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TNS is 10: Interview - Harmony Korine

17th April 2013

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What Makes Harmony Korine?

or What’s Eating Harmony Korine?

or “I’m slightly delusional”


Harmony Korine“I think I’m slightly delusional when it comes to business and perception,” says Harmony Korine, the writer and director of Mister Lonely. “It’s been my experience that I’m always wrong. I always think my films are going to be the sequel to Caddyshack or the Shawshank Redemption, and the general population is going to devour these films, and I’m always wrong. I think the victory is in making the movie and anything else is a bonus.” 

Mister Lonely tells the story of a Mexican Michael Jackson impersonator who meets a Marilyn Monroe in Paris, and is invited to join an impersonator’s commune in the Scottish Highlands. There he meets a despotic Charlie Chaplin and a cast of oddballs before tragedy comes to the community.

Twinned with this is the story of a group of nuns living in Panama who discover that they can fall from planes without injury. To add to the sheer oddness of the story is the spectacular reach of the cast; Werner Herzog is the deranged missionary who leads the nuns, David Blaine is a priest who has a cameo pulling the head off a chicken, James Fox plays The Pope, whilst Samantha Morton is Marilyn Monroe. To boil it down, Mister Lonely is an indie movie about a Hispanic Michael Jackson doing Moonwalker era moves beside a Scottish Loch whilst nuns cycle through the sky. If you haven’t picked it up so far; this film is odd. 

“I’m always thinking that they’re the most normal films. I don’t care so much about making perfect sense, I care about making perfect nonsense. That’s really the thing.” Korine later expands on the point,  “I’d rather speak to a mood or an ambience or a tone, than to any plot.” 

Harmony Korine first shot to fame after writing the disturbing teen-drama Kids, which was released in 1995. He freely admits that the story of violent, promiscuous teenagers came from his own experiences. He still has the tattoos to show it- including a pitch fork on the back of his right hand, and a cross on his left ring finger.

In 2003 former girlfriend, Chloe Sevigny, told The New York Post that their relationship in the late 1990s had come to an end partially due to Korine's addiction to heroin and methadone. His films since Kids have had mixed success, including Gummo and the Dogme certified Julien Donkey Boy. It was at the Gummo premiere that he met David Blaine, and, after an unusual bit of bonding in which Blaine sat in a pizza oven, Korine would go on to direct Blaine's Above the Below, in which Blaine sat in a box above the Thames. 

Describing his life after Kids, Korine says “I wasn’t even sure if I was going to make movies anymore. It wasn’t really Hollywood or this, that or the other, it was just me, and I was like fuck this, I’m going to go and do something else, I want to mow lawns, sell some ice cream, try being a lifeguard.” After that, he says, came a time when, “I was hanging out in Peru with these fishermen for about six months, trying to find a special fish that I never found, and hanging out with this woman who had an invisible dog.” 

Between the large cast and international shoot, Mister Lonely is the most complicated shoot that Korine has been in charge of. “I was proud of this movie because I hadn’t made a movie in so long and it was a difficult movie, so for me it feels like a real personal accomplishment, like digging myself out of a hole.” 

The commune was originally intended to be set in Iceland, but moved to Scotland due to the fact that the locations in Iceland were too flat, too remote and did not have any trees in them. Meanwhile, the sequences following the nuns were shot in Panama, where Korine's parents live. Whilst casting, Korine scoured the globe for skydiving nuns but when he found them they refused to be in the film. Hence, many of the nuns who appear in the finished film are actually friends of his mother. Meanwhile his wife, Rachel Korine, plays Little Red Riding Hood.

Originally the character was going to be Britney Spears, but it was decided that an impersonator would just look like a slutty teenager. Did the fact that it was his wife have an impact on the decision? “My wife can play slut any day, it makes no difference to me, it’s just didn’t make sense with the rest of them. She’s going to be great, she’s a really amazing actor.” 

Korine himself grew up on a commune, but is reluctant to talk about the film's message about identity. “For me it wasn’t the main issue, it was the obsessive nature of those people and those characters, people who choose to live life like that, who set up their own utopia outside the system, their own circumstances, their own world. I have admiration for those type of extreme, marginalised characters,” he says. 

Amongst Korine's other work is the unreleased Fight Harm, a spiritual predecessor to Jackass, in which Korine approached strangers and coerced them to beat him up. Korine pitched the project as a raucous comedy which could be doubled with an Adam Sandler movie, seeing himself as a bruised and bleeding successor to Buster Keaton. He eventually gave up on the film after being repeatedly arrested and hospitalised, with his injuries including broken ribs and broken ankles. Despite being nearly ten years old the project continues to attract attention. “I’m always constantly debating whether to show people the footage. I don’t know if the idea’s good enough, and I’m afraid it’ll just be a let down. I have it and maybe one day in some way, I’ve always played with the idea of putting it out there. It’s something people seem intrigued by.” 

Whilst Mister Lonely might be a very public piece of psychoanalysis following on from a succession of extremely disturbing films, there certainly is an awful lot of depth to Harmony Korine. Will he ever go mainstream? No. Will he continue to make thought provoking and alarming films? Almost certainly yes. And yes, he would like to fight Adam Sandler.

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