Last night, The Museum of the Moving Image in Queens hosted a preview screening of the upcoming film Spring Breakers as part of a retrospective on the work of the director, Harmony Korine.
Due largely to the movie's high profile cast of starlets (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, and Pretty Little Liars' Ashley Benson) and a marketing campaign which played up a movie wardrobe that consists almost entirely of day-glo bikinis, Spring Breakers has been the subject of a dizzying amount of pre-release "buzz."
The movie's been tabloid fodder for the past year as provocative photos from the set leaked out onto the Internet, but that's not the only factor which has fueled public interest. For nearly two decades, Korine's enjoyed a certain amount of cult celebrity as a fringe director. After writing Kids at 21, Korine went on to make a series of original and bizarre films like Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy (starring the director's friend and mentor, Warner Herzog) and Trash Humpers. None of these projects ever found mainstream success, but they did cement Korine's status as an experimental filmmaker.
Piling on to the already ludicrous combination of a teen idol cast with an avant-garde director, the film takes as its subject spring break, a hedonistic mass ritual which has been an American lightning rod ever since we saw its excesses documented and celebrated in the 90s by MTV.
Spring Breakers hasn't opened yet, but it's already the target of an immense amount of criticism. The trailer (below) and movie posters don't misrepresent the amount of nudity and violence featured in the film. The graphic content is especially provocative given the young stars and their even younger, predominately female fan base. People that haven't even seen the movie yet have already billed it as an exploitative teen flick, made solely to capitalize on the public's prurient interest in explicit sex and senseless violence.
I walk around with my feminist knives sharpened and am fairly culturally conservative in some respects (I, too, bemoan how our culture glorifies the blowjob and objectifies the teen girl) and yet still I can say that anyone who's complaining about the movie's "message" or lack thereof has either not seen it or is attached to a set of predetermined judgments which are at odds with the film's sense of humor and sensibility. In the latter case, that's fine; nothing has to be for everyone.
Image via Facebook/Spring Breakers
But for anyone that hasn't seen the movie and is already condemning it, you're not doing yourself any favors. Spring Breakers is in some ways a complicated and difficult film, but it's also extremely fun to watch. It's immersive, it's engrossing. I'm worried about sounding cheesy or overselling, but these are some of the descriptive words which have been lodged in my brain since I saw the movie: beautiful, fascinating, funny, sublime, transcendant, bizarre, true, brilliant, important, special. It's like a poem made out of pop culture. It's also a kind of response to anyone who says work like Terry Richardson's is not pornography but art. I told you my reaction verges on cheesy and parts of the movie are cheesy or even borderline bad, but it worked. I'll just say this: I wish there were more films like it.
Rachel Korine (the director's wife) joins Gomez, Hudgens and Benson as one of the four bored co-eds who goes on spring break looking for adventure. After a brief period of consequence-free misbehavior, the girls are arrested and put in jail. Enter James Franco's character, Alien, a local rapper-slash-gangster (like an actor-slash-waiter but bloodier) who bails them out and shows them the dark underbelly of St. Petersberg, Florida. There are Britney Spears covers (yes, more than one), gang fights, squirt-gun hold-ups, neon pink ski masks. There is only one actual sex scene and it could be considered scandalous, but it also involves giddy joyful laughter.
Anyone who thinks Gomez would do anything that would seriously tarnish her public image seriously underestimates her handlers and is going to be disappointed. The pop star plays the good girl, and even though she's central to the movie, she's also one of the least interesting characters. She leaves just about halfway through.
After the movie was over, Korine spoke about the film with MOMI's curator and then took questions from the audience. The interviewer mentioned that his 11-year-old son was probably at home watching Selena on TV and asked Korine about his decision to cast teen idols:
"That was exciting for me, obviously. Because I want your eleven-year-old kid to see it. [Lots of laughter.] So that was exciting…
You know, it wasn't a conceptual stunt but there was a lot of — I like the idea that those girls are representative of this kind of pop mythology. And they're connected culturally to that world, in some ways. And I thought it brought a whole different layer. "
A member of the audience later asked more specifically about working with Gomez:
"I didn't know much about her, I didn't know much about her personal life and all that stuff. She's great. Whatever you can say about Disney (I don't know much about Disney either), those girls are like, tough. And she was like, down for it.
You know, there's a lot of chaos and a lot of fanaticism that follows her and follows a lot of other girls like her. You know, shit I've never seen before, like people hiding under floorboards. I had like, tween kids with signs in front of my condo. But she has a lot to contend with, there's so much energy. When there's that much energy around you as a human being, it's crazy. But I can't speak highly enough about her. She took a risk with this movie and I'm grateful to her. She was amazing."
Here's the official trailer. Spring Breakers opens in New York and Los Angeles on March 15 and nationwide on March 22.
Top image: Spring Breakers promotional poster via NYDailyNews