an interview with Harmony Korine…
by NICHOLAS GAZIN
“I won’t say too much about the movie except that maybe it’s not even a movie. The fact that it’s even playing in theaters is mindblowing for me. Uh… so… I’ll come back to answer some questions if you have any afterwards but this movie was meant to be more like the kind of thing you could imagine being buried in a ditch somewhere or floating in a Ziploc bag down a river or if a convict had shoved it in the ass of a horse or something. It’s just a—well anyway, you’ll see. It’s like that. I’ll see you afterwards.”
And that’s how Harmony Korine introduced his new movie, Trash Humpers, to an audience at Cinema Village in New York last Friday. The lights came down veee-eee-eeee-eeerryyyy slo-oooo-ooowly and the movie began. Trash Humpers has a real loose narrative structure. Four old people (played by Harmony and his friends in scary masks) break shit, terrorize people and hump all sorts of inanimate objects. There’s a lot of chanting, people performing for one another, and repetition. The whole movie was shot on VHS and the surprise noise burps and static that creates, as well as the grain of the VHS, are beautiful to look at. I’d forgotten how nice VHS looks. What once looked mediocre now looks special.
I don’t know if there’s more to discuss about the movie beyond the things that Harmony Korine volunteers. While the end credits were on the screen, Harmony came out and did a Q&A.
Audience: “Did you shoot on VHS?”
Harmony Korine: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
“How much footage that was shot made it into the movie and how much was cut?”
The movie’s presented in the way it was shot, so each day was like a chapter. The characters would sleep out in the woods or behind strip malls or under bridges. We’d get these big tractor tires and we’d fill them up with hay and sleep there, like nests. We would wake up the next morning and knock on doors. Usually we’d start filming an hour or two before it got dark. It was easier to disappear. Pretty much everything we shot is in the film. There was no coverage the way you’d cover a movie. I wasn’t even thinking of it in terms of narrative moviemaking where there are scenes. It was more of a collection of moments. I would never do something more than once. If it happened and we happened to be recording it then it would be in the movie, kind of like a home movie. If I started to edit the film and think about it, it would be more like a [air quotes] “movie.”
“Is there a pure way to watch this? Is it ideal to watch it on VHS?”
With this movie, I really don’t care. It’s weird. It doesn’t matter to me if you project it into the toilet bowl. It makes no difference to me.
“Where did the masks come from?”
These people who live out in California. Uh… tweakers? Guys who do a lot of crystal meth. But they’re talented.
“Did you guys get in trouble with residents or cops or anything?”
No, the thing that was most surprising is how accommodating everyone is. When I started making it we were all preparing ourselves for getting hassled or arrested or whatever. Maybe it has to do with being from the South. For the most part nobody even noticed. I think it’s easier to get away with actual murder now than it ever was. People don’t really pay attention. I remember one specific time it was two or three in the morning in an alleyway by where these hunchbacks that I know live. There’s a group sex scene with all these trashcans and they were fucking the hell out of these cans and I heard a door open and this old woman walked out and I heard her say, ”Can I turn those porch lights on for you to make things easier?” I said “Yeah, go ahead,” and she did and she just sat there and watched it. She seemed excited by it. Nowadays people are very accommodating.
”One thing that gave it continuity were the audio motifs like the cackling laughter and the little lullabies. Was that something you thought about before making it?”
Not really. You know that “Three Little Devils” song? Someone played me a recording once of a woman who had most of her larynx removed and she’d been abandoned in a well. This was probably the early 20s somewhere in North Carolina and I think they were throwing dirt on her head while she was singing, so she was getting buried alive. It was one of the most horrific sounds I’d ever heard. I don’t know if you ever heard what a fox sounds like when it’s in heat but it’s something very awful. It just stayed with me and when were filming this it seemed like a natural place to insert it.
“The scene with you and the women, how did that come about?” (referring to a scene in which the characters interact with prostitutes).
The black one was my girlfriend in high school and she looked much better back then. She let herself go. She married this guy, he worked at this place called the Doughnut Den. It’s really strange to see her now because she’s probably four or five times the size she used to be. I heard through the grapevine that she’d got into that Craigslist dominatrix scene. So when we were doing this, I thought she’d be a good person to call. That was her house in the movie. That was a daily occurrence at the place.
“You mentioned that you could imagine them shoving the tape into a horse’s ass. What were the characters going to do with the tape they were making?”
I don’t know. I think it’s just like a record they were making. I had a friend who recorded every single minute of CNN from 1988. I don’t think he ever watched it, but I think he had the whole year.
“Did you have a lot of fun doing this and if so is it going to be hard going back to making movies the way you have in the past?
I really enjoyed it because I feel like the way conventional filmmaking is, it’s stacked up against you. The process is in conflict with creating. The people involved and how long it takes, I find that it kills the excitement for me. I was always a person who wanted to be able to work as quickly as I could think and kind of act on impulse. Film could never be as immediate as this. But I still have a fondness for traditional moviemaking as well.
“What came first, wanting to shoot on VHS or the idea and the characters?”
I grew up very close to where I live now. When I left New York I moved back down to Nashville. When I was a kid there were a lot of alleyways where I lived. It was an intricate system of alleyways that you could basically get around anywhere if you just used these back alleyways. You don’t have to see the fronts of houses. In junior high, a couple blocks from where I lived there was a retirement home that was really just someone’s basement. For nineteen dollars they would house these people who you’re trying to get rid of. It was a strange place. There was always a smoke machine that was on. You know that band, Herman’s Hermits? They would only play that one record for them, over and over again on repeat. I guess there must have been fifteen or twenty people living there and they would always wear white nursing shoes and black turtleneck sweaters. I had a pretty hot next door neighbor and I’d see these guys staring at her late at night, doing God knows what. It stayed with me. When I moved back I would walk my dog down these alleyways and it made me remember them. And there are all these trash bins that look like humans to me. Some of them look like they’d been beaten up or abused. There were all these spotlights and it looked like a war scene. Something post-war. I just combined the two things. So I would dress up my assistant in these really crude masks like a burn victim, like someone whose face looked like a marshmallow. Like a burnt marshmallow. And he would walk around at night and he would just vandalize the neighborhood. And I would take photos with disposable cameras and stuff. I don’t know why it just seemed like a natural thing to do. Once I saw the photos I thought there could be a movie. The look of it reminded me of VHS and that’s how it came to be.
“How did you make a movie out of a memory.”
There were certain things I wanted to see. I wrote them down on napkins and showed them to the other guys and we would wake up and do it.
“So it was just totally random?”
No, because I knew there were things I wanted to see. You know sometimes in life it’s good to just close your eyes and not think about it too much and just let someone take you there. If it felt right to destroy that thing or fuck that thing or set this on fire or to speak then that’s what we did and I didn’t think about it. What’s a home movie mean? What’s the story of a home movie? Sometimes I just don’t think about what anything means because people can mean too much.
“Could you tell a story about Paige Spain?”
Paige is dead. He died. He was one of my favorite characters. He was the guy who does the exercises with his neck. I was going to see him because a friend of mine’s house had just washed away in the flood. So I knocked on his door and when he answered he was wearing a pink bathrobe and he was, you know, gay. He was like, ”Oohooh, what’s going on?” I was like, ”Is Mac there?” And he was like, “No, but come on in.” And I said, “Look man, I’m… straight.” And he goes, “So’s spaghetti till you boil it.” So I walked into his house and he was watching nine or ten televisions simultaneously. They were all on car racing and game shows and the sound was turned down on all of them. He’d had a special bed made and he was very big into alcohol. He was a busboy or something at Holiday Inn. He was a great wit and a really amazing guy. What happened is actually a sad story. He would tell dirty jokes to the people he worked with. He worked there for thirty years. One day there was a new manager and he told a joke and the manager was some right wing zealot, a real bastard, and they fired him after thirty years. They found Paige dead. He was naked, in his house. He also collected a lot of Nazi memorabilia.
“Who was the kid in the beginning?”
The kid who smashed the doll in the head? He’s a well-known preacher. He hangs out at these 7-11s and sits on milk crates. He’s memorized the Bible. He’s another very interesting guy.
“Why are the characters murderers?”
Murder is just part of their vocabulary. It’s what they do. They are artists of evil, not evil… destruction. They’re vandals. They see vandalism and destruction as a creative act. They turn it into something beautiful. In the way that creating is artistic, they think that destroying is. So murder, it’s part of their language.
“Where’d you get the baby at the end?”
It’s best not to talk about those things.
“TRASH HUMPERS” 2009 directed by Harmonie Korine
opening friday at the Nuart — enjoy the trailer at the film’s official site and listen to Korine discuss Humpers via podcast…