ABOVE: HARMONY KORINE (LEFT), VAL KILMER (ON COUCH, RIGHT)
Interviewing Harmony Korine is like talking to a stoned teenager: he fidgets, he complains when there's no chocolate, and his glazed eyes only seem to focus when you drop an expletive. But Korine is really, really funny—despite (or maybe because of) his constant requests for a nap.
We're huddled together in a sterilized room of a midtown PR agency together with Val Kilmer, the star of Korine's latest venture, The Fourth Dimension, which just played the Tribeca Film Festival. Also in the room is Vice's Eddy Moretti, the executive producer and co-writer of a "creative brief" used to steer the movie. The Fourth Dimension is comprised of three 30-minute films, with Russian director Alexey Fedorchenko and Polish newcomer Jan Kwiecinski completing the troika. All three shorts are based on that creative brief, co-written by Korine and Moretti, which contains a set of rules that range from ludicrously instructive ("You must show us a glimpse of this Fourth Dimension") to instructively ludicrous ("The director must direct one scene . . . with a blindfold on").
Korine's interpretation of these guidelines is called "The Lotus Community Workshop," and it brims with his signature blend of absurdity, comedy and pathos. It centers on a motivational speaker named "Val," who preaches about alien spaceships and a "cotton-candy heaven" to a group of cheering hicks in a skating rink. Spliced in between Kilmer's platitude-laden speech are more intimate scenes of an evening spent at home with his wife—played by Korine's real-life other half, Rachel Korine.
We sat down with Korine, Kilmer, and Moretti to discuss their film—but not before Korine convinced a PR girl to scuttle out in search for Hershey's.
MICHELLE LHOOQ: So before this interview, I read the Wikipedia page about the fourth dimension, and honestly, I think it confused me even more. All the geometry, physics—it's really complicated . . .
VAL KILMER: No, it's not! It's just alternate reality! You have to simplify. You could say gravity is similarly mythically complicated. How can we be walking upright? It makes sense if you just simplify.
LHOOQ: So did you study up on this stuff?
HARMONY KORINE: Yeah, we studied really hard. [laughs] Man, I don't think I've ever studied for anything.
KILMER: That's how you stay so fresh! It's just a cold, clean slate in there!
KORINE: [Sings to himself] So fresh and so clean...
LHOOQ: Val, you play a motivational speaker delivering a ridiculous spiel towards a group of townies. I tend to think most motivational speakers are bullshit con artists.
KILMER: Well my character's definitely authentic, because there's no line in there that betrays an ulterior motive. He's not trying to get anyone to buy a DVD or join a club. He's just stupid. He really thinks whatever's coming out of his mouth—like most Americans do—is really worthy, just because he's saying it. You know, a recent poll has proven that American colleges now lead in nothing.
KORINE: [Hits the table] That's the way it should be.
KILMER: Except confidence. We lead the world in confidence.
LHOOQ: USA! USA! USA!
KILMER and KORINE: USA! USA! USA!
EDDY MORETTI: That's the whole Tea Party American agenda. We're the fucking shining city on the hill. We're the best. Saying anything other than that means you're not American.
LHOOQ: Harmony, after watching the other two Russian and Polish short films, did your part seem more "American"?
KORINE: What do you mean?
LHOOQ: Maybe a kind of Americana kitsch, or the bravado Val was talking about earlier?
KORINE: I didn't think about it, but yeah. I've always thought of myself as the most uniquely American director.
LHOOQ: [laughs] In the world, ever?
KORINE: Well, after Clint Eastwood. I'm being serious.
MORETTI: He is actually. I mean, even Mister Lonely was led by the biggest American pop culture ever—Michael Jackson.
LHOOQ: When you wrote the creative brief for this movie, were you actively referencing Lars Von Trier's Dogme 95 rules?
MORETTI: It's in your brain if you know film history. But we didn't use that as a guideline. We wanted it to be a lot more fun and tongue-in-cheek. Dogme was a lot more strict.
LHOOQ: How'd you start writing them?
MORETTI: Harmony started writing crazy shit. It started from there.
LHOOQ: What do you mean?
MORETTI: He took a first stab at it and wrote like 12 sentences. Then we just kept going from there until we decided it was time to stop.
LHOOQ: Harmony, while you were filming, were there any rules that stood out to you as particularly interesting or stupid?
KORINE: I was excited about directing blindfolded.
LHOOQ: Which scene did you do that?
KILMER: It was our nude swimsuit scene in the pool.
KORINE: Yeah I've never directed blindfolded before.
LHOOQ: Who was that crowd in the skating rink? They looked like people you probably picked out from the street randomly.
KORINE: A lot of them were just from misfortune. Like general hard-luck cases. Just people from Nashville, friends of friends. You know, people who needed some advice.
LHOOQ: You said in another interview that this film was inspired by a friend of yours—a guy who talked to his shoe. I want to hear more about that.
KORINE: Oh, well, it's very loosely based on a librarian I knew who died in a sky diving accident. He was a book banner.
KORINE: You know, banned books.
LHOOQ: How does this story relate to the film?
KORINE: He just had a very similar rhythm to Val's character.
KILMER: How'd he die? He hit the ground, shit didn't open?
LHOOQ: You also said that a lot of the words of wisdom that Val's character says are based on the stuff your dad used to say?
KORINE: I said that? Jesus. I mean my dad says some stuff that's kinda similar. Just like platitudes. Then he'll poke you in the eye.
LHOOQ: Whoa. Val, does your dad have any awesome secrets?
KILMER: He was a salesman, so he had a lot of pretty classic ideas about America. That Death of A Salesman thing...
MORETTI: What did he sell?
KILMER: Aerodynamic engineering, so parts for airplanes and engines. He was dirt poor. He used to always have a parka on with the heater in the car, even when it was 60 out. He got stuck in the don't-freeze-to-death part of his youth. He grew up in the wilderness, almost got killed by an eagle. And a bear. So he had a lot of very simple, classic ideas: You don't cry. You don't show emotion.
It's crazy, back in the late '70s in California, taxes were 70%. Reagan doesn't make any sense unless you know that. He kicked ass as a governor and got these guys like my dad who were working really hard... he got them their money back. He infected everyone with this aura, because he just kept this myth up: that what he was doing was right. It's the same thing with my character—the impression of positive thought, regardless of whether it is or not. I say some pretty dark ideas, but with such enthusiasm that everyone's clapping.
Now I'm going to go use the bathroom. You guys stay fascinating. Remain! [Kilmer leaves the room]
LHOOQ: Harmony, why'd you film in a roller-skating rink?
KORINE: It was a skating rink I went to as a kid. I just felt like that's where this guy would be doing it.
LHOOQ: Did you go there a lot?
KORINE: Yeah, I used to breakdance there.
LHOOQ: Did you make out with chicks there too?
KORINE: I doubt it. I was probably stumbling or laughing or something.
LHOOQ: And all those shock-jock sound effects?
KORINE: I thought that was funny. There was a real DJ there, and I told him to do what he normally would do. That was another experiment, we had no idea how it would turn out.
LHOOQ: I think this is probably your least fucked-up movie. Like, I wasn't awkwardly wincing through it. Would you agree?
KORINE: Yeah, definitely. Eddy made sure of that.
LHOOQ: Really? Was he like, "Don't get too weird, Harmony"?
MORETTI: No! I never said that to him. What I think was interesting was, who knows what the fourth dimension is? But they all interpret it as a really beautiful place. There's no dark version of the fourth dimension. It's an amazing place, almost like a heaven.
LHOOQ: Was there anything that surprised you about the ways the three directors interpreted the rules?
MORETTI: I'm just a sucker for a film shot in another country. People speaking foreign languages. I watch every detail, like "look at that weird door in that weird apartment building in Russia." I was just happy to be transported...Harmony looks like he's tired.
KORINE: Yeah I got off a red-eye this morning. I wanna take a nap right now. Yeah, I'm going to take a nap right now.
THE FOURTH DIMENSION WILL SCREEN AT UPCOMING FILM FESTIVALS INCLUDING EDINBURGH, LOCARNO, AND MOSCOW.