Monday, April 21, 2008

Harmony Korine's "Gummo", "julien donkey-boy" & "Mister Lonely"

"I make a policy of not featuring in the magazine films I’ve produced. But, hey, it’s the newsletter, not the magazine, and when some of those films gain retrospective status I suppose it’s justified to let my conflict-of-interest guard down and mention then. Harmony Korine’s Gummo, which Robin O’Hara and I co-produced is screening at the IFC Center April 25 and 26th at midnight, while julien donkey-boy, which Robin, Cary Woods and I produced, is screening at the Silent Movie Theater in Los Angeles on the 26th. The midnight and special screenings are apt because that’s how Harmony’s first two films built their audiences. I still remember the weeks before Gummo’s release. We had gotten great quotes for people as diverse as Bernardo Bertolucci and Marilyn Manson, a fantastic first review from Matt Zoller Seitz in the New York Press... and then came The New York Times review by Janet Maslin, which read like the film had just tracked dirt all over her new living room carpet. The distributor, New Line, punted, the release was short, but then the programmers at the Angelika held it over, and the film played midnights for months where it built up and solidified its cult following.Over the years I’ve met a lot of young filmmakers who think Gummo is some kind of production model to follow, but everything about the film and the way it got made was unique. The script was unconventional – and, yes, the film was very much scripted – but it was a time when everyone on the money side was willing to take a chance on something they might not understand in the hopes of making something different. And while the film is full of non-actors, seemingly improvised scenes, and collage-like Super 8mm and VHS insertions, it was also a film made pretty much “by the book,” with location and artwork clearances, releases from everyone involved, and a SAG contract in order to have the film’s two professional actors in the movie. This led to some unusual situations. For example, because of the film’s storyline, which involved kids killing cats, we were required to deliver a movie with the American Humane Association logo on it. That meant an AHA rep was on the set the whole time ensuring that the cats in the movie were prosthetics or... um, road kill. It also meant that when we shot in a house that had the biggest cockroach infestation I’d ever seen, we couldn’t fumigate. The location was booked for two days and on the second we had to offer some members of the crew haz-mat suits in order to go back inside and finish the scenes. But as much as some critics attacked the film for outlandishness, I can assure you that that film did represent a particular community without much exaggeration. There’s a great piece of film advice that, in the story I heard, was told to a young Bertolucci by Renoir: “Always leave the door to the studio open.” Harmony has always been great at this, and much of Gummo just reflected the environment, both physical and psychological, we were surrounded by when we made it. (In fact, I’d further say that what was off-screen was more extreme than what made it on screen.)julien donkey-boy was a very different experience. After the full-on crew of Gummo, Harmony wanted to try something very different, and julien was shot on miniDV with a tiny crew that included the great cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle. There were tons of cameras – regular miniDV cameras along with hidden cameras and spy cameras. People were filmed without their knowledge and releases (yes, we had to have them) were gotten later. There was the loosest of outlines – I remember one scene reading in its entirety, “The sound of wind” – and the film was mostly improvised. Shooting days were short. Once Harmony, the actors and crew hit a groove, scenes would just sort of come together like magic. There’s easily another film (or two) on the cutting room floor.Anyway, all of this is just a preamble to notice of Harmony’s latest, Mister Lonely, which premieres this month in theaters from IFC Films. For his return to moviemaking, Harmony went to Europe (Paris and Scotland) and Panama for one story (yep – don’t believe those who don’t understand what skydiving nuns have to do with celebrity impersonators) about faith and identity in the modern world. We’ve got it on the cover of the new Spring issue of Filmmaker, with inside a Harmony interview by director Michael Tully along with a chat with star Diego Luna by Jason Guerrasio. I caught up with the film at SXSW and really like it a lot. It’s creative, emotional, and oddly but appropriately sweet. Please go see it and if you haven’t seen the previous films, check them out too in these repertory screenings or get them from Netflix.
Scott Macaulay

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