“Poetry” and “video games” aren’t two sensibilities we see meshed together in cinema often. Harmony Korine, perhaps one of the most divisive figures in the indie world of the past two decades, set out to do just that: make a poetic video game.
When we spoke to him for his crime comedy, Spring Breakers, he told us how he wanted his movie to have the immersive quality of a game, where the viewer is actively participating. Based on the film’s reactions, both positive and negative, Korine definitely avoided anything coming close to a passive experience.
Here’s what else the writer and director of Spring Breakers had to say about his latest work:
Your films are often more meditative. Have you always been meaning to make a propulsive film like Spring Breakers?
Definitely. I felt like the subject matter was more of a pop poem. It had this strange progression and liquid narrative, and the film is based in that kind of energy. You find a lot of it in the shooting and editing. The script is only, like, 50% of what the movie will be. The script more pertains to the ideas of the story. In the editing I put the film together, which is where it all happens. It becomes a jam with all these different elements.
Have you found in the past that your scripts are only 50% of the movie?
To various degrees. A lot of it is done through the preparation, rehearsals, the sound, and the camera. Once you figure out how you want it to feel, it becomes a process of trying to get in a trance of making the feel.
And you wanted it to feel like a video game?
I wanted it to be a video game in a way it can be completely immersive and transformative. It’s something that requires energy from the viewer. You have to be open to the experience of it. I wanted it to be relentless and exciting in a way that’s different from normal narrative films.
Are you always this audience-conscious when making a movie?
Of course. I’m always thinking about making things that have a presence, and I always think about that. Whether people like or dislike the film is always secondary to the fact that they have to take hold, notice it, accept it, and be aware of it.
You’ve said how your stories come from your imagination, not so much from real life. What sparked the idea for Spring Breakers?
I don’t know. I guess I’ve been collecting spring break imagery for a couple of years, which I was taking for paintings, artworks, and other things. I started to noticed these hyper-sexualized and violent people doing the most debauched things, but all around it was all these childlike pop-culture indicators and details. There was this coded inner-language which seemed cool to me. I enjoyed seeing all these things play simultaneously.
And there’s an ambiguity to some of that imagery. Some people will see the first few minutes of the film as something to aspire for, while others will see opposite. Personally, which side do you land on?
I think it’s like anything with life. There are things about it that are enjoyable, but it’s about how much of it you can take and when it stops being enjoyable. A lot of it is about the length of it. If you see that in a five second flash it can be something of pure beauty, but if you extend that same image out to 20 or 30 seconds it can go from beauty to horror to beauty again. I just love how time affects things. The first hour of a party can be amazing, but by hour six you’re drowned in puke.
[Laughs] The opening really throws you into the deep end. I’m just curious, did you ever imagine or have an idea of keeping that going for a good 15 to 20 minutes?
That would be hard to keep going. That would only be for the real believers.
[Laughs] Did you know early on you wanted to set the tone of the film that way?
Yeah, I did. I wanted to start off with the most in-your-face and “go for the gold” [style] from the start.
How do you approach a scene like that? Do you get very hands on with how the partying should look or do you let them play around?
It’s both those things. You film a certain way and let it happen organically. At some point you say, “Oh, it needs more of this,” so you start to manipulate. At other times you’re just inventing completely. Sometimes the finished product is a combination of those things. A scene can very quickly go from something very documentary based in the tonal truth to something that’s a complete fabrication.
Does that sentiment apply for the overall story and main cast as well?
Yeah, it’s really the whole essence for how the film is created. You never want anyone to know what’s real or not real. Like, you want people to go in thinking the film made itself. You want a movie to always exist that way.
When it comes to making people believe Alien is real, how did you and Mr. Franco go about building that character?
For like a year before shooting I would send him videos, audio clips, and photographs. When we were in Florida prepping we’d drive through the hood, roll the windows down, smoke cigars, and stare out the window. I’d be like, “Alright, this is where you’re from, got robbed at, and there’s where you robbed your first spring breaker.” He would take it all in. The Alien character is this insane interpretation.
Alien is one of your more broadly comic characters, but your films have always had a sense of humor to them.
While making a movie I’m always trying to entertain myself. You always want things to work in that way. I always want to make the characters funny in some ways, even if they’re doing horrible things.
You do have Alien robbing what appears to be a wedding, which I’d say represents your goal pretty well.
Yeah. I just dreamt that up while thinking what would be hilarious. I thought watching them all rob a fucking wedding with pants that say “DTF” on the back would be classic.
[Laughs] The scene where Alien sings a Britney Spears song is already being heavily talked about. Why Britney Spears?
You know, I’ve always liked that song. I thought it was connected to the feel of the movie, in the way that it’s this beautiful, poppy, and fearless song on the surface, but it has this progressive pathology to violence. I always wanted to do a song to that sequence.
Spring Breakers is now in theaters.