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Reviews

Spring Breakers

Gareth Higgins

RSpring-Breakers.jpg

Directed by Harmony Korine; Certificate 18;  92 mins.

I once interviewed Harmony Korine, writer-director of Spring Breakers, then promoting his Trash Humpers,  a Nashville alleyway-set experiment about elderly face-masked outliers learning to love and kill. It was a strangely intimate piece, down in the belly of the post-industrial beast, by turns angry and hilarious, and so out there and eventually horrific that the mavens of cultural purity could easily have used it as the site to exchange the 'video nasty' shibboleths of the 1980s for 'video dirty' today. Korine wasn't the easiest subject - answering the phone in Spanish (which neither of us spoke as a first language), and insisting on not speaking English for the first two or three minutes, later picking up a screaming infant and instead of pausing the interview, holding the baby closer to the phone than his own voice, and eventually suggesting that a forceful intervention with the 'insides' of pop idols might be in the best interests of humankind. Korine is a trickster, and so of course he was joking to make a point about an insidious archetype - make someone pretend-beautiful, then gloat when they self-destruct. He has a reputation as an enfant terrible, but he's got something to say, and he's making films not much like anyone else.

Kids, which he wrote in 1995, was so graphic a depiction of teenage behaviour that questions were raised in Parliament, manifesting a confusion of portrayal with advocacy that sometimes passes for intelligent debate about art when it's left to politicians. It seemed obvious at the time that the loudest denouncers of Kids were the ones who most needed to see it. Their posture of censorship was really a head-in-the-sands approach; it certainly didn't lead to public policy initiatives that would help address the roots of alienation - social inequality, lack of community bonds, or the breakdown of implied promises about work-for-life that were always false to begin with. It's notable that Spring Breakers, Korine's most high profile film release since Kids, has attracted little of the 1995-style condemnation, although it is easily as explicit, disturbing and unwilling to take the moral high ground. The audience has to think for itself. Something is changing in our culture; infinite content makes it difficult to hook into just one film or one cultural moment. The free availability of things previously hidden - by which I mean all kinds of pornography: not just human bodies, but green flashing lights over the skies of Baghdad that look like fireworks, or the way the inner life of public figures is assumed to be available for public consumption 24/7 - is all new. As a result it is insisted upon that everyone be ready to lionize or demonize anything, anytime, just because they've been asked for a quote.

Spring Breakers is worthy of more attention than the rapid fire entertainment industry (or even political 'journalism') is willing to wait for. This is ironic, because the film is entirely about the consequences of making decisions without thinking. In its story of four college girls on their way to Florida for a week, it offers a hellish vision of what is basically consensual mutual sexual abuse, ripping off the vulnerable, and a subculture of people aping fame while living as train wrecks. It's also maddeningly entertaining - brilliant flights of visual fancy are accompanied by extraordinarily apt musical choices. The narration overlaps and repeats itself (James Franco's exquisite, funny and distressing alien character lulls us into a kind of physical drawl, even while he threatens to kill); and there's a central set piece in which a Britney Spears ballad provides the soundtrack for the preparations for a gang war.

So Spring Breakers is an utterly serious artefact of its time. When the story of the last two decades is told by future historians, I doubt that Kids or this film will be paid much attention. But as we watch the deflation of a generation's hopes as they transition from a world their parents knew into the complete unknown, as we allow undisciplined access to everything that our culture promises, and as we use pop songs as preparation for war... Don't say Harmony Korine didn't warn you, even if he didn't know that's what he was doing.