Harmony Korine has spent the last few years in his native Nashville, working on short projects and generally keeping a low profile. Which makes it all the harder to know what to expect from an interview with the director of Gummo and julien donkey-boy. For example, will his answers be 90% bullshit, as was often the case in the past? We don’t really think so, but here’s the interview, so you decide.
Ken Miller: What is it you’re working on now?
Harmony Korine: I’m making this movie… Well, I’m putting it together now. It’s a film called Mister Lonely. It’s a movie I’m going to shoot mainly in Iceland and some in Paris and Brazil. I don’t really like to talk about it… I don’t want to give the story away or jinx the thing. It’s about a commune in Iceland, basically. That’s what it’s about.
Miller: I noticed how many projects are mentioned that you’re supposed to be involved with, but don’t seem to happen. Is that why you get freaked out about jinxing things?
Korine: Well, kind of that… I think it’s (more about me) losing interest in things. The Jokes film, half of it was made, and I just didn’t like what was made. There’s stuff that people haven’t seen, like the Fight film.
Miller: But that’s coming out, isn’t it?
Korine: At some point, yeah. Well, what happened was that my house in Connecticut burned a few years ago, and a lot of the footage burned with it. But I had a friend who was a Hare Krishna who actually had a lot of the tapes, so it will probably only be 20 minutes in length. I just have to pick the right venue to put it out.
Miller: Are you still thinking of doing a compilation DVD of your short films and videos and stuff?
Korine: I’m going to put that thing out, too. I’m just so lazy.
Miller: You should put that DVD out if you’re lazy! That shit’s done!
Korine: I know, I know, I know… I’ll include this thing I did in blackface with Johnny Depp…
Miller: Do you dance in that?
Korine: Yeah, I dance in that.
Miller: Does he dance?
Korine: No, he doesn’t. He’s kind of in the background, more or less.
Miller: Does he put on blackface?
Miller: It’s probably hard to make celebrities do blackface…
Korine: Yeah, he wasn’t even really aware of what was going to happen. So we’ll put all that stuff out later this year.
Miller: Is that part of your new company with agnes b?
Korine: Well, I have a small production company (with agnes b) called ‘Oh Salvation.’ So it will come out probably on that.
Miller: But you can’t do a feature with this production company?
Korine: The thing with Mister Lonely is that the film is bigger than anything I’ve done, in scope and obviously, budget. Everything is much more ambitious. And it’s a lot different than the other things I’ve done.
Miller: This is a quote from one of your old interviews. I’m going to use your words against you… ‘Everybody seems to want answers these days, but I don’t even know what motivates me. I’m not that interested in introspection, because I believe it often leads to false answers.’
Korine: It’s a weird thing. You just have to try… To be honest with you, at least in America, I haven’t done any kind of press in four years or something. I’m untrained now. I’ve forgotten everything I once knew.
Miller: I interviewed Werner Herzog once, and I realized that the guy has probably had to give a million interviews.
Korine: Of course, Werner especially has got this mantra that’s embedded.
Miller: He liked to talk a lot about all the things he despised. Like, ‘I despiiise them. I loooathe them.’
Korine: Yeah, he’s great. His voice is incredible. You can listen to him forever. He’s a real wonder.
Miller: How did you end up working with him?
Korine: Growing up, watching movies, he was always a hero of mine, and his films were a huge influence… What happened originally was that I got this phone call from Werner, and he was like, ‘This is Werner Herzog. I’ve just seen your movie Gummo. You’re the last foot soldier.’ And so I met him. This is probably about eight or nine years ago.
It’s amazing. He’s managed to make 60 films, maybe, and none of them have ever been (financially) successful. So it’s a real testament to the man. More than half of his films don’t even come out. I don’t think he cares all that much. I think, with him, the process is equal to or more important even than the final product.
Miller: Was it his idea or your idea to have him act in a movie?
Korine: He said, ‘If you ever have a part for a villain, please cast me.’ And, so then, in writing Julien, it just made sense.
Miller: So… What made you decide to do an interview now?
Korine: I went through a time where I kind of more or less lost interest in things, and I wasn’t really healthy. I really felt like just disappearing. It wasn’t just so much that I lost interest in making movies. It was just… I was lost, maybe. I felt this overwhelming sense of disconnect with the world in general. It wasn’t like, ‘I’m going to retire,’ it was more I felt like my life was being sacrificed.
Miller: To making movies?
Korine: Yeah. I started to feel, living in New York at that time, that there was a lot of phoniness going on. I wasn’t healthy to begin with. It was compounded by the fact that I couldn’t understand what was going on, I didn’t really like what was around me, and I didn’t know what to do. So I just felt stunted. It was bad, because, in the end, I just started to hate more than I loved. I guess what it is for me is that, if I’m feeling good about things in my life, then it’s a lot easier for me to create. I think I turned really bitter. Or, you know what? It wasn’t even that. It was that I was so deadened emotionally that I would try to approximate what my emotions should be as I was writing, and I wouldn’t get very far.
Miller: So what were you doing?
Korine: Different things… My house burned down. Well, two of them did. I moved to Europe. I literally burned out America, so it was time for me to go to Europe. Europe wasn’t much better.
Miller: That sucks.
Korine: It is what it is. I don’t regret anything.
Miller: So, let’s talk about Fight.
Miller: How did you end up being friends with David Blaine?
Korine: Just because I was amazed at what he had done, and what he was capable of doing. The first time I hung out with him, he took me to this condemned building, and it had a pizza oven (inside) and he crawled into the pizza oven and turned the heat on to 400 degrees or something like that, and he stayed in it for I guess a half hour. He came out, and except for one or two second-degree burns, he was unscathed. You meet a lot of musicians and filmmakers and actors, but it’s rare to meet someone who can step inside a pizza oven and take the heat. I was intrigued by that.
Miller: Why did he end up filming Fight?
Korine: Basically, because he had the cameras, and he had been used to doing stuff on the street. There wasn’t much of that at the time, like there is now. But his footage really sucks – his camerawork is atrocious. The only rule (while filming was), no matter how bad I was getting beat up, you couldn’t stop the fight unless it really looked like someone was going to kill me or it looked like I wasn’t breathing.
Miller: Where does brain damage fall on that scale?
Korine: Brain damage… I guess that’s just one of those things it’s hard to gauge. If someone was like literally pounding my skull into the sidewalk…
Miller: You’d break it up?
Korine: Then it would be good.
Miller: So what is it about extreme experiences that’s appealing?
Korine: I don’t know… I never really thought about it. Ugh. This is like public psychotherapy.
Miller: Isn’t that what all interviews are? Isn’t that the misery of the experience?
Korine: It is. It’s like psychoanalysis for the people. I don’t know. Maybe I had extreme emotions at the time.
Miller: Not anymore?
Korine: Different, I think. The new script is much different than any of the other stuff (I wrote). I think that, when you’re 23 years old, you’re a certain way, and you’re getting through certain emotions. I think you maybe evolve or something.
Miller: What songs did you sing for your 30th birthday at the karaoke bar?
Korine: I sang that Oasis song ‘Wonderwall.’ Some Linda Ronstadt song. A David Allen Coe song… ‘He lay me down in a field of gold.’ A George Jones song, I think. It was a real country karaoke.
Miller: Why is it good to be 30?
Korine: Oh, Jesus, I don’t know. It’s good because I’m not 28! It’s just good that I’ve lived this long. Mostly, I feel relatively healthy.
Miller: Have you re-watched any of your films yet?
Korine: No. I haven’t seen anything probably since I made them.
Miller: How are you going to make that DVD?
Korine: That’s not the movies.
Miller: Why don’t you watch your features?
Korine: It’s already out, and I don’t have any interest in it.
Miller: Do you think you could put a retarded person or someone with missing limbs in a movie now and not have it come off as totally ironic, like Jackass or something?
Korine: There’s actually someone in the new script that I wrote, a girl with a reversed torso that’s got a part. (She’s) an actual girl that I found in Brazil whose torso is totally reversed, so her knees bend in the other direction. She’s nude in the film a lot. She has a nice part. If it’s something I want to see or I think is an interesting character, I’ll put it in.
Miller: How do you make it not seem ironic or jokey?
Korine: Hopefully you make it so it doesn’t seem like that. If I did (make it seem like a joke), I guess I didn’t pull it off right. I think jokes are fine, but you don’t want to make fun of people. If someone’s interesting looking, I’ll put them in there.
Miller: Have you seen William Eggleston recently?
Korine: I saw him in Memphis and hung out with him for a day. Looked through his archives and stuff.
Miller: He didn’t take you out drinking?
Korine: No, no. I’m not drinking these days. It was pretty mellow, just hanging out at his house.
Miller: Uh, can I ask you about Ken Park? Did you have any involvement in the making of the movie? They bought that script ten years ago, right?
Korine: (Laughs.) If you want to call it that! It was just a really bad experience all around. I was young when it happened. I haven’t spoken to (Larry Clark) in years.
Miller: What percentage of the scripts that you’ve written have actually gotten made?
Korine: So far, everything. I think I’ve only probably written five scripts my whole life.
Miller: What about that script about skydiving nuns?
Korine: That was burned in the fire. Some of that is incorporated into this movie. I wrote this script about this guy that has the biggest pig in the United States. He puts adhesive on the hooves, and he rides the pig up walls. It’s called What Makes Pistachio Nuts. I only got 60 percent finished with that, and that burned.
Miller: Doing stuff with other people like Gus Van Sant (on Jokes), how does that work?
Korine: Usually not so well. I think it’s probably me more than them. You know, I think in the end the stuff that I write is pretty much for me. Kids was one thing, because it was my first movie.
Miller: Looking back, was it good or bad to be successful so young?
Korine: The thing is, when I was young I always knew I’d make movies. So this is what it is. I’m happy I can make films. There’s good and bad that came with it. I love movies so much. It’s something special for me. It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do.
Miller: What’s the first film that you remember watching?
Korine: What is it called? Tonto and… What the hell was it called? It’s a movie with Art Carney, where his cat runs away.
Miller: That was obviously a major influence.
Korine: That was huge. Still pecking at me today.
Miller: Your movies are all metaphors about lonely old men finding…
Korine: Funny cats…
Miller: …and reconnecting to the world.
Kenneth Cappello: What about Above the Below?
Korine: That thing I did with David (Blaine)?
Cappello: Who were the retarded kids in it?
Korine: They were a brother and sister. That’s my favorite part in the thing.
Miller: You seem to attract retarded people. I could go for months without seeing a retarded kid. How often do you see someone who is retarded?
Korine: I think it’s just that I notice them. Maybe those kids had that disease progeria, where you age quickly…
Miller: I think my ex-girlfriend had that.
Korine: Did she really?
Korine: I used to know this guy who only had that in his hands. He was like regular looking, but his hands were wrinkled like he had a 100 year old man’s hands.
Miller: They basically do that with plastic surgery now.
Korine: Put wrinkles in your hands?
Miller: No, they take the wrinkles away everywhere but your hands, so people’s faces look young, but their hands look old.
Korine: I wonder why they can’t come up with something for your hands. Seems like they can just cut off some skin and stretch those suckers back.
Miller: That skin already seems pretty loose. I can just wriggle it around.
Korine: Stitch them tight… (Makes hands like claws.)