Harmony Korine: A Personal Reflection

Ahead of the Harmony Korine Weekender (in association with MUBI), LSFF Artistic Director reflects on Korine's work
Harmony Korine: A Personal Reflection

When an artist is loved or loathed in equal measure, they must be doing something right. Harmony Korine is a filmmaker who is hated by many. His last cinema release, Spring Breakers, definitely felt like a film with a personal hate campaign against it, which must’ve excited him immensely… though I think it’s very likely he didn’t really give a fuck what people thought. That attitude has suited Korine well throughout his whole career, from his beginnings in the nineties writing Kids (1995) for Larry Clark as a young skateboarder in Washington Square, NYC. In retrospect, Kids is his most conventional film, as what followed has been some of the most exciting and original moving image work of the last 20 years. Despite a lot of it failing or not working on various levels, it’s certainly never boring.

Personally, I think Korine did an Orson Welles and started at the top with his directorial debut Gummo in 1997, made when he was just 24; a stream of consciousness series of short vignettes loosely themed around a smalltown in Ohio.  The film mixes fiction and documentary, film formats and music, and even a semi-recognisable actress in the form of Linda Manz (who as a teenager starred in Dennis Hopper’s similarly nihilistic Out of the Blue). Korine’s obvious urge (as a 24 year old, hetroseuxal male filmmaker) to shock and surprise his audience (and no doubt his critics), is counterbalanced against the incredibly subtle beauty of the film’s aesthetic. But whether shock value or beauty, these images are Korine’s own, making him one of the rare true American auteurs of the 21st century.

The London Short Film Festival is excited to re-visit Gummo in association with MUBI - who also love to champion outsiders and auteurs- with an exclusive screening from VHS format, followed by a symposium, a Gummo-sium, in which a number of invited speakers will chat about the work and what it means to them. This will include Jason Wood, who distributed Gummo back in 1998, and has been head of programming at Picturehouse Cinemas, Curzon Cinemas and now Home Manchester; journalist and filmmaker Charlie Lyne, who premiered Spring Breakers at the ICA back in 2012 as part of his Ultra-Culture events; and filmmaker Jennifer Reeder, who also hails from Ohio, and whose work has a similar sensibility of a true auteur investigating the American teenage experience. Korine doesn’t exclusively focus on the teenager, but his films are peppered with teenage protagonists, particularly here in Gummo with the film’s narrative thread conveyed by Solomon and Tummler as they search the neighbourhood for stray cats.

Despite the nihilism on show in Gummo, at one point Solomon says “Life is beautiful. Really, it is. Full of beauty and illusions. Life is great. Without it, you'd be dead”, and this is a philosophy for the 13th London Short Film Festival 2016. We’re really excited to be partnering with MUBI on our Harmony Korine Weekender, who share a similar goal to make audiences aware of the best in cinema away from the Star Wars and grandiose event cinema of this world. As well as Gummo and the Gummo-sium, we’re excited to bring together a collection of Korine’s shorts, from music videos for the likes of Sonic Youth, Bonnie Prince Billy and Cat Power, to fashion films, to his internet vignettes, plus short film work for Vice and South African techno rappers Die Antwoord.

Not only tied to film and video, Korine is an avid writer, with a number of pamphlets, fanzines and books to his name, and we’re also excited to hold the UK premiere of the adaptation of his book A Crack Up at the Race Riots, directed by Belgian artist collective Leo Gabin. The film was initially conceived as a gallery piece, using found footage taken from YouTube with a voiceover of passages from Korine’s book. This collage of American culture, from souped-up cars to teenage girls performing on-line, isn’t always comfortable viewing but we soon become aware that this is a window on the 21st century in Western culture, condensed into an hour. The film’s disjointed collage form also helped to shape Spring Breakers, which itself meanders and flashes back and forward – echoing the surfing and scrolling we do in our daily lives.

I hate the term “spokesman for a generation”, but Korine definitely knows about a zeitgeist, even if his work harks back to Herzog and Hopper. And here’s a chance to re-evaluate 20 years of his life’s work so far.