Harmony Korine can write scripts (Kids), direct movies (Mister Lonely), and put out books (A Crack Up at the Race Riots), but good luck getting a straight answer out of him. Which isn’t a surprise, since his work seems to mimic his personality: full of random and meandering storylines that probably lead somewhere, but you get lost amidst the distorted beauty. In between projects, Korine spoke with Nylon about everything from camera phones to breaking the law. Try to follow along.
Rebecca Willa Davis: Mister Lonely began production in 2006 and now, two years later, is being released on DVD. Has your view of the film changed at all?
Harmony Korine: I don’t really ever think of the stuff too much once it’s done. I just make the movie, and I think about it deeply before I’m making it and while I’m making it, and then once it’s out there I don’t think about it again. I’ve already started writing the next film, so Mister Lonely is out there. It exists and wherever it goes, I’m happy for it.
Davis: What’s your next film about?
Korine: I’m still writing it – I try not to talk about it until it’s done, so it’s still a secret. But… I hung out at a bar in the jungle in Panama and heard a fisherman telling this story of a woman with a reverse torso – her ass is in the front of her body. I went to see if it was true and I actually spent some time pretty recently in India with this woman.
Davis: Compared to your previous films, the production values in Mister Lonely seem so much higher, and many of the leading parts are filled with real actors, rather than non-actors. Is this a new direction for you?
Korine: Not really. The early films were slightly more a collage and provocation. By the time Mister Lonely came about, I was thinking about these characters and situations, and the structure seemed to be more about the image and picture and the story behind it, so I felt like it was enough to go with images and characters and didn’t need to be deconstructed or destroyed. I won’t necessarily make more movies like that. I might make it on a camera phone or with pixel vision. I try not to rule anything out. Cameras are like instruments; there are different sounds, looks, and a feeling for each a movie.
Davis: You’ve been working with movies for nearly 20 years now. Do you think indie cinema is better or worse now than it was in the ‘90s?
Korine: It’s hard to say. I just sit at home and watch Laurel and Hardy or Marx Brothers or Buster Keaton movies. I don’t hear people talking about things the way they used to. I think there are still directors around the world making interesting films and doing good stuff, but I think the world’s in chaos.
Davis: Do you think that chaos breeds creativity?
Korine: It’s a really big question. It takes me ten minutes in the morning to tie my shoes. A question like that might take me the rest of my life to answer that.
Davis: You started as a screenwriter but have shifted to directing as well – which do you prefer?
Korine: I enjoy both. I love writing because it’s the one part of the process where you’re alone with your thoughts and your ideas, and it’s just you and it doesn’t have anything to do with money or bureaucracy or business. I like directing because it’s the opposite – there’s energy and you make things happen.
Davis: You’ve made movies, written books, had art shows, worked on songs… what haven’t you done yet that you’d really like to accomplish?
Korine: Pretty much nothing. I’ll probably just quit all this one day and just try to become a full time lifeguard at the Jewish community center or hang out with some of the guys laying bricks or mow yards or teach kids how to dance.
Davis: You started working on films when you were still a teen. How can someone who is interested in the arts get creative in an age when things have become so monopolized?
Korine: I’d say at a certain point, when you’re done with your schooling and listening to what your parents have to say and you’re desperate enough, go try a life of petty crime. Live like a thief, live like a tramp, but don’t do anything too bad. Don’t hurt anyone. And if you go to jail, there’s value in jail. I think that will set you up well in life.
Davis: Was that the best advice you ever got?
Korine: It’s tough for me because I don’t really remember… When I was a kid, I met this guy who had sticks of butter and I always admired him. So I think the best advice was when my parents told me to cut it out when I started eating sticks of butter. I used to take sticks of butter and dip them in sugar and then drink huge glasses of Coca Cola and wear turtlenecks. Sometimes I would get so in the zone that life seemed so beautiful. From my bedroom I could smell my dad’s cigar smoke and I heard George Burns on the TV, and life looked good back then. That was the advice. Don’t take my advice.