Harmony Korine: Trash Humpers

"Harmony Korine" Drawing by Douglas Pollard

Dressed all in white and with a smile, Harmony upon meeting me asked if I’d ever added an “I – A” to my last name.  Thus began our what was actually a pretty normal conversation for two filmmakers to have.

Cinemalogue: What time did you come in?

Harmony Korine: Well I’ve been filming rum ads in Central American, so I didn’t get in until late.

C: Wait, you were doing rum ads?

HK: Yeah.

C: What company?

HK: The company’s called Havana Rum. I don’t think they sell it here. Oh no, sorry! It’s called Havana Club.

C: They wouldn’t if it’s Cuban, I guess.

HK: Well it’s a French-Cuban company.

C: Wow, have you heard about the screenings here, they have been touting another story, say you were in dream therapy, I don’t recall the details. But it was a much more dramatic story then Rum Commercials. Do you attend your screenings?

HK: Well I haven’t been in a while, but I’ve been to a couple. Cause it’s pretty fun.

C: They played you opening night against “Kick-Ass,” and I was able to go.

HK: Oh you went the first night! I heard about that, yes.

C: Really? What did you hear?

HK: Well that’s all I heard. I never even heard of “Kick-Ass,” but that it was a big movie.

C: My friends were going to “Kick-Ass” and I waited in line with them and got in, and I just started feeling sick from the morning and it was crowded. So I left, I don’t know, because…

HK: You didn’t want to see it! I don’t blame you.

C: It had a weird feel and I just it might start everything off sort of dirty or wrong, or sourly. And I was already not feeling well so, that coupled the thought of seeing Nick Cage’s hair for the first time on screen.

HK: It’s just another superhero movie.

C: Well anyway, so for whatever reason, I, at the last moment, hurried over to see your film. And I was the last badge holder to get in, before the tickets folk were let in. The only seats were in the very front two rows, which actually was really great. So I got to sit with the ticket holders who’d been waiting in line for some time, and the turn-aways from “Kick-Ass.”

HK: Oh no, those people probably walked out.

C: I had a real trooper next to me, apparently she was a city council person, and the kid next to me kept whispering “this is amazing” over and over again. While the woman one the other side of me held her hand to her mouth as she witnessed the death of the dream. It was I can only imagine both a terrifying and profound experience for her.

HK: For sure, that’s what I was hoping for, I know it’s not going to happen, but to show it in some kind of school situation.

C: You know, I could see the reception for it there to go quite well actually.

HK: I know it’s sounds weird but, eventually before I started making the film, I was hoping to make a movie that, it was my dream to make a film that somehow could connect with the tween set. You know what I mean, like the Miley Cyrus, like the Jonas Brothers.

C: There is actually a woman running around with a cardboard cut out standee of Miley Cyrus trying to get filmmakers to pose with it.

HK: Really that’s funny, well I know that they like things with like novelty, and that maybe somehow they’d be seduced by the kind of insanity of the situation.

C: I know that last year there was a field trip day at one of the venues, and they had both a retirement community and a high school group there on the same day. They had the buses and everything all over the parking lot. Anyway, I saw a pretty provocative film, called “Afterschool,” and the elders openly refused the film. I assume based on the themes being presented. Most of them left before the film was over, but the kids staid. While I don’t think they got the film, they stuck around and watched until the credits were finished.

HK: Really, now was that for “Trash Humpers?”

C: No, a film the played at SXSW last year, called “Afterschool.”

HK: I expect a 10 to 15 percent walk out from my film.

C: I think you might’ve got it at the first screening.

HK: I hope so, its just that, the thing is that you can make the argument that it’s not actually a movie, in the traditional sense. I wasn’t sure that calling it a film was the right thing to do, it was it’s own thing. It’s more like an artifact or a found piece of footage, but it should feel more like something that was discarded. Like it was buried somewhere in a ditch, it was meant to work more in that kind of, watch it and there wasn’t any kind of formal narrative.  Do you know what I mean? And I’m starting to believe that this idea of movies and films is starting to change, and this traditional kind of three-act structure, beginning middle and end and lasts two hours, that’s starting to maybe be an old idea. That maybe, there’s something else out there.

C: I don’t know, there is something different that’s been happening for a while though now, which is how we perceive entertainment. The means to procure a quick laugh or tear comes from, well at first America’s Funniest Home Videos, but then now with YouTube and “treadmill humor.” These situations created an accessible opportunity to audiences to bring their own stories or experiences to these very, very short vignettes. So for whatever reason they just went with it, they didn’t stop to think wait I have to think here! That was what it was and people accept that.

HK: Which is strange because that is what was in my mind when I was making Gummo, that’s what I felt at the time very strongly about, a specific direction that was exciting. There was a fragmentation or a collage element to it, that was poignant.

C: As a teenager, I watched that film with my mother…

HK: Gummo?

C: Yeah.

HK: You watched it with your Mom? [laughs]

C: Yeah, I had just found IFC or whatever and I taped all these movies and I showed her. She didn’t like it at all. At the time, I’m not sure I liked it either because I was in a phase where I was obsessed with finding movies that we could both like. It always made me very nervous because she didn’t like it and I used get really weird if someone were to bring it up. Because she was so mad at the film. [Harmony laughs] Around the same time this girl I liked, had a picture of the boy with the accordion, and she though he was really cute. So I thought I’d try and learn to play the accordion. Which never occurred, but that was how I remember that film.

HK: Really? [laughs] I never heard that. How did that turn out for you?

C: Well, I didn’t learn how to play the accordion. It was not a successful story.

HK: Oh shit.

C: Back to Trash Humpers though, it has a similar sort of approach to the scenes.

HK: I wouldn’t even call them scenes, I mean, like when we were editing them I started out calling them scenes and then, I stopped. They are just moments, you know, like in a home movie, it’s just a collection of moments. Trash Humpers was more about documenting that action.  We never did anything twice, there was no kind of coverage, you’d never go to a close up. It was only, it was about, you would wake up in the morning you’d have a group of people, you’d have a camera, and start to walk through the woods. You would come out the other side and you’d see a strip mall. You’d throw a rock through a window. You would film that, you would walk to a house, a street light, you would hump it. Hump the mailbox. You would knock on the door, and then walk in the house. And it just became a kind of documentation of vandalism. Once I figured that out in my mind the structure of it, the look of it, the feel, and that it was more like an artifact. Then I thought to myself, there really could be no right or wrong. Are there mistakes in home videos? You know what I’m saying? It is what it is. And so then the editing process was more like picking a moment, think of it starting and ending randomly. And that there is never attention paid to a bigger moment. Like you wouldn’t necessarily pay more attention to an amateurish shot or you would to someone being killed. Its all the same thing, its all part of the same thing.

C: There is definitely the sense when you’re watching the film, and I’ve seen quite a few other films that are share this sense, that when you are watching the film on a surface level, the cuts seem to occur arbitrarily or randomly. I think there is a way to watch Trash  Humpers, and presumed this, but I really do not think that mentality could last the duration of the film. It’s the opinion of the walkout or what have you. For me, that sense I’m talking about is an increasing comfort that I feel with each consecutive cut. You it isn’t [in a crazy voice] “well let’s cut here to and what the heck.”

HK: That’s a very good observation, it’s made to look like that, but it’s not necessarily like that.

C: You couldn’t create the feelings. I mean you might, I guess… it might be interesting to watch footage like that in this way but, I don’t think…

HK: There is a manipulator, there is a maker behind it.

C: That is what I appreciate the most about it. It’s capturing amusement, the [Humpers] aren’t filming anything that doesn’t entertain them. The character of the camera operator looks for that. I mean sometimes they are less then excited about the performer they are watching, but they still pay very close attention. They are very polite.

HK: They are self contained. They just think of things in opposite terms. You know what I mean? Because all they want to do is bad, but they want to do it beautifully. Do you know what I mean? They kind of want to turn vandalism and destruction and chaos into something that’s transcendent and beautiful. So like the thing where people go to sleep they’re awake and vise versa. They’re just living a life in terms of philosophy only everything is opposite.

C: It really is a sweet and tender movie in a lot of ways like that. It doesn’t end on any sort of negativity, unless negativity is projected upon it. It leaves you with not a sense of cruelty but quite the opposite, it is intimate and sweet. It comes back to what I was saying earlier the woman next to me is terrified as it concludes. When the guy on my right is and has been “on the level” or whatever the whole time. Yet in some way I help but think her experience was far superior to his. I can’t imagine what her day was like the next morning.

HK: That’s interesting, I mean, it is interesting, because I wonder if movies today still have that kind of effect. Like when I used to watch movies like Tati’s films there was always the possibility that it could change the way you thought about life. Or it could cast a kind of a glow on you. Now there’s so much information out there I wonder if people could still be shocked or if people could still be moved in that way. In that very deep way, in a way that is difficult to articulate. That’s very exciting to me. That someone, you keep making films, because you want people to be moved in someway that’s inexplicable. In a way that’s difficult to articulate in words, and the movies are necessarily about liking or disliking. They’re about changing, they’re about going through you, and they’re experiential. Like where you, where you’ve been emotionally altered. Its not exactly like you know why, like a life experience.

C: Its very interesting because I think a lot of writer and a lot of directors work very hard to get that out of actors and their plots. Just like the people in the film its that turn around, but only it is with the viewer where we are creating a sense of dramatic conflict, desire and expectation. That’s one thing that is really important in Trash Humpers, and whether or not it works on people is that it can change how you expect the next sixty minutes of your life.

HK: Yeah, yeah, yeah, its like that thing, and I’ve said it before. I’ve never been concerned with or I’ve never desired, I’ve never been obsessed with making perfect sense. The idea that you would create a perfect nonsense. That’s something that is much more exciting to me.

C: As we are talking here, I sort of wish I had been angered by the film in some way. Just really upset with you, even though I’m happy I’m not. I was frustrated with the film and disoriented by it, but I liked that feeling. In a lot of ways the fact the I reacted so diversely to the moments of the film, was pretty inspiring. There is a quote that says you don’t go into a theater to think, you go there to be thought for. That’s sort of a rule of thumb for all your films though isn’t it?

HK: Yeah, there is something different about this one. In someways, I don’t even know, in someways, this one might be my favorite. Just because it is very, I know know, there is something special about it.

C: Oh definitely there is definitely something special about a film that prompts people to quote for a week or so after seeing it! Every time you hear one thing mentioned from it, your mind races through the song, the laugh…

HK: Or the expression, “Make it, make it, don’t take it.” Yeah, the cackle is the thing. I think, it just happened very naturally too. I was  like, ohhh, well maybe that was it. Maybe it is thematically connective, these horrific cackles, maybe that becomes the connector.

C: How did the monologues come about, there are these, for lack of a better word, stand-up comics come about. Where did they come from?

HK: The entertainers, well, you know it is different with each. They are all people that I know, a lot of them I knew as a kid growing up in Nashville. Some of them are like comedians who tell jokes with punch lines. They are kind of like bedroom musicians or closet vaudevillian actors and something like that. I always liked that type of thing. A lot of that was different people I knew that had these types of very specific talent. And that were also, kind of, marginally eccentric. At some point the Trash Humpers, if you look at the movie, one of the things is that they are always searching for entertainment. There’s like four or five moments or scenes where they’re being given stand up routines or people playing music for them or breaking light bulbs. Whatever it is, all they really care about is fornicating with trash, smashing things, breaking things, burning things, fucking things, fellating things, and being entertained. In some ways I really love all those things too. Minus the fellating of course.

Trash Humpers opens in New York and Los Angeles in May and Austin in June. The film will then be released on DVD by Drag City Records sometime in September. I guarantee you this film’s 35mm print will play at midnights on into the ether. If it plays and you are around it is worth a watch, if only to be a part of conversation. At least that’s what a pretty honest friend of mine told someone after he saw it at SXSW.