Alibi V.19 No.25 • June 24-30, 2010 

Film Interview

Still Smashing Lightbulbs

An interview with writer/director Harmony Korine

Harmony Korine
Harmony Korine

At the tender age of 19, Harmony Korine wrote the controversy-courting screenplay for Larry Clark’s the-kids-are-not-alright opus Kids. He followed that by writing and directing a couple of bizarro, nihilistic dramas (or are they comedies?) about disaffected youth and their demented families (Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy). In 2002, he reunited with Larry Clark for the seedy suburban drama Ken Park (a film so blunt in its depiction of sex, drugs and violence among teens that it’s still not available on DVD in America). In 2007, he directed his slickest, most expensive and most puzzling indie film, Mister Lonely. Now, in 2010, comes Trash Humpers, the 37-year-old Korine’s tribute to ... well, it’s hard to say.

A family portrait,   Trash Humpers  -style
A family portrait, Trash Humpers -style

The film features a gang of senior citizens wandering around the alleyways of Nashville, smashing things, breaking into houses, cavorting with unsavory prostitutes and doing exactly what the title implies they do. Shot on a broken-down, lo-fi VHS camcorder by Korine himself, the film is like some scary performance art piece dug up from the bowels of a Dumpster.

The Alibi recetnly chatted with Korine on the phone. Turns out the guy is witty, weird and endlessly quotable. His words tend to speak for themselves, so we let them do just that.

On Trash Humpers junky, lo-tech style: “It’s like when you wake up in the morning and you see your white patent leather shoes that you’ve always thought were hideous. But then all of a sudden, you look at them and the light is kinda right and your mood has changed a little bit and your style has evolved, and now it’s time to wear white patent leather shoes.”

On the inspiration for Trash Humpers: “Going back to a time in my life growing up in the ’80s in Nashville, I remember living down the street from a group of elderly peeping Toms. There was this place, it was like a makeshift warehouse for the old or a place where they, for $19 a month, would store your grandparents. [The residents] wore white nursing shoes and black turtlenecks. I would sometimes see them out in the alleyways peeping into my next-door neighbor’s window, usually doing bad things. So it always kind of stayed with me. At that time, I was a kid of VHS. That was my first camera. And so I started messing with the idea of putting those two things together.”

Trash humpers doin’ what they do best
Trash humpers doin’ what they do best

On the elderly: “I’ve always said the scariest thing in the world to me is an old person who moves well. Like a geriatric with a good physique is really horrifying. These characters [in Trash Humpers] maybe defy this kind of logic. They’re more like shapeshifters or shadow people. There was something more hilarious and frightening about that.”

On vandalism: “I think it can be [a form of expression]. I remember what it was like growing up. Where I lived as a kid, one of the hobbies we had was smashing lightbulbs. I thought of how great it was to come home from school and hang out with your friends, drink Kool-Aid, take some acid and spend a good four to five hours just smashing lightbulbs in new and innovative ways. It was like a spiritual experience. It was vandalism as a creative act. Destruction as something artistic. ... The art of blowing shit up can be just as rewarding as the art of building.”

On making art: “Usually, I just make things because I feel compelled to make them. I have an idea and then I wanna act on it. You have an urge and you act on it. You just do it because it feels like no one else is doing it. I mostly just make things to entertain myself and at the same time hope that there’s some type of audience that likes what I’m doing.”

“I mostly just make things to entertain myself and at the same time hope that there’s some type of audience that likes what I’m doing.”

On the perceived audience of Trash Humpers: “I think about an audience all the time; but I’m always wrong, so it doesn’t really matter. I always think that certain things I do will be perceived in a certain way, and that’s always not the case. Like with this movie: I thought almost like I was making a sequel to Forrest Gump or Caddyshack—not a sequel, but something I could imagine [being embraced by] audiences like the Miley Cyrus or the Jonas Brothers fans. The type of people you could imagine paying $5, going to see this movie and then walking into a restroom and—what do they do?—they make themselves puke. Because most of them have those eating disorders. ... Basically, I was hoping [Trash Humpers] would appeal to that tween audience. I mean, I was completely off. I was imagining the type of thing certain teachers showing, being part of the canon of junior high school sociology classes. Part of the required watching.”

On the actual audience of Trash Humpers: “Just mainly, like, mongrels, hunchbacks and half-breeds.”

On distribution: “I didn’t even go into this thinking of it in conventional movie terms. [Trash Humpers] wasn’t meant to be watched as a narrative film. It was more like something you could disassemble. You could take a certain scene and just throw it in the trash and then maybe someone just would come by and pick it up, watch it and get something from it. That was the way I wanted to distribute it in the beginning. Just send certain scenes to random people’s doorsteps or a courthouse or police building or [a place] where Communists would congregate.”

About future plans: “I was making this movie about these dogs that drip milk. They’re found in Cuba and Panama and they drip milk. They have these huge tits that hang down to the ground, and once a year they hang out in parking lots and drip milk in these circular patterns. It almost looks like these massive, milky Jackson Pollock renderings. So I was gonna write a script about these dogs that figure out how to become art forgers with their tits. I want it to star Harrison Ford and Morgan Freeman.”

On Albuquerque: “I love watching ‘COPS’ in Albuquerque. Albuquerque has got the market cornered on paint sniffers. It’s always incredible. Anytime I see ‘COPS’ and there’s an Albuquerque episode, I know we’re in store for something great.”

Trash Humpers opens Thursday, June 24, at Guild Cinema.