Capone With MISTER LONELY Writer/Director Harmony Korine!!
Published at: May 28, 2008, 8:03 a.m. CST by merrick
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
Writer-director Harmony Korine is a bizarre and astute visionary. When his first film as a writer, KIDS (directed by Larry Clark) charged into the world in 1995, some people called it a horror film with its depiction of a group of unsupervised teens engaging in some truly shocking behavior. At the time, there were some who thought it was an exaggeration and an exercise in exploitation.
I think today we know the film was far from an exaggeration. Korine went on to write and direct GUMMO, a haunting look at what people in a desolate small town do when they're bored. JULIEN DONKEY-BOY was America's first entry into the Danish-born Dogme 95 series, a study in minimalist filmmaking that I found fascinating. In 2002, Korine returned to writing for Clark with KEN PARK, something of an update of KIDS that is so graphic it still hasn't been released uncut on DVD in this country.
His latest work is his most linear and accessible (but no less odd), the sweet and contemplative MISTER LONELY, starring the remarkable Diego Luna as a Michael Jackson impersonator living in Paris who meets a Marilyn Monroe look-alike (Samantha Morton). Together they run off to a community in the Scottish Highlands inhabited only by impersonators--a place "where everyone in famous." The film is quite clever in examining the population's current burning desire to be famous for something, anything. But that's really only its jumping-off point. MISTER LONELY is a touching love story, a tragedy, and of course, a moving portrait of loneliness.
I spoke with Korine at the SXSW Film Festival, the morning after the premiere of the film. The screening actually took place right before another film I was seeing, writer-director Mark Weber's EXPLICIT ILLS, and there was a massive crowd in from of the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz theater as the crowd from one film meshed with the massive entourage of actors and crew members going into see the second film.
I spotted Korine unexpectedly reuniting with the actress he discovered and then cast in KIDS, Rosario Dawson. It was actually an unexpected and nice moment that I don't think the crowd swarming around them truly understood.
For those of you in the Chicago area, MISTER LONELY is opening up at the Music Box Theatre this Friday, and Korine will be at a few of the screenings for intro/Q&As with me moderating. Check www.musicboxtheatre.com for all showtimes and to pre-order tickets to these screenings: Friday, May 30, 7pm (post-screening Q&A) and 9:45 (intro only); and Saturday, May 31, 2pm (intro and post-screening Q&A)
Anyway, here's Harmony Korine. Enjoy…
Capone: I think I saw you last night, because I was going into the Mark Weber film right after your film was letting out. I thought I saw you…
Harmony Korine: Oh, yeah, with Rosario [Dawson]. Yeah, I saw her. That was great. I was so excited. I wasn’t expecting to see her. Anytime I see Rosario, it’s, like…it’s just kind of a kick for me.
Capone: Well, it was a kick for me too, I know that, since I was standing elbow to elbow with her when it happened.
HK: [laughs] No, but I remember her as a little girl…like, I was walking down the street and it was maybe 1994 or something like that, and we were casting KIDS, and she was sitting on the stoop, 16 years old or something, and she was having an argument with her dad. I thought she looked good for this one part. And, she came in and auditioned. That was what happened.
Capone: That’s really how it happened? You just spotted her like that?
HK: Exactly. So, it’s funny to see her now.
Capone: MISTER LONELY is really moving and different, but it still kind of fits in with what you’ve done before. Is there something about that lifestyle that appeals to you? What is it that drew you…
HK: Which one? The nuns or…?
Capone: [laughs] No, not the nuns…well, we can talk about the nuns. I do want to talk about the religious connotations. But the impersonator lifestyle, the street theater sort of thing.
HK: In some ways, I’ve always been attracted to obsessive characters or characters--or people, I should say--who kind of live outside the system, or people that, like, are slightly tweaked and try and, maybe, invent their kind of lifestyle. I don’t know, I just always thought it was such a weird existence to live as someone else…I guess, like, …I just started getting interested in that kind of obsessive nature.
Capone: I’ve noticed you also make films about people, honestly, that don’t have films made about them very often, like, these more marginalized people. I guess it’s the same question: Is that something that just appeals to you?
HK: Yeah, yeah. It’s a weird thing. It’s, like, when I watch movies, right, when I watch films, and there’s always…especially older movies, the B characters…when the B characters from the film come on, I’d always wish that…I always find them infinitely more interesting or funny than the main story. And so, even when I was younger, I used to just start to daydream about what if the movie just detoured and we followed this kind of like tramp, you know, this poor schmoe.
I don’t know, it was just more interesting to me. I just always pay attention to people in the windows or in back alleys or just…I guess I have more of an affinity for that.
Capone: Yeah, sometimes when I watch really old movies, and I’ll see an actor with one line, and I’ll wonder, What happened to that guy and his career?
Maybe this is his only movie, or he might have been in a hundred movies that he’s not known for or credited for.
HK: Exactly, exactly, like, you want to know what’s up with Shemp.
Capone: But, you also…The one line in the film that Samantha Morton has about how, in this community, everyone is famous. That’s speaking to a much more present-day phenomenon, where everybody seems to want to be famous, even if it’s more notorious than famous.
You seem to admire that quality in your characters, but I’m guessing that in reality, you’re probably be more critical of that behavior. Is that fair to say, that this film is a comment everyone's need to be famous.
HK: Maybe, it speaks to some of that. I know I didn’t set out, or it wasn’t really like a plan to make a statement on that. I thought that any kind of statement on fame or celebrity obsession would just come through, maybe, in a more organic way. I just wanted to tell the story of these people, these guys who just go out and kind of create this commune. I was more interested in them as, like, their personalities.
Capone: Why Michael Jackson? Why did you pick him?
HK: I don’t know, I just thought in some ways, Michael is like a great American story. Somewhere in his story is the greatest story ever told. Somewhere in his narrative is, maybe, the greatest story of all time. It’s really epic. I just thought he was symbolic of a lot, like, he was man/woman, black/white. He was sexless. There was something about him that I find very interesting.
Capone: And, rich and poor, too.
HK: Right, right. And, like, man/child. There’s something very interesting man.
Capone: Not to get overly legal, but did you have to tread lightly on how he was presented? I thought for a while you weren't even going to say his name--for much of the film you never even heard the name Michael Jackson. And I thought, maybe, you weren’t even allowed to say it.
HK: Yeah, this was something I paid a lot of attention to, and it was important to me that none of these people ARE that person. Like, this guy isn’t Michael Jackson, and it’s not even a movie about Michael Jackson. It’s about a guy who wears a costume. It’s about a guy who makes his living as someone else, as Michael Jackson.
So, I was more concerned with the person underneath, the nature of the guy who’s doing the impersonation, more than, actually, Michael Jackson. We didn’t use Michael Jackson’s music. I mean, obviously, he’s referenced, because that’s what they do.
Capone: I’m an unapologetic [Werner] Herzog fan, I mean, not just of his films, but of his personality. And, I’ve seen him now act in a couple of films. Would you talk about your relationship with him, and why you thought he was good, him playing a priest seemed very evil and completely appropriate at the same time.
HK: Yeah. What happened was…Growing up watching movies, there are certain filmmakers, I guess, that people identify with. His movies to me as a young film goer, a film enthusiast, his films meant the most to me in some ways. I don’t know, I understood him…even before I made films, there was something about his process and what he was doing, and the poetry of his films that really came through.
And, so after GUMMO, I just got a phone call one day, out of the blue, from Herzog. I was just in my early 20s, and he said, “You must fly out to San Francisco and meet me.” So, I jumped on the airplane. And, yeah, then I became good friends with Werner. Even before JULIEN DONKEY-BOY, we always talked about, like, he’d always mention, maybe, playing a part. And, you know, Werner has a lot of charisma, and so, yeah, that was it.
In this movie, I’d originally asked him to play the Abe Lincoln character, but he had this thing about Lincoln. He said [imitates Herzog], “I do not like Lincoln.” He kind of went on an anti-Lincoln rant, so then, we decided maybe it’s good to go back to the jungle.
Capone: Yeah, well, that’s true.
HK: We went to the jungle. He stepped in the airplane, and he saw the buzzards in the sky, and he was, like, “Ahhh, now I feel like I am home again.”
Capone: The other thing I always like about your films is that you’re not afraid to get really close to people’s faces. It seems like an obvious thing, but a lot of directors are afraid to do that, to get close. But you love faces.
HK: Yeah, yeah, that’s true. That’s kind of how I cast on. Always, the first thing is looks, because film is visual. So, like, it’s always something that, like, interesting faces are always…that’s something I try to include in the movie.
Capone: You mentioned Herzog being one of the first filmmakers that really kind of spoke to you. Throughout you career, people have pushed you into that David Lynch category.
I guess I understand that to a degree, and I think this film actually comes about as close as any you've made, where I might say, “Well, maybe, I can see it.” There’s an absurd quality to it that David Lynch would relish. Was he really much of an influence on you at all?
HK: You know, it’s a strange thing. I do think that David Lynch is one of America’s great artists. I really do think that, like, he has a vision that’s 100 percent uniquely his own. I mean, there’s no denying it. What can you say about it at this point?
But my favorite David Lynch movie was THE ELEPHANT MAN, one of his straighter films. I don’t necessarily consciously reference David Lynch--I never have--but, I always think my favorite filmmakers, their movies live inside you, kind of, so they manifest themselves in your work, so maybe there are things in my films; I don’t know. He’s definitely a great filmmaker.
Capone: Do you really not watch your own films? Is that still true, or have you gotten past that?
HK: You know what it is: I watch them up to this point, and then…
Capone: Do you not watch them with an audience, is that what you mean?
HK: No, no. I actually, like, watched it 10 minutes with the audience here. It was pretty fun. But, what happens is, I haven’t seen any of my movies since I made them, I don’t own any of my films, I don’t own any books I’ve written, I don’t have posters .
You know, once the movie is finished, I try not to be reminded of anything I’ve done. I just find it…I have director friends, and you walk in the house, and it’s like a shrine to them. I mean, I can understand that, I guess, but for me, I guess…I made the films, I’d just kind of like to put them out there and walk away. They’re very close, they’re very much a part of me, so it’s nice for me to just leave them, and then try to do something else.
Capone: How did the screening go last night?
HK: Ah, yeah.
Capone: The crowd reacted well to it?
HK: It seemed to really…it seemed excellent, yeah. It was fun, because it was the first time I saw it with an American audience. It premiered at Cannes, and when it plays in different countries, the humor and different things translate differently, so…
Capone: I haven’t seen Diego Luna in a while. Was it always your intention to have a non-American play Michael Jackson, or was it just that he was the one who got it?
HK: Well, when I was thinking about who to cast, I was thinking, well, I didn’t really want, necessarily, like, a black guy, and I didn’t really feel like it should be a white guy. I didn’t feel like the character needed to have too much inner brooding. There was something more ethereal about him and less ‘angsty’.
And then, I just started watching different films, and I said, “Ahh, Diego Luna, there’s something…” For one, I knew he could dance. Another, he had this kind of boyish quality, this kind of sweetness about him that I found charming. I liked his voice and his cadences. And, I thought, Ahh, Mexican, perfect. Like, Michael Jackson really does feel Mexican now.
Capone: Yeah, I guess, by avoiding the black and white thing, no one can accuse you of commenting on Michael Jackson’s racial preference.
Were you the first American director to really get behind the Danish Dogme movement?
Capone: That’s what I thought. I was slightly obsessed with those for a few years, just trying to see as many of them as I could. What was the appeal there for you, to try something like that?
HK: Well, it was really early on, and, like, I had heard about it, before they were even made, I heard little things from other people that were kind of friends with [Danish filmmakers/Dogme co-founders] Lars [von Trier] and knew Thomas [Vinterberg] and stuff, you know, “These guys are doing this thing…” and blah, blah, blah…and, like, I started to experiment in some ways.
In GUMMO, I had started to play with, like, not just shooting video, but kind of going off and…almost making, like, home movies and incorporating them into the film. And, I started to think, Well, it would be nice to really go with that on the next one.
And then, someone showed me THE IDIOTS, and I thought, Wow, Lars…there’s something really special about what they were doing. But, I got a phone call from Thomas Vinterberg and basically, that was it, I just got a phone call from Thomas, explaining to me what they were doing with the "vow of chastity."
Capone: Did you write up your list of exceptions to the rules, like you were supposed to?
HK: Oh yeah. We printed my “Sins against the Brotherhood.” We posted it.
Capone: Right. I was at that web site constantly.
HK: I have a weird feeling, I just have a sense that, maybe, we all might make another one again sometime.
HK: No, I don’t know. I think it’s like church, maybe, after you’ve gone and sinned. Go back and make a Dogme film.
Capone: MISTER LONELY kind of goes from a very quiet, peaceful place and then just devolves from there and gets chaotic and loud and tragic. It actually reminds me a several Dogme films in that way. Is that how you see the world? Do you see the world going in that direction today, all hell breaking loose?
HK: Yeah [yeah], it sometimes seems to happen like that, things start out quiet and then [claps hands] explode, then it gets quiet again. I don’t know, it felt right. I wanted the movie to be kind of a musical, in some ways, lyrical, stories that kind of like go in and out of one another.
Capone: Speaking of music, you have a songwriting credit on Bjork’s album…
HK: Oh, yeah, “Vespertine,” I wrote a song.
Capone: Did you actually, like, sit down with her and write that? How did that come about? Did you know her before?
HK: Yeah, I was friends with her. No, I just wrote a song and, like, gave it to her. Then, she composed it, she put it to music, and left it on my answering machine, and asked me if I liked it. I said, “Of course, it’s great!”
Capone: So, the lyrics are yours, and then did the music?
Capone: Got it. Speaking of people you’ve hooked up with creatively, how did you hook up with David Blaine?
Capone: Originally, and then the film you two did together.
HK: Well, it was around the time of KIDS and I had, actually, heard about this guy who was putting himself in a pizza oven, and they were turning on the heat. And, it was actually a few blocks from my house.
Capone: He was more, like, underground.
HK: Yeah, he had never done anything, any shows. We were both, like, 20 years old. So, I went over, and he had his whole body in a pizza oven that was on full blast, except for his toes. But his toenails were starting to melt or starting to warp, but his body was pretty much okay.
That’s how I met him. And, I just thought, Man, you know, he’s such an interesting guy. I never met anyone that did the types of things that he was doing. And, like, he was so extreme, it’s always been exciting for me to hang out with him. Yeah, that was it. And, then, when I did that show with him, I had just started to kind of get my life together. I had gotten off the narcotics, and I felt like it was a good time to film some guy who starved to death in a box.
Capone: Great. Thanks for sitting down with me.
HK: Yeah, sure. I always check out Ain't It Cool. I remember not that long ago, you had an interview with Sylvester Stallone, and he referenced JULIEN DONKEY-BOY. And I was like "What the fuck?" He was like, "I like all types of movies, from GODFATHER to JULIEN DONKEY-BOY."
Capone: I remember that. He sort of aligned himself with our site when the last ROCKY movie came out, and he did a thing where he answered questions from the readership.
HK: Yeah, that's what it was from. But I was like, "Damn, Rocky watched that movie." That's just one of those odd moments in my life.
Capone: Glad we could provide that for you.