Monday, 22 April 2019

# 90s # cinema

admiring the artistry of harmony korine

(image found via pinterest)
The hype was fuelled in 1995. Aside from Bill Clinton's presidency, the OJ Simpson trials, James Bond's return to Hollywood, the world of independent film would be introduced to the cinematic prodigy Harmony Korine, who as a young teenager was discovered by photographer Larry Clark whilst skating in Washington Square Park. At this point, the auteur had just dropped out of Tisch School of the Arts at New York University (NYU) in hopes to make a living off of professional skateboarding. Following the footsteps of former, ambitious creatives, structured academia appeared limiting to his creative abilities. Clark acknowledging this sentiment and impressed by his visions of pushing the boundaries of cinema requested Korine pen a script to display his talent as an aspiring screenwriter and director. The result of this demand was a cult classic film about the dangers of promiscuity, AIDS, and grungy teenaged delinquents. The cult classic was named Kids. Through the release of Kids, Korine managed to grab the attention of prominent individuals within the industry. Praised by legendary film critic Roger Ebert, and directors like Gus Van Sant and Werner Herzog, it was clear that the young skater would be an auteur in the making; however, much like current hipster credentials lacking in social agency, influential praise would not be enough to please general audiences, most of whom were disgusted by the film's "shallow" depiction of 90s youth culture. Labeled as child pornography by outraged parents and mainstream media news outlets, the film was labeled a raunchy NC-17 by the MPAA. Contrary to adult efforts to limit the screening of the film, it had grossed $7 million dollars through the summer of 1995, encouraging CNN to place efforts in making clear that it's growing success with youth could be a 'poisonous attack' on teenaged social culture.

Following the rise of Kids, Korine was offered $1 million dollars of production budget to direct his first and own film Gummo (1997) - a movie depicting the mundanity and depravity of the lives of people living in Xenia, Ohio, a town within America left in the shambles of the aftermath of a tornado storm in the 1970s. Once again, the film was a visual portrayal of the extreme and obscure lifestyle of the hidden and unheard sociocultural minorities of youth culture within America. The film could be described and on many occasions has been described as an emblem of "white trash" cinema and culture. Which it is important to note, that the term "white trash" may lend itself to carrying the weight of negative connotations and that such common description and perception of what is definitive of Korine's work acts as a potential propagator of the extreme, binary criticism of loving or hating his filmography as an observer of art. In debuting as his first film, and his second cinematic project, the screening, and viewership of Gummo introduced the cinematic community to stylistic choices of filmmaking that essentially led to an acknowledgment of Korine as auteur filmmaker. Here was a director who created cinema with the autonomy of a novelist. Here was a director who created cinema with a highly-monitored and controlled execution of the personal vision. Yet here was a director whose fascination with the world was driven by a curiosity of the neglected aspects of society. Who were the people that nobody wanted to see? Who were the people that nobody wanted to listen to? Most importantly, what are the human behaviors that repulse the masses, and why are we willing to neglect and suppress an investigation of vice-ridden decadence. Thus, whilst his unconventional approach to filmmaking and the absurdity of the subject matter he depicted was offputting on a mainstream level, his cultic status was derivative of his controversial originality. Perhaps, it is not a matter of personal tastes or aesthetics, but a matter of the social symptom and influence of an auteur's filmography. 

VICELAND DOCUMENTARY ON THE CULTIC STATUS OF KIDS 


HARMONY KORINE INTERVIEW ON GUMMO (1997) 


Described as "the most hated man in art-house cinema", a "winning freak show ring leader", what are we to make of Harmony Korine and his notorious style of provocateur filmmaking? What are we to make of the regressive debauchery, as hipster credentials are supposedly an invalidation of his depiction of decline and degeneracy? Inevitably, his investigation of the polarizing nature of youth and adulthood, virtue and sin, appears to be discursively limited to hipster credentials or overbearing commentary from pretentious cinephiles and film studies academics, but it appears that his artistic liberty is suppressed by forces of both "high" and "low" art. It appears that his work has suffocated in being appreciated by what can be considered a "niche" to both casual moviegoers and hardcore film buffs alike, and I'd like to step aside and question: who is Harmony Korine as an auteur, and how can we better understand the binary state of the critical reception of his filmography throughout the last two decades? The common threat to his artistic liberty is that he drops the eccentricities or quits film-making all together, and while no one is forcing anyone to watch anything made by the auteur since when has it been okay to say the words "stop" or "no" in art? Love him or hate him, he seems the type to want to continue expressing his vision through a visual manifestation of his life experiences and a community of outcasts he assumingly identifies with or is enticed by. It's been two decades since his cinematic prime, and though his name is scarcely mentioned, Korine still manages to maintain his "niche" and dedicated fanbase of film enthusiasts, artistic outcasts, and all sorts of other people enticed by the madness and chaotic depiction of youth culture in his films. 

POLAROIDS FROM THE SET OF KIDS (1995)






POLAROIDS FROM THE SET OF GUMMO (1997)






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