Spring Breakers

image courtesy of tumblr

This past Friday a friend of mine and I went to see Writer/Director Harmony Korine’s newest film Spring Breakers. I have to admit, when I first heard about this film – or perhaps I should say with the first images I saw of the film – I was taken aback. If one were to believe the trailers and ads or contemplate the mainstream selections for the cast (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens) then fairly avant garde filmmaker Harmony Korine had just made a mainstream film.

Rule #1: Never trust the trailer

Why should this upset me? It doesn’t, not really. Korine is a very talented filmmaker and I believe if he set his sights on making a mainstream flick he’d make a great one. However, when you study someone’s films you get to know an aspect of them. Let me be clear about this; in no way do you get to know the person, but to a degree you do begin to understand them creatively. You see some of their Fires. And with Harmony Korine, I just had trouble believing his “Fire” had gone mainstream.

Rule #2: Don’t handicap your favorite filmmakers with limitations you’ve decided they should adhere to based on their past efforts

My initial exposure to Korine’s work was when some friends arranged a viewing of GUMMO for me in 1999. Ever since that viewing GUMMO has remained in my top five films of all time. It is a film I’ve seen countless times because I show it to EVERYONE I know that loves film. Probably about half the people I show it to love it, the other half hate me for showing it to them. GUMMO is a perfect example of what Korine does best – he becomes interested in a subculture, lifestyle or geographic area and then simply trains his camera on it, capturing very raw images and piecing them together with little regard for plot. In other words, the images come first. And that’s what I love about the man’s work. It reminds me a lot of how Werner Herzog often seems to choose his location first and then structure the film around that. For Korine, his subsequent films as a writer and director differ in the approach but appear to retain a similar impetus. Mister Lonely especially is very similar in nature but there Korine toys with adding a heftier amount of narrative structure into the sometimes gonzo documentary style, teasing the reality captured by his lens with flourishes of fiction. The just-released Spring Breakers is perhaps his most fictionalized film to date, however it is anything but mainstream. Or maybe, more accurately, it can help re-write what comprises mainstream.

Rule #3: Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public – H.L. Mencken

So we tend to feel safe underestimating. And really, if you look at a lot of key factors in society and the way it – on a whole – consumes media, you’d not be going out on a limb thinking that a Harmony Korine film would not be for most people. That’s why Spring Breakers is so interesting and, hopefully, so subversive. Rule number one was never trust the trailer, however here that becomes a little trickier than usual. The reason you don’t trust trailers is that they can be edited to suggest almost any plot via the images and sound bites they choose and – most importantly – how they juxtapose those elements against one another. The trailers I’ve seen for Spring Breakers do just that, suggesting a guns-out crime flick. Little girls on spring break need money so they do something bad, get caught, then meet someone who teaches them to indulge those criminal leanings. Sound about right? Only that is not how the movie unfolds. Sure it’s close, but there’s so much more real life going on here and so much less traditional structure. So is that a bad thing, that the trailer presents the film one way and the film itself plays out somewhat differently?

I don’t think so. In fact, as I stated above, I have hopes that Spring Breakers will actually subvert the typical moviegoer’s taste threshold, maybe even endear Korine to people, the way in music you can see that sometimes the most unlikely genre becomes a flag-flying movement, ie Black Metal. In the instance of Norway’s number one export, a very abrasive, ugly, oft-times challenging form of music was different enough to appeal to a wider range of people than its predecessors did and thus caught on with a lot of people who, for better or worse, had their tastes tweaked by it. With Spring Breakers we have a film that will lure people in based on those trailers and print ads that depict the essence of spring break at its most debaucherous. Then once the audience is in, they’re going to get those things – in that regard the trailers do not lie at all – but they’re going to come wrapped in a package that is essentially, for lack of a better way to say it, an art film. And this isn’t dishonest because as I suggest above with Korine’s films images are the most important element. With GUMMO the images of dead cats, a wasted town and poverty weren’t going to draw a new crowd in (on a whole). In Spring Breakers though the images are bikinis, guns and hedonism, all things that indeed will sell it to new audiences. Once drawn in by these images people will watch the film unfold in its non-traditional sense and be challenged to accept or even like that. I don’t want to overestimate anybody, but I feel as though based on the strength of the film Korine has made, some people might even walk away with a new perspective on what film can be.

You think I might be wrong to overestimate folks, don’t you? Well, the imagery isn’t the only thing going on here that could potentially ‘sell’ this film to those unprepared for it. There’s also a strong element of electronic music here, perhaps most notably trance or hypnogogic pop music. Korine ‘samples’ dialogue and replays it over different imagery, a nice way to juxtapose where the characters are according to their own expectations for where they want to be. These anchoring mantras serve to allow the visuals to drift in and out of time, allowing us to see things that haven’t happened yet, or that happened differently than we initially thought they did, without the viewer getting lost in anachronism. This is also helpfully underlined by a soundtrack that plays with the same elements, whether they be looped dub beats or snarky, swirling synths. This is the soundtrack to many young adults lives – hell, through advertising’s co-opting of electronic music in all its forms it’s the soundtrack to all our lives when we’re out in the world or exposed to media. This will also help indoctrinate people to what Korine is trying to do.

Finally, there’s a FANTASTIC interview with Harmony Korine on the always wonderful aintitcoolnews here where you’ll get way more in-depth insight into the writer/director’s motivation and craft for the film.


* I believe Julian Donkeyboy was more of an attempt at producing a film that lived as close to the Dogma95 film.

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

2 Responses to Spring Breakers
  1. Dan O. Reply

    Solid review Shawn. This is bubblegum pop cinema mixed with trashy MTV inspired goodness that actually has some substance to it and isn’t all surface. It has a message that’s worth a listen to and for that, I have to give it a bunch of credit.

  2. Joe Grez

    Joe Grez Reply

    You know, I’m not the biggest fan of Gummo. I respect it’s importance and understand it’s concept, just not the big fan. I am interested in seeing this film though. Korine is an interesting bird.

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