Harmony Korine’s Not Through with Florida Yet: The Filmmaker Discusses His New Movie, ‘The Beach Bum’
The ultimate provocateur returned to Florida to reveal the latest on his upcoming 'Beach Bum.'
Honorary Florida Man Harmony Korine may not have grown up in the Sunshine State, but he’s set roots in the sandy marshlands like a sunkissed local. In true Florida fashion, he’s in no hurry these days, taking the time to make his next feature, The Beach Bum, which is finally slated for release next year.
Reuniting with his Spring Breakers cinematographer, Benoit Debie, Korine wrote and directed the next chapter of his Florida saga around a hedonist ne’er do well named Moondog (Matthew McConaughey).
One can only imagine the hijinks left out of the film’s trailer which surfaced this summer.
Korine returned to Key West (where parts of The Beach Bum was filmed) to accept a Golden Key award from Florida Keys Film Commissioner Chad Newman and to talk with IndieWire’s executive editor Eric Kohn for a public discussion. Korine shared his appreciation of Florida with the enthusiastic crowd, teased what’s in store for his next movie, previewed a clip from The Beach Bum, and played his hypnotic short film, Drum Ass.
Since this was the time and place for it, the conversation started with Florida. “I love the fuckery of this place,” he told Kohn, “It’s super twitchy. I like what goes on in Florida. In South Florida, the more rachet, the better. It’s the cosmic runoff for the rest of the state. For me, it’s perfect.”
When Kohn asked about Spring Breakers and what Korine was aiming for in the film, he responded that he liked the idea of spring break while growing up in Nashville. “I like the idea of everyone jumping in a car and heading to the panhandle, the redneck Riviera,” he said. “It was this part of youth—this rite of passage. I like the name: spring break. I like the idea of breaking spring.” Korine then turned every phrase possible out of the words “spring break,” much to the audience’s amusement.
“I wanted to make a movie that was like a pop poem,” he said. “I wanted to make something that was closer to music, like a pop song. Something that was more menacing like a Britney Spears song or something. That’s why I felt like I needed to have those actresses (Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, and his wife, Rachel Korine) in the movie. They were of the culture and of the time. Characters like Alien (James Franco) were like kids I went to school with.”
However, it wasn’t smooth sailing from Spring Breakers to The Beach Bum. Korine said he had written a movie, The Trap, that had fallen apart a month before shooting began in Miami when one of the actors pulled out over a schedule conflict. “It’s kind of like a gangster film, almost like a genre film. It’s pure menace. It’s super violent. It’s about a rapper who lives in Miami, the guy who he grew up with gets out of prison and comes for him.” Korine said he planned on going back and making The Trap a reality.
“Rather than get depressed or freaked out, I needed to make something right away,” said Korine, “I wrote the opposite of that, so I wrote a comedy. Wanted to do something with more of a stoner vibe.”
Korine said he felt like that the character McConaughey plays in The Beach Bum was unlike anything else the actor has played before. “I always like playing with the real-life persona, what’s authentic to the person and what’s made up, and then twist it and throw it to the stratosphere,” he said. Later, Korine told the crowd that McConaughey’s character, Moondog, pees off boat decks and docks. “A lot of times, we would just film him drink and pee. That’s probably one of the purest things you can do as a human, simultaneously drink and pee. That’s the essence of his character, someone who’s taking in and putting out all the time. Key West was the perfect place for that.”
“I just wanted to make people crack up,” said Korine. “It’s a lot about getting stoned and just like relaxing and enjoying the moment. It’s about a character with complete reckless abandon and an inner gift—maybe some would say genius or poetry—of how to wreck yourself with debauchery.”
That kind of carefree and careless spirit was evident in the clip of The Beach Bum Korine brought for the crowd. In the segment, a messy McConaughey stumbles into his daughter’s posh waterfront wedding, interrupting the ceremony officiated by none other than Snoop Dogg playing a character named Lingerie, which Korine said was the rapper’s idea; “He got so high, his clothes actually say Snoop on it in the movie because he wanted to wear his own clothes. I was going to correct it, but I just liked it.”
“I’ll shoot almost the entire movie two or three times in different locations because I never know what I’m going to like until I’m cutting and putting it together."
The artfully messy look of Korine’s films is directly influenced by his catch-as-catch-can style of filmmaking. He said he wasn’t a stickler for continuity yet will almost always do multiple takes. “I’ll shoot almost the entire movie two or three times in different locations because I never know what I’m going to like until I’m cutting and putting it together,” he said, “and it’s a very nontraditional way of covering a film.”
When talking about the start of Korine’s career, Kohn asked about the advice fellow film provocateur, Werner Herzog, gave the young director. “He’d seen an early [cut] before the movie [Gummo] came out,” said Korine. “And then I got a phone call from him, ‘You’re the last foot soldier in the army. And it’s your duty to make film!’ There’s one scene in the movie where the kid is taking a bath in dirty bathwater, and for whatever reason, I taped a piece of raw bacon onto the wall behind his head...And for some reason, Herzog was obsessed with the bacon. ‘How did you do the bacon?’” Korine said he later flew to San Francisco to meet his longtime hero and "we’ve been friends ever since.”
"I try to make movies that are very specific to the way I think I want to see them in the way I want to see them."
Not everyone warmed up to Gummo like Herzog, and Korine remembered what the director told him about handling criticism. “On the one hand, it was winning awards— the landscape of movies was different than it is now. You were really dependent on mostly mainstream publications and criticism. In my mind—I was a kid at 23 or 24—I believed that even people who hated the movie would see merit in the film and that there was goodness in the film. Then The New York Times’ Janet Maslin wrote this article that it was the 'worst movie of the year.' That was in the days of faxes, so I was just looking at this fax and thinking, it’s fucking worse than Eight Heads in a Duffle Bag?! Are you kidding me?!’ He called me laughing, ‘This is the greatest thing for the movie ever. In 10 years, you’ll understand. This is destined for cult status.’ Then he hung up on me.”
“It’s like everything,” Korine said. “You try to fortify yourself. I try to make movies that are very specific to the way I think I want to see them in the way I want to see them. There’s a specific narrative structure, pacing, antinarrative sometimes, characters...I just do my best. I try to make joy with that. I try to make beautiful images and moments, and then, I put the movies out there. However they’re received in the moment is one thing, and then usually it changes with time...sometimes. I go on and keep making things. I try not to stop and analyze too much because I’m always wrong. I’m just happy to be in a place where I can keep creating. And then, the films eventually find the audience.”