Spring Break as Pop Art
An Essay in Words and Images by Kevin Powers
Harmony Korine is not as weird as I once thought.
About 8 years ago now, I watched his debut feature film, 1997's Gummo, a semi-poetic journey into the extreme oddities of a small town. It is also semi-gross, intentionally. It made me feel dirty, but, by the end, I was smiling, mostly due to two soundtrack cuts, "Like a Prayer" by Madonna and "Crying" by Roy Orbison. Despite this, I never felt compelled to watch another of his films. I never decided whether I actually enjoyed it. How could I? I don't think it wants to be liked.
Written and Directed by Harmony Korine
Starring Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, and James Franco
Let's first talk about the casting, which, as someone with just a vague idea of the previous work of Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, is decidedly perfect. For one thing, it works with the idea this film so distinctly plays on, that being the unavoidable nature of American pop culture, in particular the notion of eye candy above all. And Korine fully respects the eye candy. Smart of him to use his wife as one of the four protagonists. It takes the creeper edge off a bit, since his camera is fully in love with these young women's bodies.
But didn't you already say "Harmony Korine is not as weird as you once thought"? I did. But the thing here is that it is a weirdness connected to reality already formed in our minds. We hear tale of the sex and drugs of Florida beaches on Spring Break, and we conjure images of liquor bottles and stacks of Natural Light cans and white sands and bright bikinis and dudes with washboard abs and beautiful young women.
It's only weird because we've never seen it in such vivid color, even if we think we have. Some may have seen it, but not me. I never went to Spring Break proper. That's where this movie comes in.