Imperfect Harmony

With julien donkey-boy, director Harmony Korine continues his tradition of making flawed but fascinatingly belligerent cinema

CP: It strikes me as a generational thing. These days, much of the great world cinema goes largely undistributed, and the doomsaying critics don't seem willing anymore to expend the energy required to keep up with it--which only makes things worse.

KORINE: It definitely works both ways: There's a lack of directors making innovative films, but there's also a lack of critics and audiences trying to seek out such films. You know, the Sixties' New Wave came from something: It came from dissatisfaction, an unwillingness to accept the traditional narrative film. The New Wave was almost like an uproar, a kind of revolution in cinema. And now we have a culture dominated by these careerist "independent" filmmakers who aren't any different from studio filmmakers.

And almost all of the repertory theaters are gone. You can say, Well, if people wanted to, they could rent the great films on video--but that's not cinema. If I had seen all the films that influenced me in my home, on my TV set, I would be a much different director, a much different person. Those movies were conceived to be big; they were meant to be projected at 24 frames [per second]. Cinema is overwhelming and television is underwhelming, no matter what.

Anger is an energy: julien donkey-boy director Harmony Korine
Anger is an energy: julien donkey-boy director Harmony Korine

CP: Then how do you address critics who find fault with your choice to shoot on video and project on a big screen?

KORINE: I don't really understand that criticism. No matter if you shoot your film on video or 35[mm], ultimately, if it's going to be projected, it's on a strip of 35mm film. The way you go about shooting doesn't really matter. What drew me to video wasn't the aesthetic of video so much as the intimacy that video provided. It's just a completely different psychology on the set when you're using a palm-sized camera, shooting without huge lighting crews and huge sets, and without worrying about film stock. What video does for me is that it allows me to improvise, technically, as quickly as my mind is working--almost in a musical way. You can do things in-camera at the spur of the moment, shooting in different speeds, at different exposures--whatever I want. For some scenes in julien donkey-boy, there'd be 20 people each holding a camera in a single room.

CP: Sounds like a big job for the editor.

KORINE: Oh, yeah. There was, like, a hundred hours of footage. But [the film] only took about three months to edit. We just started pulling apart the movie and experimenting. There was no chronological order to the scenes until the second-to-last week [of editing]. The way the film was shot and how it ended up were totally different.

CP: Is this the way you made Gummo?

KORINE: No. Gummo was, like, 85 percent scripted. After Gummo, I felt dissatisfied with the way films were made--with the lack of intimacy, and with how impersonal they were. I didn't like the pressures of only being able to shoot a certain number of takes, because I wanted angles from all directions, and I wanted the actors to just keep going and going for hours if they felt like it. So immediately I thought the only way to shoot [julien donkey-boy] was on video. I wanted 20 cameras--and I couldn't shoot with 20 35mm cameras.

CP: What is the film about, for you?

KORINE: That's one of those things that I don't really talk about. I try really hard to make a film that defies description. julien donkey-boy is about so many different things, on so many different levels. I don't really think it's about any one thing. I just say it's about a life.

CP: What's the most gratifying response you've ever had from a viewer?

KORINE: After a screening of Gummo in Canada, this guy came up to me and called me a fascist. Then he tried to stab me with a fork. I took it as a compliment.


julien donkey-boy starts Friday at U Film Society; (612) 627-4430.

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