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CHITCHAT (unfinished): A strange meditation on gossip.

Kids Of America a series of ID spots for MTV (1998). The first films I directed. Verite portraits of music fans. Shot across the country on beautiful Super 8 by Tobin Yelland.


A Conversation With Harmony Korine.


I just stumbled on this conversation I had with Harmony Korine over 20 years ago. He had just finished the edit on his film Julien Donkey Boy. After re-reading it, I decided to publish it here because it’s so bold, honest and really speaks to a certain time in his development as an artist. I wish more creative people had the guts to lay it all out there the way he does here. I love Harmony so much and I’m so happy that I managed to save this text. Note to the reader, there are some words in here that may be triggering, so if you’re sensitive you might want to skip this one. Other than that, enjoy!!


Aaron Rose: How does it make you feel when people call you selfish?


Harmony Korine:  I’ll be the first to agree, I’m probably one of the most selfish people on earth. I see no other way to do what I do. How could a person go from writing and directing films, having countless art shows, writing novels, just filling your days up. Because the only thing I’ve ever loved, and the only thing I could ever do is art. I’ve only ever been an artist. I can’t cook, I mean, I can barely wash myself. You know, no one ever taught me how to be a man. I don’t have any domestic skills. I’m a fucking retard…but art is what I can do. So you take that factor away from me it wouldn’t even make a difference if I was killing myself. I would die. So I’m selfish because that’s all I know. What else can I do? Also I don’t really give a shit about many people. That’s probably where it comes in. The fact that I don’t like people and that I don’t socialize. Since I made Gummo I’m not interested in making friends, but at the same time I’ve learned that love is probably the most important thing. I used to not believe in that, I used to think that it was all a crock and that the only thing I needed was my films and now I realize that in the face of everything, that true love, where it comes from doesn’t matter, unconditional love, and someone that will love you through something horrible. You know if you kill somebody, that person will still love you because they know you are a good person.


AR: You have always been a person who has championed the Avant Garde. Yet, Hollywood films are an inherently commercial medium, almost the antithesis of what the avant garde is about. Do you ever find a conflict in that?


HK: I am the Avant Garde! I am the leading American avant-garde young artist, period. Know what I’m saying? I’m not saying I’m the greatest artist or filmmaker. It has nothing to do with that, but I know for a fact that I am the American avant-garde and that I’ve championed that. I will do whatever it takes to champion the avant-garde and to destroy and deconstruct narrative in any convention. Now there’s a dichotomy and a constant struggle in that. The only way I can say that I can justify that, and I can’t spend my life thinking about this stuff, because it’s so stunting, but the way to get around it is something like what Godard does. He knows that film is the greatest art form and he knows that basically, without any doubt, that you have the most range when it comes to film. Film is a great art form, it is sight sound music verse text, it is everything. I think if Wagner was alive he would have been a filmmaker. The fun of it and also the impossibility of it and also the dichotomy of it, and the irony of it all are that these things are directly in opposition to each other. You see for me, I would die a happy man if Gummo played in a shopping mall next to that movie Glitter. That’s what I’m after. I really couldn’t give a shit about the underground. I have no interest in the underground and I have no interest in its fans. Not only do I not give a shit about what’s above ground or what’s below ground it’s like what Yeats said…"there is either good literature or bad literature", and that stands for everything. If it’s avant-garde or experimental that’s just my taste, but at the same time I’d rather watch a Clint Eastwood movie than a Fassbinder film. In a lot of ways I think someone like Clint Eastwood is a lot more experimental than John Cassavetes and took a lot more chances than Mike Leigh. Clint Eastwood is more radical than David Lynch, just in a more subtle way. It’s like Robert DeNiro liking black women you know? But then you have somebody like Spike Jonze, I think Spike is a witty guy. I think he knows what he wants to do and does it. I don’t think he thinks about if his audience is hip or if his audience is mainstream much more than I do. I think I care more about the actual medium of cinema. I think, and I’d be surprised if he would disagree, that you would be hard pressed to find a more commercial filmmaker in any way and there has never been a more ironic filmmaker than Spike Jonze. I personally am bored with irony, but I think he’s a talented guy. I think that in some ways we are a lot closer than we are further apart.


AR: You and Spike are the new Hollywood. There is none else staking the claim. What is interesting to me is that both of you are drawing from a similar set of reference points that have to do with the things that you were into growing up.


HK: What you just said is something that I’ve always shied away from. I mean, I don’t know if most journalists are even smart enough to equate such obvious resemblances. Me and Spike are very different. He’s got his world. I’m going to take things 10 times further than he is in every sense of the word. That’s fine. He’s still doing his thing, but what I find interesting is almost opposite of what he would. To me, irony is the enemy. To make a film and in every single scene to make a point of making it an ironic joke in order to evade some sort of an emotional identification is to me a betrayal. Now on the opposite side, he and I both are skateboarders. That’s crazy. He and I were both very similar kinds of skateboarders. We weren’t just kids who had skateboards, we were "skateboarders". He was from the West Coast and I was from the south and the East Coast. I was sponsored by companies, and I went and skated contests. I even remember seeing him at a contest when I was 12 years old when I was riding for Alien Workshop. He was taking photographs back then. Mark Gonzales is one of my best friends. Mark is probably the artist I admire most. What’s great about Mark is that I don’t consider him even thinking of himself as an artist. What’s so special about Mark and why he was my favorite skater, I mean, when I was a kid I worshipped him, was you could tell he was a born artist. Everything that Mark does is art. OK, Tony Hawk can do a trick and it’s incredible and he can spin around seventeen million times and you drop your jaw, but then you see Mark do a trick that your mind hadn’t even comprehended yet. Forget the skill, it was a piece of art. Mark was like Andy Warhol on a skateboard for me. Mark was always the guy, from the way he would dress, his afro, his lowtop Nike sneakers. Everybody else was wearing baggy pants and vans and he was dressing like Pony Boy from the outsiders. I fuckin’ love that guy.


AR: There was an energy in 1992-1994, around the time you were working on Kids that was very important and formative for a lot of young artists in New York. Sometimes I wonder if it’s just nostalgia, or if there really was something magic happening then.


HK: I know exactly what you are saying, that’s when I started and that period kind of ended right around Gummo. In fact Gummo kind of ended it. Your 100% correct, but you want to know something? You hear stories about 1966 and the summer of ’67, that that was the only true revolutionary American adolescent period. When I first met you, 1992 or 1993, when I first met everybody. It was almost like everybody was meeting everybody. I remember it as the only time I’ve ever been in New York when nobody was jealous of anybody and nobody was trying to get over on each other. Mark Gonzales was sleeping in Washington Square Park with a suitcase, and doing artwork there, think of how pure! Everybody had security. It was  an amazing time.


AR: You could say Kids was really the preeminent document of that time.


HK: It was a documentation of that time. I really do realize the effect and the importance of that film, I mean everybody’s seen that fuckin’ thing. Yet it’s the one thing that I’m least interested in, the one thing that I don’t want to talk about. I’m not ashamed of it, but I’m not particularly proud of it. I’m happy it exists, because it documented that time, but as an artist it gives me absolutely no pleasure and is not indicative of anything that I am. I always thought of it as a catalyst in order to make the films that came after. But I have no interest in ever watching it again. You know a lot of it has to do with my relationship and my true disgust with Larry Clark.  If I wasn’t  completely disgusted by Larry, I might think differently. He’s so un interesting to me in every possible way, literally. When I first met him he was an interesting character, now I find everything he does boring. I don’t want to spend four hours looking at a thirteen year old kids crotch. But the fact of the matter is, he did create two masterpieces. His books are masterpieces. The thing is Larry is a liar, a complete liar and a fucking vampire and that’s what makes me sick. The guy is a 70 year old vampire, so I have no respect for his lies. But you know, the weird thing is, he could probably kill my brother, but because of how close we were I’lll always love him. I would be lying if I told you that at the age of 16 or 17 he wasn’t  an influence. At that time Larry was vital to me knowing what it was like to be an artist. I learned how to be an artist, not the aesthetic really, but things like making money to eating to basically how an artist can survive. But some people say, especially my father,  that I used to laugh before I met Larry. I never really thought about it, but I think it’s true. Larry took something from me.

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AR: Talk to me about Mistakism. Is it a one-man movement?


HK: I hope not. I actually think it’s huge. I think it’s by far the most important movement of the last decade. Almost anyone who has done anything of our generation who is creative or has done anything, or has pushed anything has either dabbled in, or is a complete Mistakist without even knowing. And some say knowing is half the battle, but I think not knowing is the complete battle. In other words, 99 percent of the people who are supporters of Mistakism don’t even realize that it exists. They aren’t aware of it. I think that basically no one cares anymore about where they fit in...there’s a general apathy. Yet, I do think that in a few years people are going to begin to ally themselves with it and realize that they were very much a part of it. I am a hundred percent a part of it. I think your gallery took that on. In a lot of ways what you did was very noble. I always felt we were partners in crime a little bit.


AR: I feel the same. There’s always been a shared point of view in most everything we’ve done.


HK: I understand that too. The only thing that I want to correct, is that this isn’t even about America, I think it’s that I’m the only one doing what I’m doing in this world! You really have to write this…this has nothing to do with whether you like my films or not or whether you think I’m talented has nothing to do with it. It has everything to do with what you’re trying to say and the way you’re trying to say it and to whom you are saying it to.  It has everything to do with whether you are a member of God’s army or not. Werner Herzog told me that I was the last foot soldier on this planet. It wasn’t a compliment, he didn’t mean it as a compliment. He meant it as a duty. He said, "Harmony, you are the last foot soldier on the earth. You fuck up, you do crack, you do too much heroin, you’re gonna fuckin’ lose it and that’s the greatest sin that a man can commit.”  You know what? He’s right! It is so rare that god gives a person the ability to think in a different way and when that person takes that ability and tries to do something great with it it’s their duty from god.

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