Youth and Innocence Denied: A Brief Look at the Obscene World of Harmony Korine

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Across today’s contemporary cinematic landscape, few filmmakers and screenwriters stand out as much as Harmony Korine.

Born in 1973 in Bolinas, California, Harmony Korine was introduced to the world of cinema at a very early age. His father was a tap dancer and producer who worked for PBS on documentaries that, in Harmony’s words, “[were an] array of colorful characters.” Harmony spent most of his childhood in a commune in San Francisco, watching movies with his father and understanding that “there was a poetry in cinema that[he] had never seen before that was so powerful.”

He would eventually move to Nashville, Tennesse to attend high school, where he continued to return to San Francisco during the summer to spend time, “skateboarding, living on rooftops, running away from[his] parents, getting in fights.” It was around this time that he first remembers getting into movies, but the idea of actually making films did not happen until later in high school.He would eventually uproot and moveto New York to live with his grandmother, where he studied Dramatic Writing at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University for one semester before dropping out to pursue a career as a professional skateboarder.

Scroll down below to read "Youth and Innocence Denied", One Block Down's latest editorial into the obscene world of renowned cinematic mind, Harmony Korine.

"Try a life of crime. Write about it."

While he spent years sharpening his aesthetic approach and dipping in and out of his various hobbies, his first big breakthrough came with the Larry Clark-directed 1995 movie ‘Kids’. A young Korine met Clark in the now-famous Washington Square Park while skating with some friends.

Clark was immediately captivated by the pulsing youth cultures ruling New York in the ‘90s, and wanted to imbue his movie with real perspective and real-life experiences from someone at the heart of this bubbling movement. Needless to say, bringing Korine on board was a resounding success, with him going on to finish the script in just three weeks.

Even though the movie didn’t have a particularly large distribution, it soon became a cult favorite, inserting the name “Harmony Korine” into the modern filmmaker’s lexicon. His capability to unearth and showcase the nuances of youth culture and portray the disparity of someone denied their innocence was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before. And even though ‘Kids’ painted an evocative picture of the most mundane sides of being young, it never exploited these characteristics, but instead used them to mirror parts of ourselves throughout the movie.

This idea was further amplified when his directorial debut ‘Gummo’ premiered at the Telluride Film Festival a few years later in 1997. Unlike ‘Kids’, his latest endeavour sparked immediate outrage, while simultaneously receiving mass acclaim for its courage. For lack of a better word, it left many feeling “confused.” A mosaic-like assembly of ignorant behaviour, ‘Gummo’ magnified ideas of neglect, squalor, and decay. For all its discomfort and repulsiveness however, the movie did wonders to hook viewers, forcing the question of “Does a life like this really exist?” down the throats of everyone in a position of privilege.

The experimental drama focused on day-to-day life of Xenia, Ohio, a small town devastated by a series of tornadoes throughout the ‘70s. The resulting cinematic did not have anything mildly similar to atraditional linear structure, but was more a divisive collage of independent stories united by their sheer bizarreness. Despite the rarity and off-kilter nature of the movie’s many disparate scenes, Korine never once clarifies the extenuating circumstances that may have shaped the lives of its oddball characters, but still expresses a certain sympathy towards such histories.

In the years following ‘Kids’ and ‘Gummo’, Korine continued to develop his body of work, expanding into everything from books and commercials, to sought-after photographic collections, uniting it with his distinctive aesthetic and deep sensitivity to the many undercurrents of those living on the fringes of society. If you stop at the surface of his works you may feel a certain disgust and discomfort, but once you scratch at them in the same way Korine scratches at our preconceived ideas of right and wrong, you are presented with a truly honest picture of reality.

“I like things that look like mistakes.”

His ability to showcase an already known world in a manner that makes us question it all over again led to the release of movies like ‘Spring Breakers’ in 2012. Set in Florida, this distinctly modern departure follows four girls who commit a robbery to get the money to go on spring break in St. Petersburg.

After a few days of drug-fueled partying, the protagonists are arrested for possessing narcotics, only to be bailed out by a strange figure called Alien, played by James Franco. The four girls however re-enter a vortex of drugs, violence, and money, paralleling the many untold vices from Korine’s earlier productions.

What starts as another classicteen movie soon reveals a more complex structure and truth in itself, a reflection on the superficiality of today’s youth and their self-destructive obsessions. While innocence was denied by environmental circumstances in Korine’s earlier productions, ‘Spring Breakers’ shifts the cause to the youth themselves. It is here that “reality” can be understood as a celebration of misinterpreted youth, brought about by a distorted vision of the adult world. Korine essentially underpinned the idea that we are exasperating our own disorder and poverty.

If there were ever two words to describe Harmony Korine’s library of endeavours, it would have to be the overused “reality check.” While the honesty of his works shock, awe, and even disgust, they show us a side of society that we need to be confronted with in order to build a more accurate understanding of reality.

With his dissonant spews of imagery underpinning the toxic side of our own self-interest and self-indulgence, we are no different to the freaks we so morbidly gawk at in any one of Korine’s productions.

"If an actor is a crack smoker, let him go out between takes, smoke crack, and then come back and throw his refrigerator out the window!"

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