Filmmaker says he wanted to “make a movie that was like candy.”
After the premiere of Trash Humpers at Toronto in 2009, Harmony Korine is back at TIFF with Spring Breakers, starring James Franco, Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine.
Korine is notorious for the edgy content of his films – Gummo’s cat-drowning scene comes to mind – and his transgressive style has even earned him comparisons with such maverick directors as John Cassavetes and Stan Brakhage. In Spring Breakers, he follows four college girls as they rob a coffee shop, steal a car and travel south to Florida to party. Eventually they are taken under the wing of a local gangster, Alien (played by Franco), and two of the girls become his hitmen.
In writing and directing the film, Korine said he was influenced by his upbringing in Nashville, Tennessee and the “Redneck Riviera” culture around spring break trips to Florida amongst US college kids. He stressed that his film is not an exposé of bacchanalian vacation rituals, but rather an exploration of “being lost and straying from the strip”.
“I wanted to make a movie that was difficult to put into words,” Korine said at today’s TIFF press conference. Eschewing dialogue in favour of a dreamlike, pop aesthetic, he explained that he wanted to convey a physical experience, with editing focusing on “energy and feel” instead of continuity.
Franco had been working on the development of the script with Korine before the actresses were cast. The two underscored the importance of superficiality to the film, with Franco arguing that the film fits into a new phenomenon in popular culture. Korine explained that he was trying to tell a story “from the outside-in”. “I find beauty in surfaces,” he said. “I wanted to make a movie that was like candy”.
Korine cited electronica as a main inspiration for the film, describing how he tried to translate a trance-oriented aesthetic to cinema through the repetition of “micro scenes”. Hip-hop also heavily influenced the script, particularly with Franco’s character, Alien, who goofily synthesizes elements from Yellow Wolf, Lil Wayne, Riff Raff and old Memphis rappers, among others.
Some people expressed discomfort with the level of violence in Spring Breakers, echoing the questions raised in yesterday’s Looper press conference about the status of the action genre in the wake of the recent Colorado tragedy. In response, Korine emphasized that violence is part of reality, saying that he didn’t mind if people were offended by the film. Instead, he explained how he steered away from making any definitive moral statements, particularly in the film’s ambiguous ending. “I don’t like telling everybody what to think. I don’t like judging,” Korine claimed.
Selena Gomez addressed the provocative content of the film in relation to her transition from Disney star to a more sexualized role. Despite her concern of alienating her younger fan base, she looks at Spring Breakers as an opportunity to expand beyond her already established brand. “If there’s anybody I would take this risk on,” she said, “it would be Harmony.”