Bruce LaBruce on the set of Harmony Korine’s Julien
NOTE to readers: Bruce LaBruce is homosexual.
” Dear Ass Fucker," begins a recent e-mail to yours truly from one Harmony Korine, the Kids scribe and Gummo auteur who, if reduced to a mathematical equation, might be described as the spiritual great-grandchild of any one of the Marx Brothers, divided by Orson Welles circa his "War of the Worlds" broadcast, times your cool whigger rapper of choice. "I don’t know how you guys do it that way," he continues blithely. "In the ass seems like such a brutal action for men who are too weak to hold up their wrists." Here, here. And with that one off-hand remark, Harmony nails the essential paradox of homosexual existence. How I cherish him.
I first met Harmony at the Park City International Film Festival in 1995. As the poor boy was too young to buy alcoholic beverages for himself, I recall that my friend D-J and I kept on buying him modified Long Island Iced Teas. We kept shoving them under his shnozzola, as one of Harmony’s great heroes and role models, Jimmy Durante, would say.
Who knew then that only a few short years later, on assignment for Honcho magazine, I would be shooting a handsome Puerto Rican porn star named Tyger Tyson of Latino Fan Club fame, avec formidable hard-on, in Harmony’s midtown apartment? A frequent visitor to Riker’s Island, the naked Mr. Tyson was surprisingly cooperative as Harmony and I snapped away enthusiastically — why he even deigned to pose with the banjo! But when Harmony suggested that our model be photographed holding a pair of rare Al Jolson records, I thought the jiggy may have been up: Tyger akimboed his arms and leaned away from us in a "step back" posture. Happily, violence was averted and the shoot continued smoothly. So successful it was, in fact, that my editor requested that Harmful and I essay another spread on my most recent trip to New York. But as the Boy Wonder was smack dab in the middle of shooting his latest directorial effort, Julien, I knew he wouldn’t have time. Instead, I suggested to index a report from the set of Harmony’s new movie. Although Harmony readily agreed, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But then again, it never is.
I dutifully book two weeks in New York commencing the day that Harmony is scheduled to start shooting Julien, his first foray into the wild world of Dogme 95, the most significant cinematic New Wave to emerge since ’70s Germany. In fact, when I ring up Harmony the day of my arrival, he informs me that Werner Herzog himself has been cast as the father of Chloe Sevigny and Ewen Bremner, It was Herzog who championed Gummo to a top prize at the Venice Film Festival before it was egregiously ignored in America. (I hereby issue a fatwa against that harridan Janet Maslin, whose scandalously ignorant review of Gummo in The New York Times all but demolished its US distribution.) Sevigny is, of course, Korine’s radiant muse, and who could forget the other and currently far more interesting, non-McGregor Ewen in Mike Leigh’s Naked, screaming "Maggie" forlornly on a damp street corner, his head twitching convulsively. In the same conversation, Harmony also tells me a little secret: that he has won a certain literary award — the identity of which I can’t reveal — for his first novel, Crack Up at the Race Riots. Personally, I prefer his other book, The Bad Son, a one thousand copy limited edition printed in Japan, exclusively featuring hundreds of his half naked photos of MacCauley Culkin. It’s truly a remarkably modern artifact: has-been child star kiddy porn. The tragic Culkin, so ravishing with his bee-stung lips and porcelain skin in Korine’s sublime music video for Sonic Youth’s song "Monday," was at one point, along with his little brother Keiran, attached to Julien, but bailed, as did Leo the Lost, no doubt owing to a bout of gout.
Having reputedly rejected several famous cinematographers for Julien, including Wong Kar Wai’s d.p. Chris Doyle "Those movies look like shit," carps the always candid and competitive Korine), Harmony has finally settled on Anthony Dod Mantle, who shot The Celebration. You see, Harmful has been designated, by no less a personage than Lars Von Trier, as the only suitable American member of Dogme 95, the Danish filmmaking group which has produced a manifesto called the "Vow of Chastity." Among its many bizarre prohibitions, the "Vow" eschews the use of tracking shots, black and white film, studio sets, props which are not indigenous to the location, extraneous narrative devices (fake violence, guns, etc.), and music which is not suggested directly by the setting. The filmmakers who sign the manifesto are also expected to keep credits to a minimum, or even eliminate their own director’s credit, to be celibate during shooting, and to wear a white lab coat with "Dogme 95" written on the back while directing. The films can be shot in any format, but must end up on Academy 35mm stock.
The "Vow of Chastity" also declares that its proponents should no longer identify themselves as artists. Although it’s always a good idea for an artist every once in a while to announce that he is no longer an artist, there is one type of artist who never goes out of style, the category which obviously bonds Von Trier and Korine so closely: the bullshit artist. And I mean that strictly as a compliment — it’s a club to which I like to think I hold at least a provisional membership. Regardless, Harmony’s association with Dogme 95 has also garnered some more tangible fruits: although Julien is gamely being produced by Gummo funder Cary Woods (who also produced Godzilla — go figure), Harmony has been invited by Von Trier to Copenhagen to use his post-production facilities, effectively upping his million dollar budget by about fifty percent.
Incidentally, Harmony's aptly named, ongoing video project, "Cinema of Cruelty" — in which a hidden camera records the auteur harassing people in the street until they get annoyed and beat the shit out of him — is already, it seems to me, the heart and soul of Dogme 95. (After the melee, Harmony explains the point of the exercise to the unsuspecting participants who, remarkably, in most cases, agree to sign a release.) In one recent episode, Harmony emerged with a black eye, bruised ribs, a sprained ankle, and a night in jail under his belt. How’s that for conviction?
Anyway, to make a non-story short, discovering that Harmony’s shoot has been postponed by one week, I set out on my usual Kafkaesque trajectory in New York, obfuscating the line between business and pleasure until neither applies. I hang out with my dear friend Tom International, A-list Russian call boy and one of the stars of my latest movie, Skin Flick, who introduces me to various members of the Velvet Mafia. I shoot, with the assistance of index’s own Chris Buck, another Puerto Rican porn star, this one named Cobra, also for Honcho, posing him on crutches and with a tensor bandage on his knee against a lavender backdrop. I meet Jack Walls, former lover of Robert Mapplethorpe and subject of perhaps his most famous photograph, "Man in Polyester Suit." Jack kindly installs me in the apartment of Parker Posey, who is out of town. It feels strange to repose in Miss Posey’s bed while conducting my own little Parker Posey film festival on her VCR. And everyone who hears where I’m sleeping wants a pair of her panties.
On the Sunday before my second week in New York, I call up Harmony and ask if I can visit the following day. He informs me that the first day of shooting is now slated for Tuesday, and that I won’t be able to visit the set on the first two days, which are always pandemonium. I begin to get the sinking feeling that maybe this isn’t going to happen at all, but I nonetheless start up a cell phone relationship with Diane, his personal assistant, to see if I can insinuate myself onto the set on Thursday. Meanwhile, I think I may be coming down with the influenza that is knocking everyone out, and have to hold it off through sheer will power.
On Wednesday, Diane informs me that Thursday is no good, so I begin to lobby for Friday. It’s possible, she tells me, but she’ll have to get back to me tomorrow. I remind her that I’m returning to Toronto on Monday afternoon, and as there is to be no shooting on weekends it will probably be my last chance. On Friday, Diane calls to tell me that it is a particularly heavy day with several location changes, and Harmony would prefer if I came on Monday. I almost begin to think I’m getting the bum’s rush in melody. I call Air Canada and inquire if I can get a later flight on Monday; they inform me that I can fly stand-by if I get to the airport before seven.
And so it is that I find myself on Monday afternoon on the way to the set of Julien via A New Day car service with my luggage in tow. You see, the location is somewhere in the outer limits of Queens, so it’s only logical for me to drop by on my way to LaGuardia. I’m given a set of directions rivaling It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World in their intricacy: take the Midtown Tunnel to the Long Island Expressway to the Van Wyck, take the first exit and stay in the left lane, take a left at Jewel Avenue, which is also called Harry Van Arsdale Road, continue past the overpass, take a right on Main Street, a left on 77th Road ... You get the picture. Thing is, somewhere along the line I seem to have contracted a dire case of diarrhea — it must have been that New York tap water. Of course the driver gets us hopelessly lost (we find 77th Terrace, 77th Avenue — everything but 77th bloody Road) and there I am in the backseat with my legs and eyes crossed having to go really badly and struggling to pull the map into focus. After driving around in circles for a half hour or so we finally get lucky and reach our obscure destination of desire.
I notice a couple of unmistakable film production types hanging around outside a modest attached brown brick house. I hobble toward them, lugging my luggage. It’s Harmony’s Grandma’s House, one of the film’s locations and currently the production headquarters. The actual day’s location is a barren, muddy field between this neighborhood and the projects several hundred yards away. The crisp, business-like First A.D. greets me with a warning not to be too obtrusive, as a good First A.D. should. Then out of the house pops the Dogme Boy himself, Harmony Korine. He looks exuberantly haggard in his winter gear — it’s bitterly cold for the exterior shoot today. He’s sporting a brand new pair of size 15 boots with the price tags still on them, which the production has bought for him to replace his perennial sneakers. With his cowlicked hair, baggy attire, and over-sized clodhoppers, he looks like a kid playing dress-up in adult clothing. His security chapeau attached to a dummy string slung around his neck as well as a wool cap atop his head only adds to the effect. And as the director will also once again appear in his own movie, I suppose it’s only appropriate that he is literally wearing two hats.
I give Harmony a hug and say, sotto voce, "I have diarrhea." It reminds me of the time that a journalist friend of mine happened to be on the rag when she was suddenly dispatched to conduct an interview with La Streisand at the diva’s luxurious digs. The journalist blanched when she was ushered into the receiving room, furnished in Arctic White. After the interview, as the story goes, she left behind a little crimson reminder on one of the settees, which caused Ms. Streisand-Brolin to go into convulsions. Harmony’s response to my pronouncement is much more pragmatic, and wholly in keeping with his process-oriented art:"I should put that in my movie," he says. (Not to compare in any way menstruation with diarrhea, although as a homosexual I might be granted some leeway.)
After using the facilities, Harmful introduces me to Mr. Dod Mantle, a friendly, rugged man with the unmistakable confidence and bravado of a director of photography. They are about to shoot the crucial opening scene of the movie, taking advantage of the "magic hour," that most elusive, diffusive time of day just before the sun goes down, which God invented especially for filmmakers. In the scene, a bewildered Ewen Bremner happens upon a pudgy young boy with glasses playing with a turtle in a wooded area. He eventually strangles him to death in the mud. The unfortunate victim is played by a show business veteran named Brian Fisk who, his father — a larger, decidedly less cuddly version of his offspring — informs me, has appeared in over forty commercials and feature films, including the job of stunt-kid on Stepmom. Just before shooting begins, I attempt to snap a picture of the bespectacled boy, who has a Piggy in Lord of the Flies aspect, but he shields his face and cries, "No!" When I explain to him that it’s for a magazine, however, he says, "Oh," and poses professionally. Little does he know that he will soon find himself half-submerged in a cold mud hole, the SAG rep hovering nervously in the background.
The size of the crew and the general atmosphere of the shoot is refreshingly modest for a million dollar-plus movie — definitely not, thank Christ, the scaled-down hierarchical Hollywood system needlessly adopted by most American indie productions. As the entire picture is being shot in digi-beta and within the relatively austere restraints of the Dogma, the crew has been kept down to a very manageable and mobile fifteen. Although Harmony speaks of the Dogme "rules" with a certain irreverence, I get the impression that both the director and his d.p. take aspects of it quite seriously. When I ask Dod Mantle about his lighting for the interiors, he tells me that they really are using only practicals as much as possible, and indeed he is loathe to move or manipulate even the existing lighting of a location, otherwise, he says, "What would be the point?" I also overhear him complaining about the soundman on another Dogme project who was manipulating the sound during a scene, as opposed to the straightforward live sound mix that is being used in the making of Julien. Purists they are to a degree, so I mischievously ask Harmony if he is wearing his Dogme 95 labcoat under his parka. He says he’s not, but confesses that they have already shot one scene in their skivvies.
I discover that some scenes will be covered by as many as twelve cameras — the number 4 on the slate designates the number of cameras being used in this particular scene. Apparently, Harmony and Dod Mantle had a field day at a surveillance and espionage store which rents state-of-the-art spy equipment. In the scene with Ewen and the kid, both actors are rigged with miniature, virtually invisible cameras on their chests, and wired for remote sound on their backs. The director and the d.p. each cover the action with lightweight digi-betacams from a distance with long lenses. The technique requires quite a bit of time to rig, but once everything is set, the actors are free to move around and improvise without having to worry about lights or booms or hitting marks. I suspect there will be a lot of improvisation, since the script of Julien, inspired by the story of the director’s schizophrenic uncle, reads like an epic, meandering poem.
Owing to technical difficulties with the sound, the scene is delayed as the sun nudges down below the horizon. "Fuck the sound, let’s shoot MOS — we’re losing the light," decrees Dod Mantle. The cameras roll and Ewen walks somnambulistically toward the fat kid holding one of the turtles, which were transported to the set in a beer cooler half full of water. After a brief conversation, Ewen suddenly grabs the kid and throws him headlong into the mud, flailing at him wildly with both hands. As if the whole city is in collusion, an eerie silence follows — no sirens, no distant voices, a strange lapse of street noises — out of which emerges Ewen’s odd laugh, then his cries for deliverance. As the sky offers a brilliant sunset that even Hollywood couldn’t contrive, I can’t help but think this movie has been blessed.
Afterwards the crew converges in Harmony’s Grandma’s little house, trying to confine its muddy boots to the path of green plastic garbage bags gaffer-taped to the wall-to-wall carpeting. Grandma Joyce sits brightly in a comfortable chair, poodle in her lap, taking it all in. She informs me in broken English and I assume Yiddish that Harmony’s father gave her the pooch as a present at the cost of one thousand dollars. She proudly shows me childhood pictures of Harmony and his older brother and younger sister. I snap photos of Harmony with his Grandma. I tell him to look suitably demented, but then I say, "Forget it, you already look demented enough."
Harmony and Ewen and Anthony gather around the portable monitor to look at the day’s footage. They peruse the fruits of their labour, discussing it animatedly. In one shot, from the boy’s point of view, a huge drip of snot hangs off Ewen’s nose, which looks amazing. "I’m good with snot," he remarks proudly.
I get the location manager to call me a car service and miraculously make it to LaGuardia just in time to catch my plane back to Toronto. I can’t wait to see Julien when it’s finished. My only regret is that I didn’t get to witness the ineffable Chloe Sevigny in action. After all, she and Harmony are the Jack and Anjelica of the future.
Taken from: www.indexmagazine.com