Spring Breakers (2013) & Harmony Korine Q&A
The L’enfant terrible of cinema are a wretched and shocking bunch. From Buñuel and his moustache twirling partner in crime Dali challenging bourgeois conventions with Un Chien Andalou in 1929, from Tod Browning’s dabbling with the disfigured in Freaks, these early demagogues had temperaments malevolent enough to send any righteous and respectable film critics retreating to their fainting couch like some fragile, offended 17th century courtesan. In the post war years a new scandalous breed of artisans began chipping away at the borders of taste and decency, particularly men whose treatment and voyeurism of women in their work have been somewhat controversial, from the juvenile Baby Doll in 1956 to Hitchcock’s more vicious period between Rear Window to Frenzy, or Kubrick’s carefully discrete adaption of Nabokov’s Lolita in 1961 young women’s bodies became increasingly compromised and sexualized, in tune with the revolutionary free love mantra of the groovy 1960’s, or at least that’s how the Church and Right-Wing puritans decried these sacrilegious screeds. In the increasingly permissive 1970’s sexual violence reared its ugly head alongside wider representations of screen ferocity, the twin fulcrum of offence resting in the viewfinder of grizzled Sam Peckinpah. Quite rightly his hinting that Susan George’s ‘no’ might actually mean ‘yes’ in Straw Dogs still spawns outrage, it’s an ambivalent moment which seeded a fertile ground for cinema exploitation, finding permanent purchase in the annals of the depraved The Last House On The Left and I Spit On Your Grave where hell truly hath no fury like a woman scorned, both of which were recently violated with neutered and redundant 21st century remakes. As the new millennium was birthed Gasper Noe produced the most horrific rape and murder on-screen with his cyclical ЯЯƎVƎЯSIBLƎ which he accompanied with the naked gaze of his nausea inducing Enter The Void, deeper in frosty Europe Lars Von Trier agitates from within and outside his cinematic landscapes with Brechtian assaults on American hegemony, female emancipation and sexual disorders throughout his chilled and polemical work. Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me dragged the neo-noir into the 21st century to show the face of evil unvarnished, battered and bruised, and the duo behind the throughly reprehensible and tourism annihilating A Serbian Film ploughed new depths of offensive, if only by having the temerity to combine their visions of gruesome Gehennic abuse, necrophilia and gang-rape with some rather elaborate production values. The latest provocateur par excellence is Harmony Korine and his trademark American palette, his usual emphasis on the poor uneducated so-called white trash of working class mid-West America supplanted to the nihilistic hedonism of sun drenched Florida and a quartet of teenage strumpets, in one of the most seditious and subversive, striking and shocking films of the year. – Spring Breakers.
It’s not difficult to get the initial sparks of incensed disgust flaming when you deliberately take clean-cut, wholesome Vanessa Hudgens (no, not being American I’d never heard of her either) and family friendly actresses such as proto-Stepford Disney android Selena Gomez and bloody them up a little, pour ’em into sparse bikinis, hand ’em a cocktail and a silver plated Uzi, I dunno about you but I’d say they scrub up pretty well. Named as Candy and Faith – heh – they are joined by Brit (Ashley Benson) and Cotty (Rachel Korine), Faith being the slightly more straight-laced sophomore who finds herself isolated on campus with her more adventurous friends during the Easter holidays due to their combined financial destitution. Hatching a controversial plan Cotty, Candy and Brit knock over a local diner and raise the necessary funds from the terrified patrons, with Faith in tow the gang zoom off to the sun bleached climes of Florida for a orgiastic cocktail of coke,cognac and cock to satisfy their hedonistic desires – it’s time for Spring Break. After one particularly insane party gets completely out of hand the girls find themselves arrested and detained at the Governor’s pleasure, petrified of the consequences should their families know of their infractions they glumly await their fate as bail is beyond their means, unless they bite the bullet and call their parents or guardians. But a saviour appears in the most unlikely of forms, enter ‘Alien’ (James Franco, absolutely hysterical), a white trash, cornrow haired, dental plated local dealer who takes the girls under his wing and snares them in more dangerous pastures…….
Well, you know me gentle reader, I like to be shocked and offended, to have my throughly passé bourgeois attitudes stabbed, glassed, shived and gangbanged by the offensive antics of any privileged, wealthy, white, middle-class professional provocateur. Actually that isn’t strictly fair, I do subscribe to the opinion that there is genuine purpose and thought to much of the challenging material I identified in my introduction , both artistically and socially, I just also happen to think that the likes of Korine and Von Trier are also quite canny salesmen who look at the modern media cyclone and completely understand how you can effortlessly ensure your product stands out from its peers, I don’t for example believe for one second that Von-Trier ‘accidentally’ made those Hitler remarks at Cannes a few years ago, any more than I was duped by Seth MacFarlane’s ‘Oh god, we’re really gonna go there and do that?’ ‘controversial’ stream of gags during his recent Oscar monologue. These shrewd operators understand that publicity is accelerated with some incandescently dense moral disgust and so-called outrage porn, whether the product in question is worthy of this elevation is another matter which we have to take on a case by case basis, I subscribe to the ideal that like any adult you should give them and the film / book / TV show / album / painting etc. the benefit of the doubt and weigh up the visions and treatment of their subject matter, lest we lurk in the arena where the legions of the ignorant dwell. Alas there are those that appear to believe that presenting or fictionally reenacting horrific and reprehensible behaviour such as rape, or gunplay, or close quarter physical violence as being the the same as endorsing or celebrating the same, although in the case of Spring Breakers it’s more the gender politics that are attracting the scorn and shouting, when the dust has settled it would be interesting to compare the favourable ratio of reviews from male and female commentators. Anecdotally speaking as the Picturehouse host mentioned when they screened the film for staff the audience was split straight down the middle – the blokes hated it and the women loved it. Anyway, I think I’m getting just a little sidetracked here, it’s probably best to actually get onto the film itself…..
My reaction to Spring Breakers can essentially be summarised thus – ten minutes in I was thinking ‘well this is very promising, I hope it keeps this up ‘, at 30 minutes in I was thinking when I could potentially programme a second viewing – and not because of the gratuitous female form on display (honest) but because this is fantastically amusing and vibrantly colourful fun, a movie which gut punches you from its opening frames, like quaffing a litre of vodka laced Sunny Delight Spring Breakers is a candy coated hallucination, a nectarous assault on the ears and eyes. I haven’t laughed this much at a picture for quite some time, if you have the sense of humor which finds eighteen year old bikini clad girls stuffing firearms into people’s faces and screaming ‘GET ON THE GROUND YOU FUCKING MOTHERFUCKERS’ then this will hit your g-spot, just the rubicund, humming photography from Benoit Enter The Void Debies is worth a ticket, he makes the entire film look like it’s a miniature Girls Gone Wild convention shot inside a lava lamp. Korine paces the film on a stuttering loop, yes I’m afraid we’re three for three with yet another picture which is fucking around with cause and effect, with scenes being presented out of sequence with jumps and leaps all over the consecutive dance floor, sometimes scooting ten minutes forward then leaping ten minutes back, it builds the momentum of a techno mix as future and past cadences flow through the film, building crescendos and punching pauses like a narcotic ecstasy rush. This manic energy bleeds from the screen, in no small part due to Skrillex’s scathing, jagged and dirty electronica score, a pungent collaboration with Christian Martinez, a frequent Soderbergh composer. Is it akin to a 90 minute music video? Yes. Does this get tedious and tiresome? I guess that depends on your mood, all I can say that on a big screen with an obviously appreciate audience this effortlessly swept me away.
Yes, the camera lewdly hovers over the women’s gyrating bodies like a half-drunk uncle at a cheerleaders wedding, but the point here is to emphasis the lingering gaze of modern patriarchal cinema, the gender politics are quite clearly on the side of the four heroines considering the films events, a plot which specifically avoids moralising or preaching, it’s a day-glo satire of many facets of youth culture, or more precisely how youth culture is appropriated, absorbed, warped and repackaged by middle-aged TV executives, record producers and Hollywood moguls – have you watched MTV recently? With the fetishisation of firearms, of clothing and other commodities and brands it’s in the same ballpark aesthetically as Natural Born Killers, utilising the stupefying techniques of advertising, the hollow surfaces of the majority of modern capitalist infested media to facilitate the message, in a throbbing environment which isn’t even remotely realistic nor is it intended to be. The hysterical Britney Spears scene (not the one hinted in the trailer but altogether something else) is an instant classic, and James Franco obliterates the sour taste of that tedious Oz film with a jaw-dropping turn as the white trash gangster ‘Alien‘, remember Gary Oldman’s turn in True Romance? Well no word of a lie but this is probably better, its one of the most memorable performances of the year which doesn’t quite descend into parody, and sits well with the rest of the films heightened reality. In some ways the film also reminded me in terms of aura and of Baz Luhrman’s Romeo & Juliet in a terms of its colourful kaleidoscope and exuberant virility ,although Spring Breakers has the added bonus of containing the best ‘snorting rails of coke off of some broads tits’ scene since 1987’s Robocop, unless I’ve overlooked some classics…..
It’s been a while since I’ve graced the Curzon, I think the last visit was Holy Motors which of course didn’t quite jump-start my engine, but this sold-out screening was rapturously received and Korine was a little more lucid than some recent Q&A activitties – this Reddit was doing the rounds recently. Anyone who cites his major influences as Werner Herzog, John Cassavettes and Malick is always going to get the benefit of the doubt in my book, and his unique ability to find beauty in the image of a vomit stained Dunkin Donuts package idly drifting through a Ohio ghetto has certainly carved his own unique ideology and visual panorama. The film was storyboarded from start to finish to achieve that rhythm yet shot guerilla fashion due to the hordes of paparazzi trailing the young starlets, I think that says something about female objectification in and of itself now doesn’t it? He made a great point about working with these clean-cut automaton Disney trained actresses, amusingly pointing out that without fail they turned up on set in costume and knew their lines, marks and call sheet every single day, so say what you will about the Mouse machine but it is churning out consummate professionals, as opposed to the chaos that swarms around the likes of Lindsey Lohan. Avoiding spoilers he kinda contradicted himself by claiming that he approached the four girls as one character which certainly makes sense as the film opens, but this assertion kinda disintegrates as the film vomits along, but we’d best just leave that here.
I also feel vaguely vindicated by his comment that one of the films that he watched as a reference for Spring Breakers was Mann’s crucially and criminally underrated Miami Vice, just for the itchy, coarse, steel wool scrubbed photography alone, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone praise the film for just about anything and the connection is quite a vivid one. Overall this was an enlightening session which proves that he does plan and execute his films beyond the alleged mere shock and controversy lines, there is a purpose and a weight to his creative process and he feels he has something to say, whether or not his assertions chime with the spectators politics is of course another matter. He has kicked his career into the next gear with this one, it’s prompted me to go back and revisit his earlier work which should be quite the daunting journey, I never got round to Trash Humpers which sold-out at the LFF a couple of years ago (just goes to show what degenerate swill attend that festival huh?) and I think I’ve seen one of the films which Korine had Herzog star in (Julien Donkey-Boy perhaps?), having absorbed some reappraisals of Gummo as a quiet masterpiece then I’ll steel myself for a revisit of that distressing reportage, but until then make sure you support this movie with a cinema visit, and just remember ‘Spring Break y’all……. forever;