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Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Behind 'Spring Breakers'

By Joel Rice

"Spring Breakers," the latest project from filmmaker Harmony Korine -- he of "Kids" and "Gummo" notoriety -- is out on DVD today. And if the scene at the Nashville, Tenn., premiere, held back in March at the Regal Green Hills 16, is any indication, it'll be interesting viewing for those who missed it in the theater.

Korine is a native Nashvillean, the local skate kid who made it big. As such, he attracted a virtual who's who of the city's bohemian elite.

Patrick Carney, the gargantuan-glasses-wearing drummer for the band The Black Keys, arrived popcorn in hand. (Korine directed their music video for "Gold on the Ceiling.") Korine's wife, Rachel -- a baby-faced star of "Spring Breakers" who, like her husband, was raised in Nashville -- appeared with a stylishly dressed posse.

By the time Korine strode in, the theater's manager at his side, you could feel the electricity in the air. Dressed in frayed jeans and a black "Baja" hoodie, he grabbed a quick peek at the audience before taking the microphone.

Korine thanked his wife -- "She's a hometown girl. I couldn't have done it without her." -- and told the crowd, with his trademark asphyxiated laugh, that "this movie goes hard."

The lights went down.

The music started.

And the motion picture -- a mild, not entirely unpleasant psychotic experience -- began.

Wading into "Spring Break's" treacherous waters

What was the riotous movie like?

Let's put it this way: Korine was once photographed hanging out with some skaters and holding a copy of a book by French filmmaker and "anti-novelist" Alain Robbe-Grillet -- the kind of writer who often pared away plot until all that remained was an image, a sensation, a mood.

The electric-Kool-Aid-colored "Spring Breakers" could be described in similar terms. This is a story about mainstream America at play, but as told by someone willing to subvert almost every mainstream storytelling convention. (The irony of Korine's quintessentially mainstream casting choices has been lost on precisely no one.) Korine has called the film a "pop poem."

To some degree, the film is about four college students -- played by Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens and the aforementioned Rachel Korine -- who are all too desperate to finance their Floridian bacchanal. When the girls are arrested, James Franco, playing a megalomaniacal drug dealer named Alien, bails them out, only to lead them ever deeper into debauchery.

Some scenes have a loose, surreal logic. Others slip its coil entirely. (Franco plays piano while belting out the Britney Spears song "Everytime.")

Elliptically, provocatively, profanely, "Spring Breakers" poses some uncomfortable questions: Where does collective fantasy end and reality begin? What happens when we cross this dangerous, porous border? What is more disturbing: the sensation-crazed lives these young women lead or the vacuous, seductively violent culture that spawned them?

Korine let the audience answer these questions themselves.

When Rachel Korine's name appeared on screen, the hometown crowd, including Rachel's mom, erupted in applause.

It was a sweet ending for a movie that was anything but.

Questions for Korine

Meanwhile, the night of the premiere, met with Korine to pose some questions of our own.

In the interview below, the director speaks about his film, his history with skateboarding and whether or not he still owns a pair of gold fronts. Your film is already getting a huge amount of attention. What has this week been like for you?
Harmony Korine: It's been crazy. It really has. It's been a whirlwind. I'm just trying to take it all in.

Does it feel overwhelming?
A little overwhelming. It's exciting because I feel like people are watching it in real time and responding to it in real time. It's nice.

Do you still think about skateboarding often? In what ways does it inform your work?
It's everything. It informs everything that I do. The way I look at the world. It completely changes your perception. The way I look at handrails, steps, architecture. It just completely messes with your head in a way. You're never the same.

One corny question: Who is your favorite pro skater from the 1990s, besides Mark Gonzales? Sean Sheffey, Jovontae Turner, James Kelch, Lavar McBride?
Oh man, they're all amazing. Probably Sheffey. The first pictures I saw of Sheffey and Coco Santiago and those dudes. The Shut [skate company] was, for me, revolutionary.

Whatever happened to the gold fronts you used to wear?
I still have those.

Do you ever wear them?

Where did you get them, may I ask?
I probably had them made somewhere in Flatbush [in Brooklyn, NY].

What does it mean to have the premiere of "Spring Breakers" here in Nashville?
It's awesome. I live right down the street. I grew up here. I saw movies here when I was a kid. It feels pretty great.

You said that the movie is "on the side of righteousness." How would you define righteousness?
It just means it's pure. It's pure in its intent.

Where would you be without skateboarding? Would you have become an artist?
You know, that's a good question. I don't know. Skateboarding informs everything that I do. So I'd probably be a criminal, or something.