Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers

Postby CAP » Tue May 14, 2013 8:45 am

Thumbs down. It’d been a while since I’d seen a Harmony Korine movie and on the strength of this effort it’ll be even longer before I see another. I wouldn’t have seen this one except the deep and meaningful movie I was queuing for was sold out by the time I got to the ticket window. I took this as consolation. Talk about a loser!

The story : Bored girls in college somewhere in the Christian heartland want to flee to Florida for their spring break. Three of them hold up a local diner to finance their trip. A fourth, younger and less desperate, joins them. In St Petersburg, Fla. they join the annual mayhem. They get busted in a drug raid on a wild, wild party. A local rapper and drug dealer, Alien (James Franco) bails them out, intent on seducing and exploiting them. The youngest, Faith (Selena Gomez) freaks out and goes home. The other three embrace the gangsta lifestyle until Cotty (Rachel Korine) is shot in the arm. She goes home. The remaining two, Brit (Ashley Benson) and Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) the instigators of the holdup, get it on with Alien, then join him in a showdown with rival dealer Big Arch (Gucci Mane). Alien is killed, the girls wipe out the opposition and take the Lamborghini. The end. Yeah so little bikini cuties can go bad. Deal with it.

Anyone familiar with Korine’s improvisatory, scattered approach to movie making will know that it slows storyline to pretty much glacial pace and the audience expires of boredom long before the movie grinds to an indifferent climax. Bored – it set in after about three minutes. It runs 90 minutes but it feels like a crawl. All those cute little snippets going nowhere, all that repetition. It was like a music video that forgot it was a music video. I stayed the duration as a contest of stamina. Friends tried to con me that this was Korine’s most ‘accessible, mainstream’ effort for some time. With friends like that who needs enemies? I’m reviewing it only because the conversation afterwards surprisingly returned us to classic issues.

The problem is Korine follows - even this, slackly - the impressionistic, pictorial approach of Malick or Van Sant. These guys essentially shoot for stills or music videos. They’re great on sunsets and weather, quirky moments of interaction (impro!!!!!) moody theme music and generally travel. Location, location, location! Even at the expense of story or plot. They make their movies from behind the camera and struggle for longer or more complex structure. The contrasting approach is the standard Hollywood story-telling-by-numbers, numbed by dramaturgy, bummed by cliché. Probably it’s most promising avenue is someone like Wes Anderson who takes the storyboarding to extremes and revels in comic strip simplification, deadpan delivery, inscrutable if not two-dimensional characters. These guys make their movies from behind the script. You don’t get bored with the pace of a Wes Anderson movie, just a little disappointed in what it delivers, maybe, the pointed evasion of insight or depth.

In ancient times this difference was argued as montage versus mise-en-scene, or stage direction versus camera direction. Back then the issue was how much or in what ways the movie maker ought to intervene or respect the subject matter – even down to which lens or filter to use. Where did ‘the subject’ start? Camera people inevitably gravitated towards documentaries, treated what was in front of the camera as ‘real’. Stage people gravitated toward spectacle and treated everything in the movie process as an opportunity for style and excess. The former were naturally indie, underground and at heart subversive, the latter were naturally corporate, populist, at core complacent or frivolous. Obviously the two camps fought, they drew up canons. They fired salvos, awards, directors and manifestos. One claimed art the other claimed cinema.

The digital revolution has not really changed this deep-seated duality. Trying to straddle or reconcile the opposing aesthetics is basically what sinks Spring Breakers. Korine wants to be Malick or Herzog, Van Sant or Sofia Coppola – or anyone hip & Hollywood really – but at the same time deliver a good old Hollywood yarn. But he can’t quite pull it off. Even his heroes variously struggle. But they have either a better eye or a subtler directorial touch. Their movies will still risk boredom but rescue it with restrained but effective stage direction, astute ellipsis in editing or script. Korine simply doesn’t have that ammunition. He’s built for music videos, for the short term coup or surprise, like when the remaining three college girls, in pink ski-masks and bikinis and toting machineguns, gather around the gangsta Alien at a grand piano improbably on the lawn of his villa, (at dusk, naturally) for a sensitive rendition of a Britney Spears' hit. If that alone had been the movie it would have been great. But it would have been a two minute music video and Korine would have had to live in hope of recognition on the Biennale circuit rather than MTV. But Korine wants more than that. He wants to be Hollywood and yet still be a poet, an indie. It rarely works. Mostly it demonstrates a betrayal of poetry, a compromised individual.

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