Harmony Korine on The Late Show
October 17, 1997
LETTERMAN: Our next guest garnered both shock and praise as the screenwriter of the controversial motion picture "Kids." Now he is making his directorial debut with the film "Gummo" which opened today. Here's Harmony Korine. Harmony, come on out.
(Harmony Korine enters, is greeted by Dave and sits down.)
LETTERMAN: Welcome back to the show. We haven't seen you in a couple of years. I guess you were here when "Kids" came out, weren't ya?
LETTERMAN: Yeah. Did you have a nice time that night?
KORINE: Yeah, it was real -- it was good. Yeah, I had fun.
LETTERMAN: But it's been a long time since you came back.
KORINE: Yeah. It was like two years.
LETTERMAN: Yeah, but did you want to come back in the meantime? Did you ever find yourself saying, "Gee, I'd like to go back and see Dave?"
KORINE: Oh, yeah, yeah.
LETTERMAN: Well, what happened?
KORINE: Well, this one night I really was thinking about that.
LETTERMAN: Really? Well, that's good.
KORINE: It was neat.
LETTERMAN: You know, I saw your film "Gummo."
KORINE: Oh, yeah.
LETTERMAN: My, that's an interesting piece of work that "Gummo."
LETTERMAN: What does "Gummo" mean as the title?
KORINE: Well, "Gummo" was the fifth Marks Brother.
LETTERMAN: Can you name all the Marks Brothers?
KORINE: Yeah, but well --
LETTERMAN: Well, let's go.
KORINE: All right. Well, you have Zeppo, Harpo.
: Zeppo, Harpo, Chico.
KORINE: Obviously Groucho. It's really pronounced "Chico," because he liked to chase chicks. He also liked to gamble, and when he would play golf he would gamble.
LETTERMAN: So are you a big fan of the Marks Brothers?
KORINE: Yeah, but "Gummo" quit because he liked to wear women's clothes.
LETTERMAN: Is that right? He quit the group, "Gummo" did?
KORINE: Yeah, because he wanted to sell cardboard boxes, but the movie is not about him or nothing.
LETTERMAN: The movie has nothing to do with "Gummo." It's just somebody that you liked, you admired, and you named the film "Gummo"?
LETTERMAN: All right. Why don't you tell people what the movie is about. Is it autobiographical in any sense?
KORINE: Not really. It's just more like about specific scenes.
LETTERMAN: Specific scenes from your childhood, from your upbringing?
KORINE: Well, some of them, but not really. It's just more like --
LETTERMAN: All right. Well, now, let me interrupt you right there, because I've seen the film. If you can, give us an example of a scene that represents your upbringing and an example of a scene that has nothing to do with your upbringing. I'd just like to know what kind of a guy I'm dealing with here.
LETTERMAN: Fair enough?
KORINE: Yeah, that's fair. I guess I used to eat spaghetti in my bath while I would take baths.
LETTERMAN: All right, yeah, that's a scene now. You're in the bath tub and you've got one of those things across the tub.
LETTERMAN: And you're eating spaghetti; you're eating dinner.
KORINE: Also, if you notice in that scene there's a piece of bacon taped on the wall (laughter).
LETTERMAN: No, I didn't. I'll have to load that back up.
KORINE: That's my favorite part.
LETTERMAN: I'll have to freeze it and look for the bacon. [Transcriber's note: Not all that different from Letterman's lifelong comedy bit, pig butt in a can.]
LETTERMAN: Now, when you were a kid did you tape bacon on the wall while you had your spaghetti dinner in the bath?
KORINE: I personally like it. Well, bacon is my aesthetic, essentially.
LETTERMAN: I'm sorry. Bacon is your what?
KORINE: Well, as far as it being -- as far as it being -- as far as it being humorous, taped bacon, It's just something I really get excited about it. (Audience cracks up and applauds.)
LETTERMAN: I'll tell ya something. This is exactly why we don't need Arnold Schwarznegger. We don't need him. We don't want him.
KORINE: Yeah. Once I met Arnold Schwarznegger.
LETTERMAN: Yeah. Nice man. (Korine shrugs his shoulders.)
KORINE: I'm gonna, I'm gonna --
LETTERMAN: Now wait a minute. Wait a minute. We're not done. I want to follow up on this. Now, that's an example of something that did happen in your life. Now, give us an example of something in your film that is in no way connected to reality as you know it (laughter).
KORINE: Okay. For instance, the movie starts with a dog that's impaled on a satellite on someone's house.
LETTERMAN: A satellite dish antenna?
LETTERMAN: But that's after like a tornado?
LETTERMAN: Well, that could have happened. That happens all the time, you know, like cows flying through the air and stuff.
KORINE: Yeah, but --
LETTERMAN: It might have happened.
KORINE: Well, see what happened was, I ride unicycles.
LETTERMAN: No, you don't.
KORINE: I swear. Well --
LETTERMAN: No, you don't.
KORINE: Okay, so the first time in my life I was riding one down a dirt road, and I saw the dog when we put in the satellite dish, I saw it.
LETTERMAN: All right. We'll come back to that later. You know, when you go to the Gap, they'll put cuffs right on those pants. They won't charge you like a nickel extra. (Camera focuses on ten-inch pant cuffs and shoes with no socks and audience cracks up.)
KORINE: I'm not -- I don't like that company.
LETTERMAN: No, you're fine, you're fine. Just take it easy.
LETTERMAN: Tell me about the cast in the film. It's an interesting collection of thespians you have selected.
KORINE: Yes. Well, my big influence is once I saw -- when I was in high school I saw this play. I don't really know if I should talk about that kind of thing.
LETTERMAN: What about it do you find objectionable? What do you think we ought to --
KORINE: Well, okay. Well, you know James Joyce, Ulysses? I was just kind of inspired, because I used to know Snoop Dog a long time ago, and it was a play that he was starring in. He was starring in the theatrical version of that story. So I was -- So that's where I basically got the idea from.
LETTERMAN: Yeah, but now if we can go back to the question (audience applauds.). Just a second. It's a very rich colorful group of cast members you have, and I am curious as to how you found these people, where you found them and why you selected them to put them in the film "Gummo."
KORINE: Okay. The main actor's name is Tumler, and I saw him on an episode of Sally Jesse Rafael. It was called, "My Child Died From Sniffing Paint." (Audience cracks up.)
LETTERMAN: You think this is easy, don't you? You're just sitting there in your house eating Cheetos. You think this is easy, don't you? (Audience cracks up.)
KORINE: But he reminded me of Buster Keaton, and he was a paint-sniffing survivor. (Audience cracks up.) Well, I don't know if like the way I'm telling you this if it makes it sound like you'd want to see my movie.
LETTERMAN: Oh, you are selling tickets tonight, buddy.
KORINE: Yeah, yeah. It's "Gump," "Gummo"
LETTERMAN: I'll say this for the film. It's nothing I have ever seen before.
KORINE: Yeah, yeah, because --
LETTERMAN: Where did you shoot the movie?
KORINE: I grew up in Nashville in Tennessee, and I wanted to make a different film. I wanted to make a different kind of movie, because I don't see cinema in the same -- on the same kind of terms or the same way that narrative movies have been made for the past hundred years. I mean, we started with Griffith and we ended up with -- I don't know what the hell is going on now but -- (Audience applauds.)
LETTERMAN: This thing will set 'em straight.
KORINE: But basically nothing has changed, so I wanted to see moving images coming from all directions.
LETTERMAN: Well, that's what you have. You have assembled a series of very striking vivid disturbing impressions.
KORINE: Yeah, well, that's basically my style (laughter).
LETTERMAN: Yeah. May I ask how much the movie cost to make?
KORINE: 80 mil. (Letterman totally cracks up.)
LETTERMAN: 80 million dollars, and every penny is up there on the screen, ladies and gentlemen.
KORINE: Yeah. I stole some of it. Every penny.
LETTERMAN: 1.5 million. Is that about right? That's about right, isn't it?
KORINE: I don't talk finances.
LETTERMAN: Yeah, but no, that's about right, and you know something? I applaud that. I think that to me it's insane that movies, most of them do cost 80 million bucks. You know what I mean? You can't even bust open the popcorn for less than 80 million.
KORINE: No, I agree.
LETTERMAN: And all we are doing really is telling a story, so why would it cost 80 million dollars to tell a story?
KORINE: I know. I don't understand that. That's why I made "Gummo" because it's --
LETTERMAN: And what story are you telling with "Gummo"?
KORINE: Okay. Well, it's not really one story, because that's the whole thing. I don't know care about plots.
LETTERMAN: That's right, in the linear sense. It's more slices of life.
KORINE: Well, like I think every movie there needs to be a beginning, middle and end, but just not in that order (laughter), and like when I watch movies, the only thing I really remember are characters and specific scenes. So I wanted to make a film-making system entirely of that, really random.
LETTERMAN: Right. You would like the phone book better if it were not alphabetized, right?
KORINE: Yes, I like the phone book. It's good (laughter).
LETTERMAN: Oh, you do, do ya?
KORINE: Yeah. I like Eddie Cantor. I like Al Jolson. I want to do a minstrel with Tom Cruise, and I want him to play it on his knees.
LETTERMAN: Really? Like Eddie Guddell.
KORINE: I want to make a movie about Eddie Guddell. He was a midget baseball player, but they didn't have -- you know it's in the Guinness Book of World Records, because the strike zone is really small.
LETTERMAN: He walked him on four straight pitches or something. So I wanted to his knees.
LETTERMAN: Are you working on a project right now? Do you have something else in the works?
KORINE: I have a novel coming out called, "A Crackup at the Race Riots." It's about a race war, and it happens in Florida, and the Jewish people sit in trees, and the black people -- the blacks are run by M.C. Hammer and the whites are run by Vanilla Ice. It takes place in Florida.
LETTERMAN: Go ahead. Try to adjust your sets. It won't make a damn bit of difference. Go in there and screw with everything you got. Turn it up. Turn it down. Get it going like that, get it going like that. We'll still be here when you're done.
KORINE: I wanted to write the great American choose-your-own-adventure novel.
LETTERMAN: Now, you seem like a very prolific young man.
KORINE: Yeah. I had my first art show.
LETTERMAN: Oh, really? You can paint? Is that what it is? You can paint?
LETTERMAN: Now, Harmony, will you come back now?
LETTERMAN: Because when you were here the last time we all said, "Gee, it would be nice if Harmony would come back and see us," and then you put an Arnold Schwarznegger on us, and we haven't seen you in two years. So you're using us.
LETTERMAN: You only come back when you have something to promote. Is that safe as to say?
KORINE: Yeah. Well, I mean --
LETTERMAN: What about just coming because you kind of enjoyed the experience?
KORINE: Well, all right, okay.
LETTERMAN: Will you come back?
KORINE: I'll come back sometime and hang out with you.
LETTERMAN: No, I didn't say hang out. makes a.
LETTERMAN: Now wait a minute. Listen to me.
KORINE: Sorry. I have such a short attention span. I'm serious.
LETTERMAN: Come back sometime before the end of the year. Will you do that?
LETTERMAN: So that gives you a couple of months. That will be all right.
KORINE: Yeah, because by then I will have done something else.
LETTERMAN: Yeah. That will be good. We don't want you to promote anything. You just come back.
KORINE: I know, I know. I will have learned to swim (Audience applauds.)
LETTERMAN: The movie is called "Gummo". It opened today, and this is the genius behind the film.
LETTERMAN: Harmony Korine.
KORINE: It's a new kind of movie. I just want people to know that things need to change. We can make films differently.
LETTERMAN: You represent the avant-garde.
KORINE: I am a commercial film maker. I am a patriot. I hide in trees. All right. All right.
(Dave and Harmony shake hands and audience applauds.)