Harmony Korine is among the most pre-eminent independent American filmmakers, first rising to prominence with his script for Larry Clarke?s 1995 film Kids at just 18. Since then he has written and directed four feature films; Gummo (1997), Julien Donkey Boy (1999), Mister Lonely (2007) and Trash Humpers (2009). He has also written the experimental novel A Crack Up at the Race Riots (1998).
Hi Harmony, how is it going?
Yeah not bad.
For those who?ve heard any recent interviews you have been going through a strange incident recently, can you give us an update?
Ah yeah, this Puerto Rican guy stole a statue I had of this boy fishing, a bronze statue that was made by Baden-Powell. We tried to break into the guys house to get it back but turns out it went really crappy, but I did taser his ass.
So you never got it back?
No? but look at it this way; the guy who stole it is gonna walk with a limp for the rest of his life.
Well that?s something I guess.
So, let?s talk about your new movie Trash Humpers, it's quite unlike anything you?ve done before, or any movie for that matter.
Yeah it was something I made that wasn?t even really conceived as a movie in the traditional sense. It?s more like an artefact or something that had been unearthed. The kinda thing you can imagine buried in a ditch somewhere or floating down a river in a Ziploc bag. It's based on these old people that used to live in my neighbourhood and I would sometimes see fornicating with trash cans.
So the film is based on real people?
Yeah, well I didn?t really know them, I would just see them, they were like the neighbourhood boogie men, and they were perverts, they were always locked away in this basement. These old people would be warehoused in this basement for $19 a month.
You describe the film more as an artefact than a traditional movie, so what was your original intention with the film? Was it always meant for a theatrical release?
Yeah, I mean I didn?t really think of it like that at first, I just wanted to mail it to the doorstep of, you know, local news agencies or places like an old peoples home, the girl scouts, court buildings, you know, or where politicians live and just see what would happen. That was really the first idea, but I was reluctant because I just figured it would take too long to get any response back, so we thought we would try a more traditional way and project it. But at the same time I don?t really care, with this film it doesn?t really matter to me where it ends up or how its watched, it could be projected into a toilet bowl and I?d be happy.
I?m sure that could be done.
[Laughs] Yeah that?s true.
So it seems Trash Humpers was made in quite an unusual way compared to your other movies. Do you prefer this scaled down method of filming as opposed to more traditional productions like Mister Lonely?
Yeah the process was more exciting to me just because it was more free and more immediate, and there wasn?t really any expectation on it, so it was just something and I had an urge to make, and then I acted on it. It's nice being able to just make things as quickly as you can think them up.
In past interviews you have said that you decided to call the movie Trash Humpers because you wanted to be as literal as possible and in doing so avoid misleading people; how has it been received so far? It seems like there is not necessarily one particular or obvious way to appreciate the film.
Yeah it's good, I?m happy. I mean I don?t expect anything, I mean it doesn?t make that much of a difference to me. As long as the movie gets put out there and people get a chance to see it I?m happy, and I hope that people enjoy it. But I never feel that there is a right or wrong way to react to this movie, or a lot of the things I make. You know what I mean? I feel like its all perfect, because it is what it is? It's all perfect.
Yeah I feel what is sometimes most disconcerting and unusual about the movie is the way that it can switch from grotesque horror to something that?s completely hilarious.
Yeah to me it's more like a screwball comedy, more like The Three Stooges.
In terms of the structure, it seems like the film is constructed more from improvised incidents than a narrative strand. How did you go about conceiving it? Was there a script?
With this one basically I had written out a very loose kind of synopsis, and then once the characters were in their kind of prosthetics we really just went out for a couple of weeks and took the cameras and went into the woods or under bridges or behind parking lots and things and basically we?d just document it. It wasn?t really scripted, there was no written dialogue it was more like a home movie or a collection of moments.
You did some pretty wild stuff, and it must not have been that obvious you were shooting a movie; did people ever intervene or call the police or something?
Yeah I was surprised, people were really accommodating? I think it takes a lot to startle people these days.
The characters are pretty extreme. Unlike some of your other work, like Julien Donkey Boy, or Mister Lonely that deals with mental health issues in quite a complex way, the characters in Trash Humpers seem completely without morals.
Yeah, they just transcended morality, or that kind of balance. They destroy things, but they turned it into an art form, like they lived in terms of opposites. It was almost like they were living so much on the fringe that they became these kind of shape shifters or abstractions and their reality was what they invented, and it became something beautiful to them. All these ideas of destruction became a creative act. So in that way you can look at them almost as artists.
Aside from the main trash humping characters, there are others who are in many ways even stranger. Towards the beginning there is little boy who is so into it but doesn?t seem to know really what?s going on at all, who is he? And how did you cast him?
Oh yeah, he?s like a famous boy preacher. He preaches at all the gas stations near my house, he stands on an egg crate and he has the whole bible memorised? and he is already married to an African woman.
That?s so weird. There is another character later in the film that performs a really strange and hilarious stand up routine whereby he just sort of recounts insulting anecdotes. Who was that guy and to what extent was it a performance?
Yeah, that?s exactly who he is, I went to his house and he does stand up, and that?s his routine. He used to only do stand up to blow up dolls. So this was one of his first performances to real people.
I suppose in a way your use of the VHS home movie footage feels very modern, perhaps because of the way people use the Internet now and yet at the same time feels very nostalgic. Is the freedom that the video format provides a preferable one or will you go back to 35mm and more traditional ways of making movies?
Yeah, well here it has more to with the concept of the film, I wanted it to be something that was found, so it needed to be physical. When I was kid I was a child of that era, of VHS cameras and editing things on VCRs. Yeah I guess there is a nostalgia but it's like anything else, it's like format, technology; they are all just instruments. They just each have their sound or tone or look.
Julien Donkey Boy was one the films that was certified as part of the Dogme 95 manifesto, but in a way Trash Humpers goes even further in its singular approach.
Yeah I mean even the way it was edited. It was edited in the exact order it was shot, there was no coverage. It was just kind of a collection of moments.
Thank you so much for your time Harmony, and I?m sorry about your statue.
Oh yeah it's my pleasure man, thank you.
Trash Humpers will be screening at the following locations:
ICA, London: 18 June - 4 July
Dalston Rio, London: 3 July
Quad Theatre, Derby: 12 - 14 July
Showroom, Sheffield: 21 July
The Deaf Institute, Manchester: 24 July
Shop, Nottingham: 31 July
Star & Shadow Cinema, Newcastle: 2 September
Supersonic Festival, Birmingham: 22 October