Korine got the idea for the film while collecting Spring Break imagery, which he was using in his paintings and his artwork in the downtime following 2009’s “Trash Humpers.” (Getty Images)
Beer. Bikinis. Coeds in pink ski masks toting machine guns while James Franco plays a Britney Spears song on a white poolside piano.
The first two you'll get in any spring break film. The third is a tipoff that "Spring Breakers" is working on a different level, specifically that of writer/director Harmony Korine.
Korine is the bad boy filmmaker behind controversial and notorious films such as "Gummo" and the self-descriptive "Trash Humpers," whose disturbing, graphic content earned him the title of gutter provocateur. "Spring Breakers" is his neon-nightmare vision of the annual American ritual known as Spring Break, and it follows four college-aged girls (including Disney darlings Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens) who head to Florida to indulge their wild side. They end up with more than they bargained for when they meet a rapper/gangster named Alien (a grill-wearing, cornrowed James Franco) and his massive arsenal of weaponry.
Korine's films don't follow typical narrative structures and are generally unconcerned with simple mechanics such as character or plot. "Spring Breakers" isn't much different.
"I am trying to make a movie that works differently, more like a physical experience, or almost like a hallucinatory or a drug experience," says Korine, on the phone from Los Angeles last week, several days after the movie's American premiere at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. "Something that works on you in a way that's difficult to articulate. Like a pop poem or an impressionistic reinterpretation."
Korine got the idea for the film while collecting Spring Break imagery, which he was using in his paintings and his artwork in the downtime following 2009's "Trash Humpers."
He gathered the images from message boards, Spring Break fan pages and fraternity websites, and among the "super graphic, hyper sexual, hyper violent" pictures, "all these kind of childlike details surrounded it, like girls' nail polish, book bags in the background and Mountain Dew bottles and stuff," he says. "I thought it was interesting interplay between the two."
Though he never went on Spring Break in his youth, Korine traveled down to Panama City two years ago to work on the screenplay. "I wrote it in motels while Spring Break was going on, and the motels would just shake," he says. "Kids just blasting music and snorting donuts and setting things on fire. I had to switch three or four motels because it just got too nuts."
Korine, who turned 40 in January, says he wasn't interested in making a documentary or an expose on Spring Break, but in using it as a jumping off point for his characters. "I was more interested in what happens after Alien takes them in the crime world, the beach noir kind of stuff," he says.
And, of course, Britney Spears songs. In the film's most startling, dreamlike passage, Franco's character sings Britney's 2004 ballad "Everytime," her mea culpa to Justin Timberlake (after his scathing "Cry Me a River"), which then transitions into Britney's original and underscores a violent slow-motion sequence of the girls on a crime spree.
"I had been holding that in my head for awhile, carrying it around with me," Korine says of "Everytime."
"I felt like that song was beautiful and poppy and morose and airless, and it also had this sinister, more violent underside, which I thought worked with the whole tone of the film."
With "Spring Breakers," he is in the spotlight like never before. The film is already his most successful outing (combined, his four previous films have grossed less than $400,000 at the North American box office), and he's enjoying the attention.
"It's exciting for me," says Korine, who cast his 26-year-old wife, Rachel, as one of the film's titular Spring Breakers (together, they have one child).
"Usually, the films I make take a long time for people to catch up to them and find them. But this one's exciting because it's happening in real time for me."
He and the cast have been promoting the film in many outlets, but one place he won't be seen is "The Late Show with David Letterman." Korine, a frequent guest on the show in the 1990s, was banned from "Letterman" in 1999, reportedly for shoving Meryl Streep in the green room.
"I've heard that before," he says. "And my honest recollection is that it did not happen. But I can't say emphatically one way or the other, because at that point I was pretty out of my mind. So anything's possible."
Korine has recently returned to painting and making artwork, and he's starting to dream up new characters for his next project. "I'll probably just follow a certain kind of feeling. I just wanna make it gnarly," he says.
For his next film, "I want to make a movie about dinosaurs," Korine says. "Like, talking dinosaurs."
He says he's kidding, but maybe he's not.
Rated R for or strong sexual content, language, nudity, drug use and violence
In theaters Friday
Harmony on film
"Kids" (1995): Wrote the screenplay for this controversial film about a day in the life of a group of drinking, drugging, AIDS-contracting NYC teens.
"Gummo" (1997): Korine's directorial debut follows the downtrodden lives inside a dirt poor community in rural Ohio.
"Julien Donkey-Boy" (1999): "Trainspotting's" Ewen Bremner stars in this disturbing film about schizophrenia, which was filmed under the strict rules of the Dogme 95 movement.
"Ken Park" (2002): Korine reteamed with "Kids" director Larry Clark and wrote the screenplay for this highly sexual film about a handful of California teens; the film was never commercially released in the U.S.
"Mister Lonely" (2007): After an extended break from film, he returned with this story about a group of celebrity impersonators who live together on an island and attempt to put on a big show.
"Trash Humpers" (2009): Shot and edited on VHS tape, this film follows a derelict trio of vandals who defile piles of garbage while wearing senior citizen masks.