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‘Spring Breakers’ contrasts Harmony Korine’s previous work

Stars, glamour mark change in writer/director’s cinematic approach

Published: Thursday, November 29, 2012

Updated: Thursday, November 29, 2012 07:11

Even if you are only the most passive of movie buffs, odds are good that you either own or have seen a few of the films that top popular culture’s list for being Completely Messed Up, with a capital c, m and u. Odds are even better that, along with something by David Lynch and Gaspar Noé, one of these films was written and/or directed by Harmony Korine.

Korine burst onto the movie scene in 1995 with the $20 million blockbuster “Kids,” a film that he both wrote and had small role in. Not bad for someone who was only 22 years old at the time. In the wake of this initial success, Korine went on to write, direct and act in a number of films, including “Gummo” (1997), “Julien Donkey−Boy” (1999) and “Ken Park” (2002). He even wrote a book, “A Crack Up at the Race Riots” (1998).

Korine became somewhat notorious for his film composition and subject matter — short, abstractly related vignettes that generally focused on teenage sex, drug use and violence. His slew of NC−17 ratings and a ban from the David Letterman Show garnered him an avid cult following, mainly composed of teenagers and twentysomethings. But aside from a number of short films and a handful of below−the−radar movies like “Trash Humpers” (2009), Korine has remained out of the spotlight for a while. Now, he’s back.

March 2013 will witness the release of the long−anticipated “Spring Breakers,” Korine’s latest directorial endeavor. As of yet, relatively little is known about the film. A cast list and a one−sentence description are available on IMDb — “Four college girls who land in jail after robbing a restaurant in order to fund their spring break vacation find themselves bailed out by a drug and arms dealer who wants them to do some dirty work” — and a handful of photos have been posted online. Still, something about the film already feels off, or at least not representative of Harmony Korine’s work. To start, there are the stars. While Korine’s past films have featured actors as renowned as Werner Herzog and Chloë Sevigny, these cast members had always previously been used because of their talent and the depth they could add to the film; their fame was secondary (plus, “Kids” was Sevigny’s first movie). However, his upcoming “Spring Breakers” is clearly driven by the presence of James Franco and Selena Gomez among the cast. Without them, it is unlikely that “Spring Breakers” would have garnered the same level of public discussion.

Then, there’s the actual plot. “Four college girls?” “Dirty work?” Seriously? Considering the fact that the film’s protagonist ladies aren’t wearing anything other than bikinis and microskirts in the promotional photos, “Spring Breakers” sounds like a porn film at its worst, a Quentin Tarantino knock−off at its best. Already, the film has a flashy, fleshy glamour that may or may not have replaced the gritty, painful intimacy of Korine’s previous films.

Mostly, it might just be that Korine is, to put it bluntly, not as young and groundbreaking as he once was. Though angst and poor decision−making are bound neither by age nor generation, at 39, Korine can no longer claim to be the rebellious voice of the Millennial generation. Korine’s films have long threatened to sacrifice their surprising poignancy for unadulterated shock−value — “Trash Humpers,” for example, was only minimally classifiable as social commentary and seemed mostly interested in making its audience squirm — and “Spring Breakers” might just mark his first steps into big−budget, audience−friendly film making. The fact that his novel, “A Crack Up at the Race Riots” is, according to recent press releases, slated to be re−released around the same time as “Spring Breakers” also seems to support the idea that his work has come down to a profit. Why else would he bring the novel back into print now, other than with the intention of letting it ride “Spring Breakers’” coattails back into the public eye?

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