May 16, 2013 8:00PM

Interview: Harmony Korine

"I had a dream at one point of living my life as a criminal and then I kind of just did that with the movies."
Harmony with the ATL Twins. Photo via @atltwins' Instagram

You would have heard about the bikinis, guns, gangsters, Britney Spears sing-a-longs and Skrillex soundtrack of Harmony Korine's latest film Spring Breakers. We caught up with the legendary director to talk about his latest pop culture masterpiece.

David Michael: In the US and Europe you've had great screen averages for Spring Breakers as a limited screen release film; such a reaction is different to your previous work. How have you received it personally?
Harmony Korine: It's been kind of amazing; the reaction has been pretty big and spectacular. Considering my films normally take a while to kind of measure the reaction, which is normally cumulative over a decade, this one is a bit different.

It's like instant gratification!
Yeah, and I'll take it.

Normally your films have dealt with pockets of rural America or disfranchised society, while Spring Breakers deals with the universal theme of gloabalised culture, where kids who are into Disney and Taylor Swift also listen to Drake, have tattoos and dress gangster.
Exactly. It's like a cultural mash-up. That was what I started to notice — that in some ways there was no underground culture left, or there was no cultural hierarchy. It's been obliterated. That whole idea [of cultural heirarchy] is completely outdated; it's an old person's stance. There's a new vernacular that has arisen, and we're just making sense of it. There's things that are either interesting and not interesting, that either have merit or don't, and so the film is kind of a refiltering of all those things. It's a creative reinterpretation of that kind of zeitgeist spirit.

Did you cast the girls with their Disney connections, with that in mind?
Yeah, as I was writing and talking to the casting agents I thought it would be amazing if we could get girls that were representative of that kind of pop mythology, or who are somehow connected to that world in some way, as it adds another layer.

Another difference from the period when you did Gummo and Julien Donkey Boy is the influence of social media. Some of the actresses in Spring Breakers have millions of Twitter followers, and, for example, Britney Spears saw Selena Gomez singing 'Baby, One More Time' at the press conference and tweeted that she wanted to see the film, and that tweet went out to 25 million people...
Now it's all become the same thing — for this movie, you could say that Britney Spears tweeting about the film is actually part of the film. It's a sub-narrative to the film. It's like a micro-pop wormhole.

If this film was made in the 60s, it would live up to Godard's prophesy that all you need to make a film is a gun and a girl, but now there's so many levels to it.
At the same time though, maybe it is that simple too. It's everything and nothing.

Considering some of the girls' Disney connections, were there any concerns from them?  It's a big leap of faith…
The thing is, people know the films I make. I go hard and don't hide things, I'm out there trying to make magic happen and I'm trying to do it in a different way. It's like, you either go for it or you don't. I was lucky that all the actresses were kind of at a point in their life where they were ready to try something different.

When you wrote the film didn't you stay in the same hotel where Hulk Hogan's reality show was being filmed?
What happened was I went to Panama City and it was like Ground Zero. People were tearing the hotel up, lighting things on fire, having sex on chandeliers and vomiting everywhere, and I was like, "Fuck it, I've got to get out of here." Then I ended up at the Marriot Hotel about 20 miles away, where they were filming the Hulk Hogan show with dwarves. For me, that was actually a much calmer environment to work in.

Spring Breakers is obviously a continuation of the visual and sonic style of Lotus Community Centre (with Val Kilmer), which you shot before it. It's something I've been trying to develop for a while, this idea of micro-scenes with looped dialogue, a kind of liquid narrative. I wanted to work with a language that was more experiential, something that veers into almost a drug or trance experience.

You worked again with Gaspar Noe's cinematographer Benoît Debie [Irreversible and Enter the Void] who certainly helps create that experience…
The reason he's good is he's inventive. I would say, "I want you to make this movie feel like it's lit with candy, using Skittles for lights and Starburst chews for lenses." For me it was like making a painting, where the colours become characters.

Skrillex's music certainly also leaves its mark on the film.
Again, he was connected culturally and I liked his music. Him and Cliff [Martinez], their music is very much about a specific energy and I wanted the film to be unrelenting, beautiful and bombastic, and almost be this intersection between sound design, sound effects and classic musical composition.

I saw your Spring Breaker SXSW press conference on youtube, where you showed your first ever film A Bundle a Minute. How did that feel?It was kind of hilarious, as I made it when I was around 15. I was squirming a little bit, but what are you going to do?

I was surprised how the monologue narrative was very Woody Allen-esque. Was he an influence at the time?
Yeah, definitely. I think at that point, I was into Woody Allen movies, John Cassavetes movies and even, like, Spike Lee films.

Your teenage years in New York were very un-Spring break like. Didn't you live rough and day-to-day, or is that mythology?
A lot of my life was like that, I just lived where I lived and never really paid attention. I had a dream at one point of living my life as a criminal and then I kind of just did that with the movies.

You've embraced your return to Nashville the past few years. Is it a case of having a settled family life at home allows you to be more violent in your creativity?
Yeah, that's actually true. I think what it is when I was young, I had a similar aggression, but I didn't know how to tame it so much, so I lived life in a way that was pretty unhealthy in some ways and out there. I didn't really know how to shut it off. I couldn't tell the difference between making movies and life.

David Michael