Harmony Korine used to be a movie junkie, someone who’d watch anything and everything. These days, when people recommend a movie, “I’ll look at it and I feel nothing, like dead inside,” says the guy whose own films, from “Spring Breakers” to the controversial screenplay for Larry Clark’s “Kids,” are nothing if not disruptive.
“Watching a lot of this shit, you really feel the algorithms,” he says the day before receiving the Pardo d’onore Manor prize at the Locarno Film Festival. Whereas, “I’ll see a clip on TikTok that is so inexplicable, so outside the realm of what I even imagine someone creating. Like, I can have an experience with a 30-second clip that goes so far beyond” what movies do for him.
TikTok. YouTube. Video games. Those are the influences operating on Korine’s latest feature-length provocation, “Aggro Dr1ft,” which is premiering at the Venice Film Festival. It looks and sounds unlike any movie he’s seen — or made. Korine and DP Arnaud Potier shot on thermal cameras, relying on 3D imaging, visual effects and AI tools to render the result.
“It’s closer to being inside of a game,” says Korine, who is using the project to launch a company he calls EDGLRD, with backing by Matt Holt, president of the board of The Paris Review. “It’s probably like the most excited I’ve been about anything I’ve made in forever. I’ve been working to get to this place for a long time. I spent the last couple years with a lot of tech people, and also creative people — like gaming developers and animators — trying to develop something that I felt was the next phase.”
Korine has been trying to do this very thing with cinema his entire career. A quarter-century ago, in the second of his notoriously uncomfortable “Late Show With David Letterman” appearances, Korine described his debut feature, “Gummo,” as “a new kind of movie.” Letterman was too busy teasing the then-24-year-old director to take him seriously, but Korine’s message was clear: “Things need to change. We can make films differently.”
Letterman laughed. So did the audience. They didn’t take Korine seriously. Critics didn’t know what to make of “Gummo” — a fragmented portrait of Midwestern youth that felt like Diane Arbus by way of MTV — or his next few features. “I was definitely going for it,” he says. “I was angry a lot.” But Korine was on to something. From the outset, he challenged film form, deconstructing narrative, telling stories out of order — or not at all (as in “Trash Humpers”).
“It was rough back then. As a child, there’s so much you wanna do, there’s so much you have to prove. And I was really burning it up, for good and for bad,” he says. “My thoughts were so fast in my mind, it was difficult for me to contain it, and I was always just dreaming of things.”
Movies were just the beginning. In his early 20s, Korine published a novel (“A Crack Up at the Race Riots”) and started painting (his latest show debuts this month at Hauser & Wirth). Now 50, Korine still does both. He also skates. But gaming is his latest obsession.
“Video games are so advanced and so much more interesting than normal films,” he says. “I could be sitting there playing a video game for days, whereas it’s hard for me to make it through any of these films.”
He’s also fascinated by the innovation he sees on social media platforms, whose short formats appeal to Korine’s admittedly limited attention span.
“You know, my daughter, she’s on TikTok all the time,” he says. “There’s a TikTok radio station I listen to when I drive. It’s the greatest radio station I’ve ever heard. It’s like they’ve completely deconstructed the entire history of music. It’s almost like an alien playlist, where people are cutting up choruses and hooks from songs from like the ’70s and ’80s. They’re slowing down verses. Things are looping. They’re playing with the format in such an experimental way, you see a new language.”
“Aggro Dr1ft” still tells a story, he insists, but just enough to sustain its slender 81-minute running time: Spanish actor Jordi Mollà plays Bo, a mysterious hit man with a contract out on his life. Rapper Travis Scott is his only remotely recognizable co-star. The goal was to create an immersive sensory experience, where audiences feel like they’re floating through a Grand Theft Auto-style environment, rendered in trippy electric colors by the infrared cameras.
“This was kind of a first attempt, to figure out what’s it like to live in a game, to let it wash through you,” he says. “It’s almost like a rave, or rave cinema. That was really the thing: How do you make something that feels like audiovisual drugs — that allows you to enter the image and the sound — but at the same time, there’s a story and a narrative?”
So what is EDGLRD? Korine, who pronounces the handle “edge lord,” explains: “It’s like a design collective, in the way that the focus is on designing entertainment and alternate forms of content,” he says. “It’s live action, with a really strong emphasis on video games and experimenting with the gamification of films.”
EDGLRD isn’t limited to film projects. The company will produce fashion and other tie-ins as well. “It can be as simple as designing a skateboard and a pair of socks, or a feature or music,” Korine says. When “Aggro Dr1ft” comes out, the plan is to launch a related first-person shooter game at the same time.
Music is a major inspiration for Korine, who thinks of his feature projects more as songs than stories. He’s shot music videos for Sonic Youth (“Sunday”), the Black Keys (“Gold on the Ceiling”) and Rihanna (“Needed You”), and he jumped when Travis Scott asked him to direct the concert portion of “Circus Maximus,” the rapid-turnaround feature companion to his new album, which hit AMC Theatres for one day in late July.
“I was actually shooting a fashion campaign at the time, and then I got the call from Travis,” Korine remembers. “They were going to release the ‘Utopia’ record, and they wanted to see if I could fly out to Pompeii and shoot a live performance of it. I was like, ‘When?’ and they were like, ‘Four days.’ The turnaround was unreal. I think it was like a week later it was supposed to be in the movie theaters, so I just jumped on a plane and we shot the live sequences over two days in Pompeii. And then we were cutting it all the way up until, like, an hour or two before it was released.”
Korine thrives on spontaneity, and the tools he’s developing are meant to allow for maximum flexibility. They’re also meant to be shared.
“Part of what we’re trying to create is something that ultimately would be fun to put out in the world and let people experiment with. That’s part of this whole thing,” he says.
While the writers and actors guilds worry about what AI could mean for their livelihoods, Korine sounds genuinely excited by the potential of the technology, which can be seen at work in “Aggro Dr1ft.”
“AI is just the tool,” Korine says. “I don’t necessarily see it as this existentialist threat. It’s like another type of paintbrush. For me, it allows a certain level of creative experimentation that, up until recently, wasn’t even existent.”
On “Aggro Dr1ft,” AI worked with visual effects to supply the texture of costumes, masks and tattoos Korine mapped over his characters, and generated the horned demon that looms above his hit-man antihero.
“They were implementing AI, but there was also manipulation and then a kind of fine-tuning that went on top,” he explains. “In this film, it was used more like the icing on a cake.”
But Korine has greater ambitions for EDGLRD’s next project, “Baby Invasion,” a home-invasion thriller with an interactive component. “I’m editing that now, but a lot of it is post-intensive,” says Korine, who’s working with AI and gaming engines to give audiences unprecedented control over the result.
“One of the ideas is that the next film will have almost no specific order. It will be constantly remixing itself and allow people to remix it,” he says. “And then also the concept of using skins in films is interesting, so being able to change the cars and to interact with clothes and to design characters and stuff. We’re trying to figure out how to implement that and do it in a way that works artistically.”
With “Baby Invasion,” Korine says, “We’ll create these almost like freakish cartoon filters that these invaders will have, that they’ll wear throughout, but then you could also possibly change them as you go.”
Of both “Aggro Dr1ft” and “Baby Invasion,” Korine says, “It’s funny, I was really trying hard to not make a film. I was trying to conceive of what comes after movies. Going forward, I think it’s all pretty much gonna be obliterated.”
He’s already got a name for these “post-cinema” one-offs: blinx.
“It was just a name we quickly thought up,” he says. “What if maybe these aren’t really films in the conventional sense? Maybe some of these aren’t feature length, maybe they’re just flashes or blinks. It was a term that we would use internally, like, ‘Hey, let’s create a blinx,’ which is just something that doesn’t fit all the kind of traditional constraints and doesn’t really conform to a specific box.
“A blinx is something that’s really like its own medium. It could be one second long, or it could be one year long,” says Korine, who likes “the idea of a film that never ends, that just goes on and on, and changes the way the world changes.”
And like some kind of indie James Cameron, instead of waiting for Hollywood to invent the tools, Korine’s commissioning them himself.