Has Harmony Korine, the enfant terrible who wrote “Kids,” and directed “Julian Donkey-Boy” and “Gummo,” grown up?
With his latest film, “Spring Breakers” — premiering in Venice on Sept. 5 — the provocative filmmaker has tackled his most ambitious and possibly most commercial project to date: A girls-gone-wild Florida-s et adventure, starring James Franco and former Disney Channel stalwarts Selena Gomez (“Wizards of Waverly Place”), Vanessa Hudgens (“High School Musical”) and ABC Family vet Ashley Benson (“Pretty Little Liars”).
“Technically, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” says the filmmaker, now 39. “We had 12 cameras break; cranes collapsing; boats sinking; at some points, there would be more paparazzi than crew members; you’d have news helicopters entering the shot; 1,000 screaming teenagers with signs trying to destroy the campers — every day felt like some mild form of warfare.”
Korine, who shot on 35mm film, added that he wanted huge production values. “I wanted things to look and feel incredible. It would have been much easier if I didn’t have ambition.”
The last time Korine was on the festival circuit, in 2009, he was promoting a far different project. Called “Trash Humpers,” the 78-minute experimental movie, shot entirely on a VHS camcorder, chronicled the creepy escapades of a family of masked maniacs engaged in objectionable, lewd or just plain weird behavior, including yes, humping garbage. “It was a provocation,” Korine admits.
But with “Spring Breakers,” it wasn’t just about creating something “shocking or seductive,” as he says, referring to the original image that sparked the idea of teenage girls in bikinis, wearing ski masks and carrying guns. “This film is different from anything I’ve done,” he explains. “It’s the narrative: It’s very liquid and boozy, and freed up. It’s more like a pop poem.”
Another big difference is the cast, of course. With Disney Channel icon Gomez in one of the key roles, along with “High School Musical’s” Hudgens, the film is drawing far more attention than Korine’s previous work, increasing the stakes for the filmmaker.
For Gomez, the more risque project also presents a potential hazard.
“Obviously, I have a younger generation (of fans), and I really appreciate that,” says the 22-year-old actress, who got her start on “Barney & Friends.” “I want to respect that and I still want to do things that will earn me that respect. But I also want to do things that challenge me and put me out of my element.”
Korine had always wanted Gomez and the other young female stars for the movie. “I liked the idea of having these girls in the film specifically,” he says. “They are of this pop culture, and that added a whole new element that was exciting for me.”
Entrusting Korine, a director known for his glue-sniffing, date-raping outcasts, with America’s next top starlets on an indie budget, might appear like a risky move. But the director says, surprisingly, he was fully encouraged by his team, including CAA, which packaged the project.
“There was no lack of confidence (in Korine),” says Muse Films’ Chris Hanley, who has known the director since the mid-’90s, and had been talking to him for two years about exploring, he says, “a more pop, and therefore commercial” side of his aesthetic.
“Even as the intention was to make a pop commercial bikini movie,” continues Hanley, “it has its intelligent side, (which) shows there is an underworld to every seemingly perfect and happy setting. So while it is commercial, it makes you think a lot too — this is something Harmony does very well.”
According to Hanley, the investors were kindred spirits, including former members of the Andy Warhol Factory (“Baby” Jane Holzer) as well as Stella Schnabel, daughter of artist Julian Schnabel, and designer Agnes B., who backed Korine’s 2007 feature “Mister Lonely.”
Korine, himself, is upbeat about the results.
“I can’t wait for people to see it,” he says. “As a filmmaker, I did things I’ve never done before that I’ve always wanted to do, that I couldn’t have done five years ago or 10 years ago. I just didn’t understand moviemaking in this way. This one feels special.”
Lido’s lure unchanged by regime switch | Korine revamps teen dream | Helmer’s ‘Thing’ includes docs, nike, hits