shows on TV" and having great big vehicles drive by outside with repetitive beatbox beats booming out suddenly like exploding bombs. He wanted this film to be like those explosive sound-thuds heard pounding from those cars - one big fat detonating 'boom' shaking the surface on loop the entire movie.


For James Franco's role, Korine sent the actor a copy of the script,  hoping he would choose the role of Alien out of those on offer. Franco got back in touch - he liked the role of Alien best and agreed to take it on. Korine then emailed the actor endless YouTube clips of rap videos and random weird clips to give Franco an idea of how he saw the role being played to which Franco would occasionally reply back with the words: 'peace man'. "At the time I thought, 'peace man'? What the fuck does that mean?" Korine tells us to much laughter. Later, he drives Franco around a neighbourhood where crime is rife and shows him buildings where he imagines the character of Alien first took drugs, maybe had first sex or shot someone.

Franco says little to Korine on these tours, maybe he doesn't care. Then, on the first day of filming, Franco turns up, puts on the bad boy outfit complete with metal teeth and hair in cornrows and he remembers everything Korine has sent him or shown  him to help develop the character. Franco instantly becomes 'Alien', exactly as Korine had hoped (and in the film it shows - the characterisation is powerslam perfect).

Korine praises Franco a great deal tonight; he sees the actor as being Hollywood mainstream but having a wilder spirit and real edge to his work that we don't see as often as we should.

(In which this reviewer goes a little bit 'Harmony Korine')

You can watch the film to find out for yourself whether SPRING BREAKERS has the 'fuck-it and see' factor or not. If it's any good. Or crap on crack. I've decided, since listening to Harmony Korine speak, that all film reviews are dead. Worthless. Too structured to ever be taken seriously. Korine, without knowing, has told me so. Long live the anti-review!

But I still want to pick out some favourite moments that I enjoyed: the sight of the girl gang appearing in court after a drugs bust; swaying in their fluorescent bikinis in front of the judge and the final shootout; balletic and bloody. Brilliant! Central moments that burn themselves to the memory - and made me smile out loud.
Or how about the sudden bullet in the leg to one character that brings real violence closer to home and changes everything or the edgy, violent sexual fumbling where two gun barrels of loaded guns are shoved inside Alien's mouth at the same time by two giggling girls and Alien's plea to have the same thing done to him the following night: "You like that, don't you?" they tell him as the barrels are pushed in further, with a sneer. Or the straddling in the swimming pool of Alien in-between the random acts of violence - the girls taking it in turns to screw him at the same time (that 'double penetration' theme again, made more explicit here, if it hadn't already been in the gun barrels in the mouth moment earlier) as if on a dare - Spring Break forever!

The start of the crime spree, in the first flourishing moments of the film, shocks slowly - almost like an April Fool's joke at first that gets less funny and turns to real violence and dreadful consequences alongside a spiralling descent into drug abuse and sexual 'depravity' (a nice touch too are the calls the girls make back home to their mums about still 'being good girls' and not even drinking) alongside endless booze-sprayed and champagne soaked partying.

The girls have become like the Spring Breakers in those endless DVD releases where a fun-capturing tour bus travels across the US looking for girls out to have a good time at the annual Spring Break; all ready and eager to hurry in front of the camera and show us what a good time they are having - usually measured in how many bras come off. SPRING BREAKERS mimics this with endless shots on repeat throughout the entire movie of slow-mo, sunkissed topless girls bouncing up and down on trampolines or shoving bottles of bubbly between their thighs and ejaculating foam over their friends in a mockery of male dominance.

Some critics cite SPRING BREAKERS as a 'feminist' movie, even the Curzon cinema screening is introduced with a comment that it was the female members of staff who liked the film most. I don't agree really - this film is for nobody except Harmony Korine and you, if you wish. There's no agenda here as such - have a good time; girl, boy, whatever, that's all. Or don't. Korine tells us later that few of the characters go punished in this film for their crimes as that's not the point. He didn't want to make a message movie. There may be consequences after the film has ended, but the 'doing' is all he cares about here, not the regretting. It just so happens that the strongest characters, perhaps - turn out to be girls (though the two drug lords running the whole show are both men). Alien has the Spring Break girls pester him to admit that he is scared of the danger he faces - making it seem eventually ok for him to do so. Is this weakening him or empowering him? Two of the girls express doubts in being a part of this whole crime scene along the way; become scared, the other two don't and have no fear at all. If you want an agenda, you can probably decide on your own one here, or make of the film as you will - because I don't think Korine is telling!


Of course, the film has a standout moment above all other standouts - the Britney singsong between Alien, playing the piano and singing, and three of the Springbreaker girls, clasping shotguns, linking the weapons together and dancing in a circle to the ballad 'Everytime'; Franco's perfect vocals merging into those of Britney. Kormine is asked why he chose this song: "Because I like it and I always wanted to film it." The song is described as being uplifting but also melancholic "it's just really morose and beautiful - a perfect song". There are few scenes in movies as uplifting, brilliant, delicious when, framed by a whispering sea and an orange sunset, the girls dance around the piano like nymphs in their bright orange ballaclavas and bikinis - one last dance but less a last supper; more like their swan song.

Korine is asked about any influences for his movie. There are none, he says. When making a film he dreams about "not making a film and being at home". When not making a film and being at home, he dreams "about making a film". We don't know what the next film will be, yet. Right now he is just chilling out and painting. Then he thinks of an influence: "I do watch a lot of films leading up to making a film, but maybe less than I used to as I get older, but film is still my life. The film I've probably been watching most recently has been Michael Mann's MIAMI VICE. I love that film; all those 'crunchy red and orange sunsets' so I guess that film may have been an influence on SPRING BREAKERS." It's as if he's just realised this. A wonderful, off the cuff moment.


I don't think Harmony Korine especially likes his tag as being 'Mr Reality'; exposing the real lives of young people and putting their vices and failings and zests for life on screen. KIDS was a great, visionary movie but Korine's films since have been wildly diverse. He tells us that he doesn't believe film can ever be like real life; not an authentic vision. If there is one, he suddenly thinks (again, seemingly off the cuff) then it could be NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. That, he says, is a film that he finds to be entirely "natural".

Korine is a director who will always surprise with his film-making and say surprising things. I think he is also one of the few real auteurs working in cinema today and SPRING BREAKERS is a film that sits on the face of the Hollywood mainstream while also slightly loving it, which I like.

I really felt at tonight's screening of SPRING BREAKERS that Korine is positively glowing with all the success the film has had - it's the coolest fucking film on the planet right now. It's a film that proves that no longer are this man's films and his lifestyle the sole property of Dazed and Confused or i-D magazine (or even Teen Vogue!); SPRING BREAKERS is for everyman and everygirl. Don't be scared of a Harmony Korine movie - just go in and have some fun. This is playful, majestic, sweet crowd-pleasing cinema. When asked about the distinctive look of SPRING BREAKERS and the inspiration for this, Korine replies: "I wanted it to be like a bag of Skittles." As I recall the dodgy prawn sandwich I'd eaten earlier that day and that was now crying out for a swig of Gaviscon indigestion remedy, I suddenly craved a bag of multi-coloured sweeties and another refrain of Britney's best ballad on the way back home.




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