Bay [Garnett] and Anita [Pallenberg] talk to brilliant cult film-maker Harmony Korine.
Bay Garnett: If you had two hundred million dollars to make a movie, what kind of movie would you make?
Harmony Korine: This is some crazy shit you’re asking me. If I had two hundred million dollars, I’d probably make the same movies I make, I’d just make two hundred of them; really that’s what I would do. The scope of the picture is for me not dictated by the finances, it’s just more what I feel like doing, I guess. I’d probably just keep a lot of the money, buy an island or something, or buy lots of shotguns. I’d buy Siegfried and Roy.
Garnett: When you see your movies now, say Gummo, what do you think? Do you feel proud? Do you enjoy it?
Korine: I never really think about my movies like that. I don’t ever watch them after they’re made. I’ll probably never watch them again. My movies just become part of my past, I don’t go back, I’ll think about the things that are associated with it, or the times I was going through as a human.
Garnett: What’s the first film you saw that made you want to be a film-maker?
Korine: Fu Manchu, Buster Keaton, The Marx Brothers.
Anita Pallenberg: Not Charlie Chaplin?
Korine: Chaplin I like, but I don’t like him as much as Keaton. Keaton is more like a tragic figure. There’s something so beautiful about Keaton.
Garnett: What film do you think it’s essential to have seen before you die?
Garnett: What’s your idea of beauty?
Korine: Christ Bay! Oh God, those questions are so hard for me. I couldn’t tell you, it’s not one thing.
Pallenberg: For me I think it would be the pyramids in Egypt. I was just totally overwhelmed by the whole thing. More than a person. I think beauty is more about places for me than a person.
Korine: Beauty can be a smell, mixed with the place…
Korine: Yeah. That’s a good odour. Eau De Calcutta. Yeah, I’m still figuring that out Bay. I’ll tell you when I figure it out.
Garnett: Do you see yourself as an artist?
Korine: I don’t see myself, that’s what I do, I make art, so I am an artist. I have this thing about self reflection. I don’t really want to know why I do the things I do, I just don’t really care to be honest with you. I just want to go. I don’t even want to look at myself in the mirror. For me, I think introspection is bad. I don’t think you ever really do know; I might come up with something that might appease myself. I could lie to myself and say I’m doing it for this or that, but truth be known whatever it is, I think that it is innate in everyone. I don’t even want to waste time trying to figure it out for myself. My work is like my therapy in a lot of ways, and I always said if I could explain in words the way I feel, I wouldn’t put it up in pictures, I wouldn’t make the images; if I could take it away.
Garnett: You are a good talker. You’re good at both. Where do you get your ideas from?
Korine: I don’t know. Birthed with them (laughs). Fucked if I know, I don’t know where any of that stuff comes from.
Garnett: What’s your idea of a good night out.
Korine: Sleep! It’s definitely changed now from the past. A lot. Before… a suicide… writing my 5th suicide note. Yeah, from a year or two ago it’s really different.
Garnett: Are you pleased it’s different?
Korine: I wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t different. Maybe I would. If I want to live I just can’t go out, at least for right now. But that’s fine. Life is about different phases. I have good years and bad years, and even those bad years were good, and even the good years weren’t that great. What was good for me a few years ago, is not good for me now.
Garnett: Do you think you’re self-destructive or adventurous?
Korine: I’m Harmony. I don’t know.
Garnett: Do you care if people like you?
Korine: Some people, sure. I care if my parents like me, you know. Specific people. You want your pet to like you.
Garnett: You’re house burnt down to the ground in Connecticut. You lost everything, original signed books and prints. A huge record collection. Everything. Having been a collector; that must have been devastating.
Korine: I lost everything. It was all gone, it was like the hand of God. I was getting whipped you know. It was a tough one.
Pallenberg: All the fires I went through have been like a cleansing. You don’t care about material things so much.
Korine: That’s true. The house burnt down, and then another burnt house burnt down because I fell asleep with a cigarette. The first I don’t know how it happened, I came back nine hours later and it had burnt down. The second one I had passed out for a minute or two and I had all these papers, so it was quick. Both fires were really difficult, but I just stopped caring so much. It became like a vagabond thing. That’s when I decided to come to Europe. I had two pairs of pants, a few T-shirts. No music. Now I’m fine with that, I still don’t have anything.
Garnett: You did have such an amazing collection of stuff. Ouch!
Korine: I did. You spend a long time collecting things; books, music. So much time and passion goes into that. Every picture I’d had of myself was gone. Essentially all evidence of my past was wiped out. So now, it’s almost freeing. I don’t want stuff; I haven’t been able to go into a record store really. What album am I going to buy? A John Fogerty? It’s really psychological. At this point I’d rather just keep moving.
Pallenberg: I once set fire to a couch at the Eldridge hotel in NY with a cigarette. Fires are quite extraordinary.
Korine: I used to smoke asleep! Nodding off in my fucking bed and have holes in my shirt, and my pillow. But now I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore; I have a greater appreciation. I have my legs and my arms. To be honest with you, I don’t know if I will make movies, I might just move back to Tennessee… mow my yard… I do it right now because I feel like I have to, because it makes me happy, but at the same time I don’t believe it is my sole purpose, or that it justifies my sense of being – it’s just something I do. I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager, and maybe in a few years I just wont wanna do that. Go fishing or something, take up a hobby.
Garnett: You’d be going home, wouldn’t you?
Korine: I don’t really want to live anywhere, but I like the South.
Garnett: What books do you love?
Korine: The Encyclopaedia Britannica, seriously, it’s a great book. The World Atlas. The Milton Borough Joke Book. I like the Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy by Laurence Sterne, kind of the first real modernist novel. The W.C. Fields autobiography.
Garnett: Do you have a hero?
Korine: Probably not. It’s hard for me to hero worship other people. There are things about certain people that I admire, obviously. P.T. Barnum, he was the first great showman. He discovered Tom Thumb; the world’s shortest man. He found the first Siamese twins. He would search the world for oddities. At the turn of the century that was the highest form of entertainment, and Tom Thumb at his height was the most famous man in the world. Fifty thousand people came to his wedding. He was I think 31 inches tall.
Pallenberg: He probably had a massive dick.
Korine: Yeah, it was ten inches flaccid! That we don’t know, we can only assume.
Garnett: Do you have any interest in making a porno?
Korine: Nah, there’s so many out there, I don’t really have a different take on it. I’ve thought about it. Lars von Trier does porn – he does straight porn. I don’t have anything against it, I just don’t think I could contribute anything that hasn’t been done. People have gone and fucked animals already, there’s really nowhere left for me to go. It’s the apocalypse! ha ha.
Garnett: What do you think of the Cheap Date Fashion Strike?
Korine: Fashion has never seemed that important to me … if people stop buying clothes, and there’s still enough to go around, that’s great! Fashion has always passed me by.
Garnett: Do you go to thrift stores?
Korine: Thrift stores confuse me now. If you go in with a certain idea, it makes it easier. I like to wear clothes that my friends discard, easier if someone else picks it out already. It’s so funny, because usually when you do interviews with journalists you can be mean, and I would never want to be mean with you guys.
Garnett: Is there a part of you that would want to be mean to a journalist?
Korine: Of course. To be honest with you, I have no desire to do interviews anymore. I just don’t see the point. What are they going to benefit me? I don’t care to get any more famous than I am. All I ever cared about was making the movies that I make. One of the things that’s fucked me up so much before was other people’s expectations of me. It was a burden. It stopped me having the desire to go outside my living room.
Garnett: Are you thinking about making a movie?
Korine: Yeah, I’m gonna make one right after this. I’m gonna film in the ice caps. It’s like a love story between a young man and a ninety year old woman. There’s more to it than that. I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want to jinx it. It’s so easy to talk things away. Or you get bored of the idea. Everything is so quick nowadays. I remember as an eleven-year-old punk rocker kid growing up in Tennessee, it was the whole thing to search out certain albums; it might take months. It was always such an adventure, if you got it, it was this prize possession – it was treasure. Now it’s like anything you want you just type it into the computer. There’s no underground anymore, I don’t even know what underground culture is anymore. I guess in a way it’s OK, because things are either good or bad, and you make sense of it.