Harmony Korine

Harmony Korine talks about Trash Humpers

Harmony Korine, Trash Humpers, 2009, stills from a color film in 35 mm, 78 minutes.

After runs at the Toronto International, New York, and SXSW film festivals, Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers opens in New York on May 7 at Cinema Village and at the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles on May 14. Korine directed, wrote, and also stars in the film.

THERE ARE THESE REALLY LARGE TRASH CANS in the alleyway behind my house and they have lights shining on them, like they’re in a play or something. While walking my dog, I would often stare at them and they started to take on a human form, a kind of human identity. They looked like they’d been kicked around, shoved, or punched in the gut, like in a war scene. Some of them had ivy growing around them, strangling them.

I grew up in Nashville, and I remember a group of elderly peeping toms who lived down the street in what I assumed was a makeshift nursing home. These guys only listened to Herman’s Hermits. They wore white nursing shoes and black turtlenecks. Late at night, I would look out my window and catch them staring into my neighbor’s bedroom. I couldn’t tell what they were doing but I knew it wasn’t good. I think because the alleyway where I live now is very close to the one where I grew up, I imagined there was a connection between the beat-up trash bins and the peeping toms, as if the old guys had somehow lived forever.

There were also these ladies living in the basement of the nursing home who would throw mattresses and other trash into the alley. I remember finding discarded videocassettes under their window. They had taped an entire year’s worth of CNN and also every single episode of Pee-wee’s Playhouse. It had to have some significance to them. I’m not sure why they only wore nursing shoes or what any of it meant, but it was the type of thing that had a big impact on me as a kid. The shoes in the film are very close to the shoes in my memory.

When I was making the movie, I didn’t think much about the viewer. Honestly, I don’t really know who this film would appeal to. I didn’t want it to be a film in the traditional sense but more like an artifact or documentation. It was this idea that maybe there were no mistakes; that it was a found object––the kind of thing you could imagine finding in an attic somewhere, in a ditch drenched in blood, or floating down the river in a plastic bag.

To start, I would dress up my assistants in crude masks that made them resemble burn victims. We would go out late at night and I would take photos of them. I would make them fornicate with trash and generally vandalize the neighborhood. I would only bring the worst cameras, and use the worst developing processes, the absolute worst technology. I was excited by all of that (and still am). I got these photos developed and there was something compelling and creepy about them. That’s when I started thinking, “Maybe this could be a movie.” I didn’t want the look of the characters to be grounded in anything too realistic, so I decided they should look like old people but move like young people. There’s something horrifying about old people who move really well.

Trash Humpers is somewhat like a science fiction movie. These people turn vandalism into an art form. They turn horror into something transcendent. It’s admirable in a way. They see beauty in destruction. They seek what others don’t. They’re like shape-shifters. While you’re sleeping, they’re up, living under bridges and overpasses and behind abandoned strip malls. Murder is part of their vocabulary, how they express themselves. It’s a primal thing for them, a performance, a transfer of energy that is at the core of the film. These are the characters. This is the energy that lurks in the darkness. This is what’s below the surface. It’s something deeper. It’s been here a long time.