PRINT January 2000


Harmony Korine

Film critics and buffs, even connoisseurs of the offbeat, have such a fierce love-hate relationship with Harmony Korine that it’s easy to forget the splash he made as the precocious teenage screenwriter of photographer Larry Clark’s film debut, Kids (1995). Clark’s protégé has since written and directed the daring if unpopular Gummo (1997) as well as his Dogma-accred-ited second feature, Julien Donkey-Boy (1999), while Clark has man-aged only Another Day in Paradise (1998), a clunky, misshapen crime thriller as flimsy excuse to fuss over the beautiful Vincent Kartheiser—suggesting that, when it comes to filmmaking, comparisons between the two artists are moot. But when Korine occasionally exhibits or publishes his photographs, his former mentor’s influence is clear, and comparisons are helpful to understanding the empathic core of Korine’s weirdly misunderstood work.

The Bad Son (Low/Taka Ishii Publications) is a collection of recent black-and-white photographs of Macaulay Culkin, alone, or with his wife, Rachel Miner. The pictures’ casual approach and repetitiveness echo Clark, as does the fixation on a loaded young male pop icon. But where Clark’s objectives vis-à-vis River Phoenix, Matt Dillon, and Kartheiser involve endangering their natural eroticism with his patented mixture of identification and repressed lust, Korine’s intentions regarding Culkin seem rather a consensual, even shy attempt to locate the former child star’s current cultural value. If these fuzzy, low-key, poetic photographs cast Culkin as unwitting jailbait, they’re nonetheless respectful of the studied goofiness and mild dis-interest with which Culkin strikes Korine’s mock-candid poses. An accompanying “autobiographical” prose poem, ostensibly written by Culkin, reveals him to be a far weirder cat than the images allow. The result, as in Korine’s more complicated films, is less a voyeuristic exercise than a benign and resonant standoff between an artist who has an original feel for where meaning lies and a subject whose meaning leaves a lot to be desired.