Skip to main content

I ain’t from this planet, y’all.

Spring Breakers
(2012)

Harmony Korine’s latest has received a fair deal of critical fanfare. To be honest, it was the sole factor that eventually persuaded me to give it a look; I’m not an enormous fan of his oeuvre, but fair play to those who find his work rewarding and challenging. I probably should have trusted my better instincts, as this deconstruction of a youth culture transfixed and tranquilised by sex, drugs, and gun culture surprises only with quite how bereft it is of substance.


To be highly cynical for a moment, Korine’s decision to manufacture this critique through the medium of four actresses (including his missus, 13 years his junior) clad, at best, in bikinis for the duration seems like your classic opportunistic method of making an artistic statement. It’s about something really significant, you know. It just happens that the means of communicating this message requires prodigious amounts of ripe young flesh to be bared.


The plot, such as it is, involves four empty-headed college girls (one of whom, Faith, Selena Gomez, is troubled by an unwholesomely religious home life) out to have some fun for spring break. Which it seems is when copious quantities of college kids gather on sun kissed Florida beaches for all manner of misbehaviour, indulgence and carnality. Three of them (Vanessa Hudgens’ Candy, Ashley Benson’s Brit and Mrs Rachel Korine’s Cotty,) get together the necessaries for the jaunt by robbing a local eating establishment, displaying the vigour of ones brought up on a diet of Tarantino movies.  Once they've reached their destination they have a jolly good time, accompanied by alternately thumping dance anthems (at their party parlours) and dreamy Cliff Martinez ambience (for post-raving dalliances). Much of the latter is accompanied by Faith’s slightly touched, idealised version of their jaunt; in itself this seems an attempt to homage the folksy charm of Malick’s Badlands. Then the quartet end up in the slammer, after a particularly hard night on the disco biscuits (actually, I’m not sure we see them indulging those), and are bailed out by self-styled white gangsta Alien (James Franco, enjoying himself immensely; there’s absolutely no way an audience could appreciate the actor’s performances as much as he himself does).


At which point Korine, after a mind-numbingly dull first half hour, at least has someone animated to secure our attention. Franco, no doubt improvising like a maniac, pronounces his peace-loving, gun-toting agenda with a rhetoric that quickly grows tiresome (there’s only so much of him exclaiming “Look at my shit” one can take, however ironically conceived). Of course he watches Scarface on repeat. Ever since New Jack City the film has been a meta-reference of a meta-reference. And a Britney Spears song is the very definition of “inspiring”. It’s not really all that clever, y’all.  It isn’t long before Faith heads home, because “I have a really bad feeling about this”. If only Gomez had such prescience before signing on to Korine’s mentally challenged minorpiece.


Korine, “cleverly” using genre cliches, ensures that Alien is engaged in some sort of turf war with a former best pal (Big Arch, Gucci Mane). Alien’s, and the girls’, American Dream turns nasty, after which Cotty too heads home. Left with his two best “bitches” Alien elects to take revenge on Arch, at which point the ruthlessness proficiency of Candy and Brit, first seen during the robbery, manifests itself. This is the bit where the characters, unable to define themselves outside the fictional worlds of the idols they imitate, embrace the life of the movie-movie third act. Do you see?


The most arresting aspect of Spring Breakers is Benoît Debie’s photography. His work on the underrated Mel Gibson starrer (not many of those around these days) Get the Gringo was also highly distinctive. Here he infuses the environment with an eye-popping wash of primary colours, emphasising the disconnected blanket of unreality that informs these girls. The visuals deserve unqualified praise, but serve to emphasise that Korine has no engine beneath the hood. A pointed rebuke of corrupting influences on the youth of today and their gradual descent into sociopathic abandon? He’s only revisiting a much-explored topic that each aging generation fixates on (we can’t understand the new kids on the block, each successive new generation is worse than the last), whether to venerate (Bonnie and Clyde). If he’d explored this through something a little less obvious, and a lot more focussed, he might have been on to something. But fixating on rap culture and gun fetishisation is faintly “Oh, really. Again?” But, since we know he’s such a profound artist, we can be confident that the decision to adorn his bikini babes in ski masks and Uzis was a purely ironic act.


There might be something worthwhile to be said about the saturation fetishisation of the kick-ass female in contemporary culture, a consequence of the influences of both Cameron, Whedon and Tarantino on the film and television landscape. They’ve worked hard to reconfigure baser male traits and propensities have into a normalised and celebrated depiction of the female. There’s a perverse message of empowerment whereby it is seen as an advance to embrace masculine impulses and violent tendencies. It’s a self-congratulatory, masturbatory act on the part of such stylists; a way to impress the chicks. Maybe there’s a slight sense that Korine is tilting at such deranged glamorisation, but not nearly enough to consider it a treatise.


At least Korine’s film is mercifully brief, and yet it still feels longer than it is due to the slipshod construction. It has the air of something he formulated on the back of napkin and then laboured (not hard enough) to make some kind of sense from in the editing suite (there are endless montages, far beyond the point where it suggest a master plan). None of the girls make much impression, aside from for obvious reasons (but don’t you see, that’s the point; oh, how clever you are Harmony!) Franco is Franco; the campaign for Oscar recognition didn’t take, but I suspect that’s more because most people are heartily sick of the sight of the ubiquitous cheesemonger (I’m beginning to suspect there are several James Francos, all engaging in the same wretched performance art for our unedification). Hats off to the advertising department, though; they turned this thing into a hit. So Korine’s ruse worked (in his words, to “do the most radical work, but put it out in the most commercial way”). He succeeded in “infiltrating the mainstream” (what a daring darling guerrilla you are, Mr Korine). If only he’d hoodwinked us into seeing something of any merit.


**

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

Just a little whiplash is all.

Duel (1971) (SPOILERS) I don’t know if it’s just me, but Spielberg’s ’70s efforts seem, perversely, much more mature, or “adult” at any rate, than his subsequent phase – from the mid-’80s onwards – of straining tremulously for critical acceptance. Perhaps because there’s less thrall to sentiment on display, or indulgence in character exploration that veered into unswerving melodrama. Duel , famously made for TV but more than good enough to garner a European cinema release the following year after the raves came flooding in, is the starkest, most undiluted example of the director as a purveyor of pure technical expertise, honed as it is to essentials in terms of narrative and plotting. Consequently, that’s both Duel ’s strength and weakness.

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.

Ours is the richest banking house in Europe, and we’re still being kicked.

The House of Rothschild (1934) (SPOILERS) Fox’s Rothschild family propaganda pic does a pretty good job presenting the clan as poor, maligned, oppressed Jews who fought back in the only way available to them: making money, lots of lovely money! Indeed, it occurred to me watching The House of Rothschild , that for all its inclusion of a rotter of a Nazi stand-in (played by Boris Karloff), Hitler must have just loved the movie, as it’s essentially paying the family the compliment of being very very good at doing their very best to make money from everyone left, right and centre. It’s thus unsurprising to learn that a scene was used in the anti-Semitic (you might guess as much from the title) The Eternal Jew .

You are not brought upon this world to get it!

John Carpenter  Ranked For anyone’s formative film viewing experience during the 1980s, certain directors held undeniable, persuasive genre (SF/fantasy/horror genre) cachet. James Cameron. Ridley Scott ( when he was tackling genre). Joe Dante. David Cronenberg. John Carpenter. Thanks to Halloween , Carpenter’s name became synonymous with horror, but he made relatively few undiluted movies in that vein (the aforementioned, The Fog , Christine , Prince of Darkness (although it has an SF/fantasy streak), In the Mouth of Madness , The Ward ). Certainly, the pictures that cemented my appreciation for his work – Dark Star , The Thing – had only a foot or not at all in that mode.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

Sleep well, my friend, and forget us. Tomorrow you will wake up a new man.

The Prisoner 13. Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling We want information. In an effort to locate Professor Seltzman, a scientist who has perfected a means of transferring one person’s mind to another person’s body, Number Two has Number Six’s mind installed in the body of the Colonel (a loyal servant of the Powers that Be). Six was the last person to have contact with Seltzman and, if he is to stand any chance of being returned to his own body, he must find him (the Village possesses only the means to make the switch, they cannot reverse the process). Awaking in London, Six encounters old acquaintances including his fiancée and her father Sir Charles Portland (Six’s superior and shown in the teaser sequence fretting over how to find Seltzman). Six discovers Seltzman’s hideout by decoding a series of photographs, and sets off to find him in Austria. He achieves this, but both men are captured and returned to the Village. Restoring Six and the Colonel to their respective bodie