Film Freaks : Harmony & Gaspar

Harmony Korine via Eye Weekly

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When Harmony Korine’s touching celebrity impersonator film Mr. Lonely premiered at TIFF two years ago, the young maverick was showing all the signs of maturity as a both filmmaker and a human — crafting a narrative-based film cast with A-list talent (Werner Herzog, Samantha Morton) while appearing for the post-screening Q&A sober, healthy and congenial.

Returning to TIFF this year with Trash Humpers — a VHS camcorder-shot film about marginalized elderly mischief makers who, as the title suggests, derive great joy from humping trash cans — Korine has thoroughly, and gloriously annihilated any Hollywood-friendliness in an unforgettably subversive 78 minutes. He remains, however, a pleasure to chat with in the midst of TIFF madness as we discuss the finer points of trash humping over 11am coffee in a Sutton Place suite.

What was it like making this film?
It was intense because I was a participant — I was shooting it, acting in it, directing it. But also, it was this really hardcore concept that had to be played out. So it was difficult being that character for as long as we were. But it was fun for me too. I felt like we were inventing something — that it was like painting or something. There was something very spontaneous and fluid about it. At one point I realized that there could be no mistakes really. Because it was more about something that was unearthed — like found VHS tapes, or a home movie or archival footage — and there could be no right or wrong really. It was more about just finding scenes. Not even scenes, just moments.

I’m taking it that you didn’t get permission to shoot and/or destroy in certain locations.
You know, I can’t really talk about that.

How much did working with the VHS format play a role?
It’s tricky, technically, because those cameras are very shitty and the batteries are bad and they’re clunky. So it was a lot of technical challenge. And also I would reuse tapes over and over again and edit on two VCRs.

It’s really a familiar aesthetic to only a certain age group now. Some people probably wouldn’t even know what tracking is.
Yeah, I started thinking about it because I remembered when my dad bought me my first video camera in the early ’80s, and just reusing the same tape over and over again. And then watching it back, there was something interesting about certain images or scenes bubbling up to the surface. Like there might be a three-second fragment between something and I thought that could be nice structurally, or a nice way to present ideas — just having things bubble up at random in and out points. A lot of the challenge was not making anything in any way professional. It was always about under thinking it — that mistakes were good.

And I guess some of the things you achieve could only happen with this format.
I became obsessed with streetlights because they reminded me of really dramatic Broadway lighting. I would go walk through the alleys behind my house and I would see these beautiful glowing lights, and most of the time they were just lighting up trash. I thought that was very representative of what America is, you know. America is carports and soiled couches and abandoned parking lots and overhead street lamps lighting stuffed animals in the crevices and the cracks.

The further I got into the film, the more I was paying attention to the environment than to the people. Like, yeah, these folks are strange and at times disgusting, but when you look around it’s a reflection or a product of this part of America.
I guess what always stays with me in movies is tone and feeling and mood. And so this movie — you can almost make an argument that, I don’t know if you want to call it a horror film or science fiction, but it exists entirely in that realm. The movie is more like a feeling.

And I guess the people who walked out didn’t like that feeling. Have you had that happen a lot?
The one last night seemed pretty good; not that many people walked out. But even if a quarter of the audience walks out, I’m just happy that 75 per cent stayed. I’m very cognizant of what I’m making, and I know that these movies aren’t for everyone. That’s why I named it Trash Humpers, because I didn’t want to fool anyone. I’ve never made a movie that there wasn’t a reaction. I just don’t know any other way. I think people assume it’s a conscious decision — I love reaction and it’s fun for me to provoke reaction, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like that. I feel like I’m just putting it all out there, trying to make something that’s real.

Gaspar Noe via Vice

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Vice first met filmmaker Gaspar Noé last year in Kabukichō, a Yakuza-controlled sex district in Tokyo where, as the saying goes, you can get anything your disgusting fucking black awful heart desires. When you are in Kabukichō you are never more than four feet away from a blindfolded salaryman taking it in the ass from a teenage girl wearing a 12-inch strap-on while he sips horse urine from a thigh-high boot.

We went to meet Gaspar on the advice of Harmony Korine, who told us stories of cameras hanging from streetlights, cameras peeking out of gutters, and cameras dangling precariously in toilet stalls, all in the service of Gaspar’s vision for his latest film, Enter the Void.

When we finally found the Argentine-born French native, who rose to infamy with films like Irreversible (2002) and I Stand Alone (1998), it was quickly revealed that he hadn’t slept in days. We got along famously and spent the next few days traveling with him to all manner of establishments, from really over-the-top SM palaces to orgy and “companion” houses. At one of these places we saw an old man hanging suspended in the air with a piece of red felt tied snugly around his balls while a woman dressed in PVC peed in his mouth. He gargled it down, while saying something along the lines of “I am a human toilet.” During the making of Enter the Void, this was as normal for Gaspar as checking his email and getting a coffee.

A few months later we hung out with Gaspar at the premiere of Enter the Void in Paris. It received a ten-minute standing ovation. Oh, and by the way, we had our video cameras with us in Kabukichō and Paris and you’ll soon be able to watch a documentary about Gaspar on our new cinema-obsessed TV show, The Vice Guide to Film. Check viceland.com and VBS.TV for news on that.

In the meantime, here’s what happened when we caught up, yet again, with Gaspar at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Vice: You have a reputation as being a director who people either love or hate.
Gaspar Noé:
Here at Cannes I’m used to people screaming at my movies. When it didn’t happen with Enter the Void, I thought, “This is weird.” I was shocked that nobody was booing or whistling! But then I read the reviews of the movie and some people really hated it and I thought, “Oh, we’re OK then!”

Why did you decide to shoot this film in Tokyo?
Because Tokyo is like a huge pinball machine! It’s both a scary and an extraterrestrial place. I wanted to find a city that looks like Tron, and nowadays that’s either Las Vegas or Tokyo. I don’t like Vegas—it’s full of bad whiskey and dirty money—so I thought it would be much better to go to a real city, Tokyo. It’s also a place where people are obsessed by sex.

After the first 20 minutes, the film is seen through the eyes of the main character, who has died and is in the afterlife. Do you believe in reincarnation?
Maybe I believed in God when I was a teenager. Back then I was reading lots of books about near-death experiences and the soul. But now I think life is a one-shot thing. After you have gone, only other people can still enjoy your life. Some people are so afraid of having a meaningless existence that they make themselves think they will have a second chance at life after they die. That is how all these religions work: by claiming there is going to be life after death and that it will be amazing—but only if you behave like a lamb before you die.

A lot of people say your films are pure shock value and that you’re taking the piss out of the audience. What are you actually trying to say with this new film?
It’s all about trying to establish that the main character’s own life was not totally meaningless. And it’s also about the experience of one small mammal among millions of mammals. Very frequently what a life boils down to is a single, very traumatizing experience.

The thesis of the film seems to be that everyone is recovering from some sort of trauma.
Yeah. One movie that made me cry a lot is called Grave of the Fireflies. It’s a Japanese cartoon about a brother and a sister and it takes place in the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima. The brother is trying to protect his sister, but she dies of starvation in the end. It’s so dramatic when there is a brother protecting his sister, even more so than when a man is protecting his wife.

Do you have a sister?
Yes. She’s slightly older.

Are you trying to analyze the mental states of your characters in your films? The action is often very internal.
I wish a psychoanalyst would tell me what it is that’s hidden between the lines for me. But I think it’s quite obvious what is hidden inside the character of Oscar in this film. There’s the obsession with tits and the mother—things that are so evident that you don’t even need a psychoanalyst.

You black out the screen for a full minute in this film to represent the passing of time.
The black represents nine months of pregnancy. Most people here in Cannes thought the movie was over! Some of them started walking out. Perhaps I need to add some sound there so that people realize that the film has not ended.

This film seems less aggressive than your previous work.
I used to be very crazy. But then I reconsidered my own patterns. The truth is that you can seriously not do a movie on drugs. It takes so much energy to make a movie that you have to be totally in your right mind. I’ve been very clean lately besides alcohol. The next thing I should stop is vodka. I have problems going to a party and not drinking one glass after another after another…

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