CINEMA: The Second Coming Of Harmony Korine

NEW YORK TIMES: HARMONY KORINE catapulted to fame as an enfant terrible, and for a few years he playedgummo_1.jpg the part to perfection. He was the young skateboarder turned wunderkind screenwriter behind Larry Clark’s 1995 sensation, “Kids.” At 24 he directed “Gummo” (1997), about glue-sniffing, cat-killing teenagers in a Rust Belt backwater. Most critics hated its junkyard, freak-show aesthetic, but it spawned an instant cult, with devotees including Werner Herzog, who became a mentor and collaborator, and Gus Van Sant. Mr. Korine’s next film, “Julien Donkey-Boy” (1999), inspired by his schizophrenic uncle, continued the gutter-punk provocations.

But after that he largely receded from public view. Now 35, having dug himself out of what he called “a black hole,” he has finally made another film, “Mister Lonely,” a sweetly cockeyed fantasia about a colony of celebrity doppelgängers and a troupe of sky-diving nuns. Over coffee during a recent trip to New York — he now lives in Nashville with his wife, Rachel, not far from his childhood home — this onetime fixture of the downtown party circuit did not seem nostalgic for the old days.

“I could never live here again,” he said. “Too many ghosts.”

Those ghosts, and the process of exorcising them, account for the long silence between “Julien Donkey-Boy” and “Mister Lonely,” which had its premiere at Cannes last year and screens at the Tribeca Film Festival this week before opening Friday. As he tells it now, the Harmony Korine of the ’90s was not just a precocious upstart but also a thin-skinned kid.

mr_lonely.jpg“In my own distorted view of things I thought people would be championing me,” he said. “Or I thought they’d say, ‘At least he’s not making the same films as everyone else.’ ”

He vividly remembers Janet Maslin’s review of “Gummo” in The New York Times, which proclaimed it “the worst film of the year” in the first sentence: “I got a call from Herzog, who was like, ‘This movie is now destined to live forever.’”

Even then, he said, he realized that it was partly his youthful hubris and pranksterish humor that made him such a tempting target. “It’s one thing to understand it intellectually,” he said, “but another to live through it.”

Mr. Korine’s stunts grew stranger and more brazen. His awkward appearances on “Late Show With David Letterman” bordered on performance art. (He was eventually banned from the program, reportedly for pushing Meryl Streep backstage.) He started work on a video project called “Fight Harm,” which involved goading strangers into beating him senseless. That endeavor landed him in jail and in the hospital.

“I thought I was making the greatest comedy,” he said. “At the time I really felt like that’s what I was on earth to do — get beaten up.” MORE

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