Like a brayer
Harmony Korine, Chloe Sevigny and Ewen Bremner talk exclusively about their latest celluloid controversy, Julien donkey-boy.
Two years ago, Harmony Korineís directorial debut, Gummo, caused a storm at the Toronto Film Festival with its scenes of weird-looking, half-naked pubescents killing cats and sniffing glue in poverty-sticken, smalltown middle America. Two years later, heís back with julien donkey-boy, the hard-hitting story of an unhappy schizophrenic who works at a school for the blind. Starring fellow Kids graduate Chloe Sevigny and Ewen (Trainspotting) Bremner, itís largely improvised by the cast and is the first American film to be shot according to the rules of the obscure ascetic Danish school Dogme 95. The Face tracked them down at this yearís Toronto Film Festival and asked. ĒAre you having a laugh?Ē No. Most definitely not.
So, who is Julien donkey-boy?
Harmony Korine: Julien donkey-boy is the name I gave the movie. The story is based on my uncle Eddie, whoís a scizophrenic. He was the first exposure I had to someone who was mentally ill. Heíd wear his pants sideways, put cream cheese on his hair , jump out of windows and brake his ankle, here voices and try to kill me. But the thing that scared me was that my uncle was a normal kid until he was 20 or 21 Ė then he started hearing voices in his head. It was always in my mind that I could end up like him.
Chloe and Ewen, what do you do in the film?
Ewen Bremner: I play Julien, the eldest son of a family dominated by their overbearing father. Heís suffering from the onset of schizophrenia. Heís a man full of love for his family for the Lord, for everything Ė except the mailman.
Chloe Sevigny: I play Pearl, his sister, the mother figure of the family. A sweet girl who loves life and is very entusiastic. I donít think she thinks anything bad could happen to her.
Did you get to meet Harmonyís Uncle Eddie?
EB: Yes. Heís an amazing person, so enthusiastic. Oh, and he loves narcotics. Whenever he gets out of the hospital Ė they have let him out a few times Ė he goes back on heroin.
Influential Seventies director Werner Herzog gives a powerful performance as the father. Was it weird directing a director?
HK: Well, Iíd been friends with Werner since Gummo. He called me on the phone and heís like (comedy German accent), ĒYouíre zi last foot soldier in zi army. Itís your duty to make films.You must make films zi vay you make zem. People will hate you. Zey will kick you in zi stomach. But you muuust dooo iiit.Ē
One American journalist said Gummo was Ēboring, redundant and sickĒ. Which adjective hurt the most?
HK: None of them hurt, because I donít care. Why would I care, when that person probably loves the last Julia Roberts movie? How could I be offended by something like that?
Julien donkey-boy obeys the laws of Dogme, the hardline Danish school of Ētell-it-like-it-isĒ filmmaking which imposes ten commandments of filming: only using handheld cameras, donít use special lightning etc. Why bother?
HK: Anyone who cares about the future of film has to care about Dogme because of its militant stance. Basically, itís a rescue action of sorts. Itís liberating to follow the vow of chastity and to follow these ten rules and not argue with them.
Didnít all those handheld cameras make it tricky to direct?
HK: Yes, it was very hard. We had to have up to 30 people holding cameras Ė you know, miniature spy cameras and stuff. I had cameras on their glasses and on their shirts, things like that.
What was it like trying to act with cameras all over your body?
CS: Thereís this scene where Pearl goes to confession. I was raised in a catholic family, so it was really hard for me. I had a breakdown inside the church when I was with the priest. And I was filming him at the time. Valdes [Oskardotti], my editor, said it was the best footage from the movie (laughs).
Why does Dogme have this obssesion with mental illness?
HK: I donít know. Itís very strange that it turns up in all the Dogme movies. Maybe itís all the filmmakers projecting themselves onto the characters.
And why are you so obsessed with disability?
HK: Well, thereís a few reasons. One is that seeing a guy with no arms play the drums is an amazing image. Something Iíve never seen before. And as for people who accuse me of exploitation Ė why is it exploitation when you show someone with no arms? Iís not like Iím sticking someone without their limbs on the screen and laughing at them.
Chloe and Ewen, have you read Harmonyís book, A Crack Up At The Race Riots?
CS: Yes. I was really upset with one story that he stole from my brother - I cantít say which one. I liked the suicide notes and the rumour stuff. It was a little too dirty for me, though.
EB: I thought there was some beautiful writing in there. But I thought it was quite lazy as a novel. I think Harmony was going through a funny time when he put that book together.
Harmony, is there any truth in the rumours that youíre making a movie about Ian Curtis of Joy Division?
HL: (Laughs) I probably wonít be. But there are things about his suicide that interest me.
Improvistaion: a bold artistic statement or a sign of being to lazy to write a script?
HK: Itís like anything else Ė 90 per cent of it fails because thereís no point to what youíre improvising about; it just leads to nothing and becomes trite. But itís definitely not laziness.
Taken from the November issue of THE FACE