Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers has been quite the buzz of late. To quote SF filmaker/friend/artist, T. Siddle:
Did a double feature of Stoker and Spring Breakers yesterday. Stoker is very very good, I’m not convinced by Spring Breakers (though I liked all the neon and the hideous beach font it used for titles). My experience of the latter was somewhat hampered by the elderly man sitting behind me who made pornographic grunts whenever a semi-naked woman was on screen.
There are lots and lots and lots of half-naked women in this movie, so a grunt per visible breast would be distracting indeed. I also saw Spring Breakers recently, also during a double feature. We went Spring Breakers first, then Olympus Has Fallen. Surprisingly, I liked the first. I thought I would hate it, because I tend to dislike excuses to show naked girls for the sake of showing naked girls. I read about how anti-feminist it was, how exploitative. How the female leads were shallow and hard to differentiate. And yet I was surprised. Korine’s movie is all of those things â€” however I would argue everyone in this movie is exploited and exploiting, everything is shallow and everything is a product of a corrupt, late capitalist culture. The leading ladies are not liberated in a positive way, necessarily, but they have learned to be so hard and material, so soulless in a way, that they fulfill the very requirements of their image and then go beyond that image to exploit and manipulate and murder. Korine uses so much nudity it becomes boring â€” yes! â€” blending a vaccuous (and I’d say also American) desire to “find oneself” in pleasure and abundance, that offers this compelling, albeit gross, portrait of class (perhaps more than anything else) and gender.
It probably could have been shorter, and I think it’s a little too pretty for its own good â€” as a portrait of corruption, maybe there shouldn’t have been so many breathtaking moments (the Tiqqun-ish Young-Girls dancing in pink unicorn ski masks, pink bathings suits, dayglo sneakers and carrying artillery rifles as drug dealer James Franco plays a former-Mousekateer Brittany Spear’s song on a white piano) but. At least it exploits the rotten-ness of Vice Spring Break â€” drawing the narrative to an ethical nightmare that is almost lost in the mood of the moment. Blood is spilled in Tarantino proportions, feeling far more hopeless, more pathetic â€” if only because these main female protagonists (two of them as child stars, the third being Korine’s wife) seem to be on an unconcious gender-revenge mission: as though they are simply products (or surfaces) of a culture, not self-reflecting members. These girls have developed a steel-hearted strategy of care-less-ness. And maybe that’s a zeitgeist at the moment â€” consider Sofia Coppolo’s new movie about teenage girl robbers:
Spring Breakers felt like a kind of indictment against the American Dream that gave itself so that it’s youth could have any and all possibilities at its beer-guzzling feet, Olympus Has Fallen became such a freak show of propaganda (the White House is under siege and the President’s son is hiding in its halls as his father is held hostage by evil captors below ground). We walked out after 30 minutes of blood soaked not-ironic-enough patriotism. What I’d like to do is splice those two films together, to show the one myth on one side, (of priviledged youth in a commerically marketed Rumspringa excercising its American-ness), and on the other the myth of America’s need to defend itself from an evil Non-American.
Jeffrey Sconce wrote a great review about the film on his blog, Ludicdespair:
In a fair world, or at least one less crippled by stupidity and mediocrity, James Franco’s “Look at my shit” speech from Spring Breakers (2013) would be one of the scenes featured in the Academy’s “Best Picture” clip-reel at next year’s Oscars. Just imagine how amazing it would be to see Ron Howard, Ryan Gosling, or some other safely bankable Hollywood functionary forced to take the stage and read an Academy staff writer’s impression of what Spring Breakers is about:
“In a chilling performance, James Franco captures the essence of evil as he seduces four young girls into a life of crime…”
“James Franco is terrifying as the local crime kingpin who turns an innocent rite of passage into a nightmarish ordeal.”
All of this would be bullshit, of course, but probably as close as Hollywood could come to getting a moralistic bead on this movie’s unapologetic nihilism. But it would all be worth it to see the lights in the Kodak theater go dark so that TV America could witness the corn-rowed, grill-bedazzled “Alien” (James Franco) inventorying the contents of his sick St. Pete bedroom:This is the fuckin’ American dream. This is my fuckin’ dream, y’all!All this sheeyit! Look at my sheeyit!I got â€¦ I got SHORTS! Every fuckin’ color.I got designer T-shirts!I got gold bullets. Motherfuckin’ VAM-pires.I got Scarface. On repeat. SCARFACE ON REPEAT. Constant, y’all!
…This will never happen, of course, because Hollywood will be too busy auto-fellating itself with the historical import, social relevance, and quality competence of another Lincoln or Argo. Meanwhile, Harmony Korine’s sublimely ugly and mean-spirited takedown of American awesomeness will likely go unnoticed, a film that in its own way says, “yeah, Lincoln was a great guy for passing the 13th Amendment and Argo is the story of some very heroic patriots, but in the end, nothing could stop America’s manifestly obscene destiny to become a nightmare of beer funnels, breast implants, blow, and Skrillex. (read more)
Hackney in East London is an area which could easily be compared to Brooklyn: it is also Londonâ€™s poorest borough and has become a breeding nest for artist.
I get off the bus and the wind almost knocks me off my feet. Sophie Adams, an artist whom Iâ€™d pitched tonightâ€™s event is following. The streets are silent; everyone is wrapped in heavy winter jackets since a five day blizzard has been sweeping away any hope of summer.
Our destination is an old Inn I thought closed for a long time. The Islam green paint is peeling off and scaffoldings are plugged onto the pubâ€™s faÃ§ade like a fixation ring on a triple fracture. Through the window, there are no more chairs, no tables, the juke box is burst open; panels have been ripped off the wall and the paper is shredded; what was once a warm public house has been lynched and hurled in a corner left in shock. As the door opens Sophie hides behind me.
We are here for Black Metal Chicken an event organised by the band Corporate Psychosis, an apocalyptic noise band funded by Henrik Heinonen with Oscar Gaynor and Matthew Peers. At first it looks like the building is being squatted and these events are not common in London. Since squatting was made a criminal offence in the wake of the 2012 Olympics as part of a right-wing â€œclean-upâ€, it is tough: facing a maximum imprisonment of 6 months and a hefty Â£5.000 ($7600) fine, most places would avoid promoting their cultural stand unless acting for the community. But this is not a squat, itâ€™s a rented space that will be knocked down in a month and turned into flats.
It is colder inside than outside but at least weâ€™re off the freezing wind; booze will be de riguer. Two sofas, a large wooden table and a huge brown chrysalid mounted on the wheeling stem of an office chair are what makes the furniture. An empty television with a mannequinâ€™s face in it is lit by red spotlights; wrapped in the leg of a womanâ€™s tight, little hooks are stringed to tiny engines pulling on the fabric; the face swells. Itâ€™s repelling, edgy and bleak.
â€œMutation and identity is whatâ€™s center to my work, it is noisey, a kind of kitsch overload,â€ tells me Victor Ivanov a tall and broad bleached blond man. â€œWhatâ€™s the plan tonight? What are we meant to see?â€ I bluff. â€œWe donâ€™t knowâ€¦yet,â€ he answers secretly. â€œWe have been asked to be here but we donâ€™t know what we are meant to do. Although we have ideas but we are just waiting for them to be called into action.â€
For the next 20 minutes I will be talking with Ivanov and Andie Macario – another of the artist who wears a luxurious violet wig she combs with her fingers. We discuss London and how much we all struggle to afford a living. Sophie comes back from the corner shop with a bottle of vodka and a mango juice carton.
People slowly arrive and I can tell looking at their faces that I am the only one who knows what is going to happen: risky masochistic performance, violent creative clashes mocking humanity, Noise – but in what order?… The lights are dimmed and candles are lit up. There is no music but the constant hubbub of people conversation as the place is filling up.
Itâ€™s nine pm and it seems that nothing is in the way to start. Artists have mixed with the crowd, and they donâ€™t know what is meant to happen. They seem to be waiting for the curator, Heinonen running around hectically, like a Gerbil in a small cage. In fact itâ€™s all in the role play heâ€™ll later tell me. â€œAre you the ceremony master?â€ I ask him. â€œI got Ivanov and Macario to be present here tonight because I trust what they do and I like the way they work, they are very serious.â€
â€œTonight there is a collection of people who are concerned about what is happening to us. But I wouldnâ€™t call myself a curator. I hate the word curator; my work is more like â€œorganising exhibitionâ€. It starts with a space, place, site and it always has some particularly meaning, narrative, its history and also ideological connotations that comes with the space, which you have to take into account. I donâ€™t work in a studio, I am not into this tradition of gallery space and so on. I think we have to figure out something else, something different from art with a big â€œAâ€.â€
Suddenly, weâ€™re told itâ€™s time to eat and that â€œblack foodâ€ will be served. On the table are smoking breaded lamb hearts, fried calves liver, haggis, roasted aubergine and black bread, all free of charge. It feels like a feast of vanity. “Why Black Metal Chicken?” I askÂ Ivanov. “Because we wanted to stuff speakers into that cooked chicken and play Black Metal through it.”
Then thereâ€™s a move. As about fifteen of us are sat around the table, the Benny Hill tune is hurled out of the speakers from the back of the pub and I see Ivanov wrapping his hands around Macario’s neck, strangling her. Macarioâ€™s face has turned a reddish mauve; she coughs, a touch of white foam forming at the corner of her mouth, gasping for air like a fish out of water. It doesnâ€™t feel real but I can tell by the sombre air behind Ivanovâ€™s mask that he is choking her. Â Everyone has left the table, and stand around the performing couple. Should it be stopped?
â€œWhy are we watching that? Are you all right?â€ erupts Sophie. Macario is about to pass out.
And release. The music stops and a long silence floats thick in the air. It was somewhere sexy but very grotesque and we watched. Till the end. He could have left her dead. We wouldnâ€™t have movedâ€¦
But it was meant to be a performance; something shocking that was played to aggress. Adrenaline had kicked in and it was hard to go back to the food. We wanted more. Suddenly, the whole place roared with discussions.I hear that it was the first time theyâ€™d performed in front of other people. Ivanov is shaking, speaks very fast and occasionally stutters. â€œIt was a good feeling but there were dangers. It was good because nobody knew what was going to happen, then this girl asks â€œare all right darling?â€ It was quite something.â€
He seems hard for him to stay focus. Sophie appears on my back: â€œI thought the timing was good,â€ she says. â€œJust as the audience were eating, helping themselves to food. If I didn’t know it was a performance, I would have been concerned, it relied heavily on our knowledge and trust that this was a performance. I think, they were trying to communicate the uncanny, notions of sadism, the erotic.Â Perhaps, too,Â how vulnerable we are to another person’s decision to harm us?â€
â€œIt was nerve racking,â€ says Macario very slowly. â€œI didnâ€™t know when it was coming. We decided not have control when it was actually done so the curator put on the Benny Hill theme tune and we got cued in.â€ The anticipation as well was quiteâ€¦But I have quite a high tolerance. I am in the fetish theme and I have this character that has a name, she is a performer and she likes to be looked atâ€¦itâ€™s kind of pieced to my art practice; it is a separate theme but I like to do things in public. Throughout my whole life I have been fed this idea that women are baby making machines and need to serve their man; I like to play with the idea of over-performing feminine identity through the use of drag and creating various characters for myself.â€
â€œIs it artistic?â€ I ask.
â€œI am an artist first and it is part of the world of the artist to perform a character as well; or a caricature from themselves. Because thatâ€™s only the way you are able to be free and to be truly yourself. Because itâ€™s okay for an artist to be crazy; itâ€™s acceptable.â€
â€œYou are quite limited, you have quite a lot of boundaries as a person. When youâ€™re an artist, or a performer it gives you this elevated freedom that perhaps you wouldnâ€™t have normally.â€
The second act starts. Heinonen puts on his baby mask and follows destructive sound performance with made up guitar, keg drumming and screams and shouts.
At that point I just wandered where Iâ€™d walked into. I was baffled and very much wandering whether this had any aesthetic sense or any meaning really. It felt as if weâ€™d come to a point of transition, that moment when genre mutates and itâ€™s dirty and we put everything together and, chew, eat and digest; aesthetic was being stretched beyond rupture point to find its limits and ours. Theory and beauty mixed with the bloody guts of feminism, artifice and hyperreality. I saw rituals, erotico-porno art; hazy narratives and no reliable truths.
However, I felt the whole a bit too clumsy. As if playing too much with the shock factor in a way that â€œthis shouldnâ€™t be shown, so here it comes.â€ I saw their approach as a sort of unfocused radiating violence; they don’t speak; they shout. They don’t cuddle; they choke. They recycle the streets, they “attack” morals, social behavior and contracts, all at once and from every direction. A bit like a campaign without program.
Heinonen would later tell me that it started as a joke during a video show of Raymond Petitbon until it evolved into Black Metal Chicken.
The group believes that we are all â€œun-dead corpsesâ€ or â€œhuman being without a subjectâ€ since we live in a world preconditioned for social performance. Comparing liberal democracy to a totalitarian regime like Soviet Communism, Fascism or National Socialism, they engage the crowd to discuss and react within their own socio-political â€œtraumaâ€ in order to redefine themselves.
In a very Adorno-istic way, the group concentrates on cultural criticism and itâ€™s modernity: machine, violence, hyper reality and Post modernism exclusion: we have wandered too far out of the cave and lost our sense of humanity and the best way to re-identify as human beings is to test our morals; our emotions; our senses and nerves, all of what makes us humans.
â€œI am little bit more optimistic,â€ Heinonen cuts. â€œThis is what I try to express, I donâ€™t know if I succeed but our identity, ourselves is passed on to us by our parents and family and our identity is a form of power, limitation and control. Out of this we have to go â€œtoo farâ€ if we are seriously gonna have some form understanding of ourselves. Seeing shocking images on the internet, where people are almost abusing themselves, as hard as I can, I try to see humanity in there. I try to see something beautiful or touching, or something that tells about this person, what is inside him or her. Â See, I take Harmony Korine (Gummo, Spring Breakers) work very seriously, I think he manages to do something good out of this crazy jumble of stories, Itâ€™s grotesque but itâ€™s beautiful.