Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 19, 2013 5:59 pm 
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Girls go wild

Harmony Korine, a former enfant terrible who's now 40, carries his skills as a provocateur into the mainstream in Spring Breakers, a movie guaranteed to shock, entertain, and confuse a much wider audience than he reached with his earlier features Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy, Mister Lonely and Trash Humpers. (Before any of those Korine wrote the screenplay for Larry Clark's Kids at the age of nineteen.) In this effort he is aided by four beautiful young women, Ashley Benson of the campy cheerleader romp Bring It On, his wife Rachel Korine, and two young ladies previously in the Disney stable, Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez. As their Dionysian master of revels, arrayed in corn-rows and braids and a mouthful of gold teeth, he gives us James Franco, playing Alien, a Florida white gangsta and sometime rapper who takes the girls under his Satanic wing. To some Spring Breakers will simply seem a bad movie. To others it's a hilarious parody of beach party youth pictures. LIke most of Korine's films it threatens to go too far, and to come apart. Yet it's more successful and buoyant than anything he's done before. It's a thing that haunts and thrives, and for a while anyway coheres, "gleefully poised," as Anthony Lane puts it, "between salivation and satire." In a gross, over-the-top pink-orange-pastel way, it's also beautiful.

But I'm not recommending it, unless you like booze on bobbing naked boobs, coke licked off tan tummies, or James Franco fellating a pair of long pistols brandished by babes. Guaranteed to be detested by admirers of "tasteful" films, this movie enters cineplexes at the height of spring break, when many college students are going to Florida, just like Faith, Candy, Brit and Cotty, (Gomez, Hudgens, Benson and Ms. Korine), bodacious coeds from a mediocre southern Christian college who rob a Chicken Shack with water pistols and pink ski masks and a judiciously wielded sledge hammer to raise the money for their trip to Tampa. But the movie has already begun, like any good exploitation film, with the money shot of boys and girls writhing in tan buff party fun. They're already there, and Faith, Candy, Brit and Cotty just have to, have to, have to join them.

Though it nods to pulp and exploitation, Spring Breakers doesn't have at all the rough indie look of Trash Humpers, his previous feature, which was intentionally shot with an execrable non-pro video camera. This instead is nimbly lensed by Benoît Debie, the dp for Gaspar Noë's psychedelic Tokyo acid dreamscape Enter the Void. Whether it's a wet dream or a nightmare, this movie glows and pulsates and throbs. Its default mode is the orgy, though there is not that much sex, more just eagerness, youthful debauchery, and sexuality -- and the same hints of transgression and menace that flow through the masked oldsters' odd exploits in Trash Humpers, which was inspired by scary people who haunted the neighborhood where Korine grew up in Nashville. For parents it's scary just to think of their daughters behaving like these girls, who make bland and reassuring phone calls to their moms all through the film as their outrageous behavior steadily escalates.

The slick look this time cannot conceal that Korine is very much at the helm. This is indicated not only by the transgressive oddity of college girls committing multiple felonies to finance their vacation, but by forward-and-backward cutting of shots as if the mind is reviewing, slipping around in time, punctuated at intervals in the latter reels by the premonitory loud clack-clack of assault weapons being cocked. The menace comes on slowly. As Manohla Dargis of the NY Times wrote in her admiring review, Korine can oscillate deceptively between wish-fulfillment and nightmare because of the way he "turns his exploration into such a gonzo, outrageously funny party that it takes a while to appreciate that this is more of a horror film than a comedy." I don't know if it's really a horror film. But it's an imagination of extremes that may be as Dargis says very American in its focus on pleasure carried too far. Dargis is right to say that Korine just "tosses out puzzle pieces," he doesn't make our mind up for us, and what he supplies is "part Dada, part European art cinema, part MTV’s 'Jackass.'" That's a combo the conventional viewer is unlikely to appreciate. Some people don't "get" Spring Breakers. Some get part and leave the rest. But the pleasure of it is putting it all together.

Things get gangsta after the girls are arrested at a party involving illegal drugs -- and arraigned and held in jail in bikinis -- when Alien (Franco) reappears to spring them on bail. He has been in an outdoor scene where he's rapping (his own invention) by the beach to an undulating semi-nude youth crowd, but he's barely recognizable. Franco is the perfect collaborator/mascot/motif for this movie, because his personality, work, and life are a grab-bag one can't pin down. Some think he's amazingly talented, or at least charismatic and daring. Others think he's the worst actor in Hollywood. Couldn't he be both? The point is Franco is just as dada as Korine. More and more what he does seems not so much acting as simply part of the 24/7 performance piece that is his life. According to a profile of Franco by Ivan Solotaroff in the March 2013 Details even Korine finds him baffling. Korine describes working with Franco as "like putting a bunch of chemicals in a beaker and seeing what happens," and, Solotaroff says, calls Franco's "relentless cros-pollination of life, work, media, gender, etc., 'the worm-hole.'" Perfect, because a worm-hole is just what Spring Breakers seems meant to be.

Alien scares the aptly named Faith, who tearfully leaves town on a bus, despite Alien's entreaties ("I really like you. . ."), and the three others bear down, joining Alien in gangsterish partying and posturing. More drugs and sitting around, gun-fellatio and Alien boasting about all his "shit." Alien is a bad guy, and Faith was right to leave. But he's a charmer, enticing like all the bad stuff in this film. Trouble comes in the form of Archie (rapper Gucci Mane), once Alien's best friend, now his enemy and arch rival. A showdown between the two is on the way, though the biggest and most violent twist goes beyond that. The worst shock however may be the schmaltzy moonlit moment when Alien plays piano by the pool and sings Britney Speers's "Anytime." Has Korine no shame, no restraint? Of course not, or he couldn't have made this movie.

Much has been made of the way the girls' Chicken Shack holdup is shot from outside, as if from their car. It is a scene both voyeuristic and creepy, like a guilty fantasy. When Korine comes back to the sequence and shows it from up close and inside, some see this as a brilliant stroke and others as a big mistake. Either way it's Korine's over-and-overing of the material, which welds it into a pulsating candy-colored dream-nightmare poetic whole that's part joyous and part creepy and has an edge of innocence and naive invention under a surface of corruption and danger. If it all adds up to something recognizably unique and personal, this is the more surprising given the apparently conventional outer surface of lurid exploitation movie pastiche and loud satire.

Spring Breakers, 94 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2012, showed at Toronto, Rotterdam and other fests. It opened in New York 15 March 2013 and comes to other US cities 22 March, to the UK 5 April. It opened in France 6 March and was critically well received. AlloCiné press rating 3.7; Metascore 63. The hip weekly Les Inrockuptibles called it "Godard hyped up on Red Bull." They meant it as a compliment.

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