Some Notes on Spring Breakers (Round 2), Gummo, and Kids
Lately, after being so high on Korine’s latest film, I’ve had the chance to look at some of his filmography, and rewatch Spring Breakers. So, here are some notes on my experiences and my thoughts on the films.
- The second time around, Spring Breakers was just as good, just as hallucinatory, and just as fascinating.
- There were seven walkouts in total.
- Tragically, four of them occurred during the “Everytime” montage.
- I am rather happy and proud of myself in how perceptive I was the first time around. Most of my notes were just reiteration of what I’d already articulated earlier in my review. But I still caught some things.
- There is, throughout the film, a persistent motif of water. Rain when the chicken joint is about to be robbed; pools; sharks in the water; etc.
- There seems to be a lot of comment on the relationship between masculinity and guns. In a Freudian way, the girls’ use of guns as a way to gain power is also treated as a sexualization of guns as a phallic object: witness Hudgens in the beginning squirting water into her mouth and later when Hudgens and Benson have Franco fellate a gun silencer.
- This sequence in particular is fascinating and, as I said in my review, comparable to Killer Joe: with Joe, there is a pretty conventional D/S Male/female role being portrayed. That role is subverted in Spring Breakers, with the girls’ controlling the power. After his initial fear, Franco buys into that concept, which is all the more empowering and frightening.
- I mentioned that the film plays more like an album than a song, and this is evident in the Malickian manipulation of time through images. The images function as certain chord progressions that repeat themselves throughout the film.
- The use of Skrillex’s “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” is telling and, essentially, could be an essay by itself.
- Martinez smartly changes the style of music depending on the locale and environment. Dubstep fills most of the spring break scenes, but it changes to electronic hip hop around Gucci Mane.
- The gun cock noise is disturbing.
- Picture taking and the desire to snapshot a moment in time forever is resonant with youth.
- The lecture that the girls are clearly not paying attention to in the beginning of the film hints at the film’s look at racism.
- Communal circles also appear as a motif.
- The baby dolls in the dilapidated house party recall Gummo.
- The girls convening behind the house also recall Gummo.
- The use of “y’all” with such repetition, to me, sounds like it’s intentionally provoking discussion about its generalization of youth.
- Everyone is drawn to the concept of superficiality, including the film’s audience, which might be one of the points.
- Alien probably has such a name because he is a representation of teen alienation. This is why the girls are drawn to him. But his importance becomes less so and more doused with modesty as the film goes on and the girls “find themselves”.
- When the film stock morphs hypnotically, so does the film. I mean, it was already pretty dark, but then it goes off the rails.
- There’s a lot of attention paid to the point of power, as Benson (or Hudgens?) tells Gomez she should become more violent and dominant because the power is alluring. Yay female agency!
- “This wasn’t supposed to happen” could refer to the economy, but that might be me stretching it a bit.
- The overlapping dialogue of the girls as they describe their robbery enhances the legitimate fear engendered by that scene. The chaotic camerawork also accentuates this element.
- YouTube, because of ubiquity.
- “I don’t like where we’re from” helps my theory about her rebellion.
- There is a collision of styles in this film. In one corner, you have Terrence Malick’s hallucinatory visuals, voice over, and fragmented time. In the other, you have the nasty indictment and rhetoric of Jean-Luc Godard.
- There’s a lot of neon in this film, and that seems to symbolize pleasurable desire. And, for all of the pink in the film, which is often associated with femininity, that is subverted, especially at the end of the film.
- Someone commented about the film’s somewhat vague message and commentary and that it sort of just throws stuff at the wall to see what sticks. That may be true, but that, in itself, may be a message. Throwing stuff against the wall might be a way of portraying the numerous messages and ideas that are thrown at youth culture, things that often contradict one another or don’t stick.
- The use of Ellie Goulding’s track “Lights” embodies the hypnotizing power of what draws the protagonists.
- I did not despise the film, funnily enough.
- It felt like a walking tour through a museum of very sad people.
- It seemed to be about a collection of broken people, broken homes, broken minds and the community and culture that is created in spite/despite those factors.
- The question remains, though, to what extent is Korine treating his characters like sideshow freaks and mocking them or looking at them with genuine awe, pity, and fascination?
- I would surmise a bit of both.
- Its collage style was actually very interesting and kept my attention for the whole of the film, which I didn’t think it would do.
- Some truly heartbreaking scenes.
- Some of the music choices are genius.
- Unsurprisingly, much of the imagery is repulsive.
- I was aware that Spring Breakers was sort of a spiritual sequel to Kids. But, while that’s true, the former film is far more mature and complete feeling.
- It is, in many ways, the opposite of Spring Breakers.
- I had a lot of issues with Kids.
- While its general plotline was all fine and interesting, there was a surprising lack of depth to the film.
- Although I understand that opposite to Spring Breakers, the film was supposed to be pretty much from a male perspective, I felt that Larry Clark’s insistent use of the male gaze ended up undermining any sort of feminist comments in the film. Instead, the viewer just has to kind of buy into the inherent misogyny of the film.
- I’m honestly not used to so much moral ambiguity in my films, but while Gummo and Spring Breakers are able to use this technique wisely, letting the audience judge for themselves, there’s so little in the way of any morality in the film that it overplays its hand in that respect.
- Thus, its function as a morality tale doesn’t work quite as well. But it is, nonetheless, still somewhat effective, if only because of its shock and awe approach.
- While you could accuse Spring Breakers of having misogyny, I believe heartily that the film, because it gives its female characters a lot of power, portrays a world of misogyny that is then subverted. In Kids, misogyny exists and the audience is just supposed to accept that as de facto.
- Its substance about the AIDS epidemic was… lacking.
- It just sort of reveled and rolled around in its own filth at times.
- Overall, I actually liked Gummo more. Kids had too many problems in the way of characters and shock for shock’s sake.
- Another question I have is the authenticity of the portrayals of the characters in all three films.
- To my understanding, although the films are scripted, Korine (and Clark) gave a lot of freedom on set to just let things happen.
- However, I believe there is some hyperbole in the way of language and actions in all three. Not too much, but it is still there. This might have a purpose, but one does think to oneself, “IS this how people really act?”
- I’ve heard accusations that Spring Breakers does not portray girls accurately. I actually kind of disagree with this, speaking from some experience. Just with the way the girls interact with one another, I see some similarities between the characters and my friends.
- That said, it is refreshing, I guess, seeing pieces of society and culture that we refuse to admit exist portrayed on the screen in some way related to reality.
- Could the three form some sort of Death of the American Dream Trilogy? Or, if we include Trash Humpers (which I have not seen yet), a “quadrilogy”?
“Spring” Awakening: Spring Breakers
In certain ways, many ways, Britney Spears, that former (or current?) Princess of Pop is everything you need to know about Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. She was once a good girl, but, seemingly bored by that persona, dipped into a little bit of a wild and crazy lifestyle. (Remember Britney and Kevin Chaotic?) That descent, as insane as it was, granted her some media power in a way. She was, maybe unintentionally, controlling every viewer’s eyes. But, she was able to resurrect herself in a way, and that could speak for the careers of the four attractive stars of the film. There seems to be, however, a song to every part of the film. The film itself is, as described by its writer/director, “a violent pop song”. And, sort of like many of the people in this film, you will be hard pressed to find a more intoxicating experience at the movie theater this year. For better or worse.
Tired of the boring community college environment they’re stuck in and begging to get out of what they could easily call a social jail cell, four girls plan to fulfill one of the most American rites of passage ever: head down to Florida for Spring Break. Lacking the necessary funds to plan this getaway, three of them rob a restaurant. And, from there, it’s smooth sailing. Or drinking. And bong hitting. And coke sniffing. (You name it, they probably did it.) This is until they are, inevitably, arrested, only later to be bailed out by a strange benefactor: a narcissistic gangster rapper (in the most literal terms) named Alien.
Many of the sequences are, honestly, not to my taste. They play like a slightly more artful (barely) montage from Girls Gone Wild, but it makes sense. These scenes of women being drenched in beer and twerking (I think?) are the film’s establishing shots. And what a film they establish.
Can a film be both moralistic and yet morally ambiguous? If not, the film is, interestingly enough, a recipe thrown together in the most fascinating way, with elements seemingly contradicting one another and yet working cohesively as a whole nonetheless. (That recipe will, undoubtedly, get you drunk.) For all of the immoral, irresponsible, often terrifying things that the four stars partake in, the film empowers them with agency. Korine, who is previously known for art house experiments like Julien Donkey-Boy, Trash Humpers, and Mister Lonely, judges the generation, but not the individuals, it seems. By giving the characters agency in what they’re doing, sometimes offering them a chance at redemption, albeit in a snarky and sarcastic and heavy handed way, these girls represent an odd look at an ambivalent generation, but one that, if they wanted to, could exploit their power. Korine is intentionally grabbing the audience’s attention by portraying these real acts, but the ambiguity with which the material is sometimes served, or perhaps inconsistency, surprisingly gives a great amount of freedom to the viewer to decide how terrible or how bizarrely admirable these characters are.
I should go back: the four actresses in question are the main show, the main attraction. I mentioned in a previous post how fascinated I was by the film, primarily by its actresses and how they subverted their image for this film, and the subsequent exploitation of this to bring in audiences. Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens are former Disney Princesses and Ashley Benson is on the ABC Family teen soap Pretty Little Liars. The outlier of the group is Rachel Korine, the wife of the director, who is no stranger to subversion of persona; she was in Trash Humpers, though she is the least well known of the four. But, the four actresses are cunning in a way.
Gomez, utilizing her cherubic, good girl nature best, plays Faith, the most moralistic of the group. But her flaw is in her judgment of her friends’ character, and she seems perfectly willing to engage in some of the lewd acts depicted in the film as long as her friends are there. Yet the ideological crisis in the film presents something interesting. It is she who says that seeing the same people, the same campus, etc. is maddening. So, the most moralistic and the most bored is therefore the most likely to rebel, in a way. The bathroom where they contemplate Spring Break has the same color palette as the jail cell they end up in later. This urge and rebellion seems more extreme than the other girls, because they are already prone to such behavior, whereas Faith is not. If there were a Spears song to describe her character, it might be “(You Drive Me) Crazy”. Contextually, it obviously doesn’t make sense alone, but if the song is talking about the allure of being bad and the excitement of being too deep in a situation, then it works. But, Gomez, like the song, knows her limits. Her alternately coquettishness and naïve tendencies heighten some of the films ambiguity. When watching the film, you are, like she is, unsure if she’s really having a good time. Unsure if she should be being chastised for what she should be doing, after the numerous, pseudo-sincere phone messages she leaves on her grandmother’s phone, that repeat over and over like a song.
Vanessa Hudgens sort of subverted her image in Sucker Punch, a film that really shares a lot in common with its feminist spin, but, unlike Spring Breakers, fails miserably. Hudgens is given something to do, which is important. Not being thrown by the wayside, her furious, sexy and powerful character is scary, along with Ashley Benson. The two of them, especially, are easily able to channel their agency and submissiveness whenever they feel it necessary to use one or the other. They are, at once, “Overprotected” and “Toxic”, finally getting their desire in their ability to let loose and make their own choices and also being poisonously powerful. “Toxic” works not only for the two of them, but also Franco’s Alien. Between them (as well as Rachel Korine) is a frightening and electric dynamic, where power continuously shifts again and again. This is especially evident in one particular scene, one I shan’t describe beyond saying that it could give Killer Joe a run for its money.
Speaking of money, much of the strongest statements from the film, however thrown against the wall it may sometimes feel, is about the American Dream. Franco’s Alien is the epitome of how that phrase has evolved over the last several decades and how it has more fittingly become an American Nightmare. With Franco’s brilliantly narcissistic transformation into someone who seems to have everything, he attracts the girls in an obvious way. He runs the “Circus”; however often power may go back and forth between he and his “soul mates”, he’s the de facto ring leader. Franco’s accent may sound sort of goofy in the trailers, but within the context of the film, it works startlingly well. He has “shorts of ever color”, his bed is covered in guns and money, and the girls all want him. They are attracted to his status and the control he has over materialistic goods. The girls’ responses are, in a way, frightening; not only do they want those things (which is unsurprising), it’s shocking to see what lengths they’ll go to in order to retain that status. Then again, these are the girls that robbed money to go on vacation. They need the immediacy of pleasure, the instantaneousness of gratification. And that says a lot about the world we live in, considering people get pissed when Google Chrome is running slowly.
It is beneficial that the film does not have much dialogue, for it would pretty much undermine most of the performances and turning them into something less serious and less believable. But the dialogue that is in the film is used judiciously and sparingly, much of it being repeated over and over again. The comparison has already been made dozens of times, but it does have a connection to Terrence Malick’s dream like narration… that is, if the philosophy he were pushing ended up being kind of half assed and snarky. Here again, the film embodies the generation it depicts. There are lies told in the voice over that masquerade as epiphanies and changes, but we all know that there is barely an ounce of regret in there. And that’s what’s terrifying about it. How real it all seems, all that apathy and ambivalence.
In the narration, though, the faked innocence of the phone calls is eventually paired up with rhymes that Alien recites. These rhymes sound like deadly rewrites of typical nursery poems, corrupting the youthfulness of what was once pure.
Spring Breakers feels throughout like a horror film. It obviously was not going to be the fun, raucous adventure that the campaign is pushing so hard, but I was not expecting how scary it would be. Not only in what the characters were doing, but the attitude that they took with each activity. Seeing the film with an audience full of tweens managed to add a weird new way of looking at the film. It wasn’t what they were expecting, but their reactions are what scared me. I had been interested as to what the audience response would be, but I wasn’t expecting what I got. There was a lot of guffawing and laughing involved, and during some of the most critical and unsettling scenes. Granted, there were a few moments in which Franco’s outlandish portrayal was funny (intentionally so), but other moments where violence was committed or something disturbing was being said or shown on screen, the audience laughed. This is, I guess, the film’s biggest success. It recreates, almost perfectly, how these kinds of people act when shown various scenes of truly questionable and upsetting scenes. The girls themselves think that much of what they do is a joke or a game or something to laugh at. “Pretend it’s a videogame,” is what one girl says before robbing the chicken joint. And not only do that do that with gusto and aplomb, the audience responds to it exactly how the characters do; as if it isn’t serious. It’s just a videogame.
Undoubtedly, my favorite sequence involves a Britney Spears song, a white grand piano, and guns. Not only for the sheer fact that it is deeply disconcerting, but also because it casts a spell over you, as does the entire film. As terrible as the images may be, it’s intoxicating. But, I would disagree with Korine as to his assertion that the film is like a violent pop song. While it has hooks, verses, and a chorus that take the form of repeating images, sounds, and words, it feels more like one solid composition that covers the expansiveness of an album. It’s a symphony of violence, debauchery, morality, immorality, and insanity. And its soundtrack, provided by the likes of dubstep king Skrillex, Drive maestro Cliff Martinez, and co-star rapper Gucci Mane, is the popular sadism in sonic form.
The films insanity is further shown in the gorgeous and dizzying cinematography from Gasper Noe’s DP Benoit Debie, who worked on the celluloid LSD trip that was Enter the Void. The film’s neon and candy colored visuals create a false sense of security, juxtaposing the perceived innocence of the girls (actresses and characters) against their harsh and hyper-real world. It looks gorgeous, easily lulling the viewer.
Korine dissects the American Nightmare, the loss of innocence, the immediacy of pleasure, etc. Aside from that, Spring Breakers is the horror film it never knew it could be, reflecting a society and a demographic that is all too real. And despite the moralistic ambiguities and grey areas, the film is nonetheless a sublimely made tale, almost like a documentary. If there were one song to describe how Korine, a known provocateur, might sing to articulate how successful his film is in portraying these things, it would definitely be “Oops! I Did It Again”.