Christened "the future of American cinema" by Werner Herzog, writer/director Harmony Korine matured from film's youngest credited screenwriter (for 1995's Kids) into one of its most controversial independent filmmakers.
Born in 1974 in Bolinas, CA, Korine is the son of documentary filmmaker Sol Korine. He spent his early years in Nashville, TN, before moving to New York City to live with his grandmother. A solitary teenager, Korine frequented revival theaters, watching classic films by Cassavetes, Herzog, Godard, Fassbinder, and Alan Clarke. He studied English at New York University for one semester before dropping out to pursue a career as a professional skateboarder. Korine was skating with friends in Washington Square Park when he caught the eye of photographer Larry Clark. Korine showed Clark a screenplay he had written about a teenager whose father takes him to a prostitute. Impressed, the photographer asked him to compose a script about his everyday life. Within three weeks, Korine wrote Kids, a film about 24 hours in the sex- and drug-filled lives of several Manhattan teenagers. Directed by Clark and starring Leo Fitzpatrick and Korine's on-again-off-again girlfriend Chloe Sevigny, critics called Kids both a brilliant wake-up call to America and a blatant work of teen exploitation.
Korine caused another stir with his directorial debut, Gummo (1997), the story of two friends growing up in a remote Ohio town that cannot recover from a devastating tornado that hit decades earlier. Numerous critics thought his use of hand-held video, Super 8, and Polaroids was genius. Herzog and Bernardo Bertolucci even wrote Korine fan letters after seeing the film. Others called Gummo boring, absurd, and exploitative. New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin went so far as to label Gummo the worst film of the year, despite the fact that it earned top awards at both the Venice and Rotterdam Film Festivals.
After Gummo's release, Sonic Youth tapped Korine to direct the video for their song "Sunday." At the filmmaker's insistence, the video starred Macaulay Culkin and his then-wife Rachel Miner. Korine turned the experience into a book, The Bad Son (a twist on the title of Culkin's 1993 vehicle The Good Son), which consisted of manipulated photographs taken on the set of the video. The work eventually served as a companion piece to Korine's one-man art exhibition at the Taka Ishii Gallery in Tokyo. Barely a year later, Korine further disgusted critics with "The Diary of Anne Frank (Part Two)," an experimental work that used three movie screens to alternately show such disturbing images as a mentally handicapped man in a soiled diaper and the burying of a dead dog. After completing his first novel, A Crackup at the Race Riots, Korine began a project titled "Fight Harm," a documentary-style film which followed him as he harassed people on the streets until they beat him up. The director, who often said he would die for the cinema, hoped to make a cross between a Buster Keaton vehicle and a snuff film, but after only six fights, he was hospitalized and forced to abandon the project.
Korine drew the inspiration for his next feature, Julien Donkey-Boy (1999), from his uncle, a paranoid schizophrenic. A month before the picture went into production, director Thomas Vinterberg asked Korine to start the American New Wave and join the Dogma 95 brotherhood. Filmed according to the Dogma 95 manifesto, in chronological sequence with hand-held cameras in natural light, Julien Donkey-Boy starred Ewen Bremner, Herzog, Sevigny, and Korine's grandmother, Joyce. The project earned as much praise and disapproval as Korine's earlier films, setting the stage for his long-awaited reteaming with Clark for 2002's Ken Park.