Spring Break: A Fever Dream
What is spring break today? In <i>Spring Breakers</i>, it is not the literal MTV-sponsored parties that take over and infect various beach locations across the American continent, although that version of spring break is certainly evoked for its...
Here’s the end of it all, and I’ll tell you why: because there will never be a movie or a character that is more important for this age than Spring Breakers and its protagonist Alien. As Harmony Korine’s friend Werner Herzog said to me on the phone call of all phone calls—I was out in North Carolina, sitting in a little Mexican restaurant called Cocula that I frequent on my lunch breaks from the low-residency writing MFA program at Warren Wilson College, just staring out the window that’s frosted over with a map of Mexico, at the dirty field across the roadway—when he told me that my performance in the film made De Niro in Taxi Driver look like a kindergartener, and that the film was the most important film of the decade. Imagine in a distinct German accent: “Three hundred years from now, when people want to look back at dis time, dey won’t go to the Obama inauguration speech, dey will go to Spring Breakers.”
I can’t even take credit for Alien. He is Harmony’s. As he says, Alien is a gangster mystic. A clown, a killer, a lover: the spirit of the age. Riff Raff wants to take credit for this creation, but that simplifies it. It is like Neal Cassady laying claim to Jack Kerouac’s Dean Moriarty, which isn’t a great comparison because Kerouac was transparently and literally writing about Neal. Alien undermines all. He’s a gangster who deep-throats automatic weapons as well as Linda Lovelace would. He’s the guru of the age. He’s what you would get if you got every damn material thing you ever wanted and then relished in the realization that you don’t have a use for any of it. So you make one up. “Bring it on, little bitches, come to me, little bitches… We didn’t create this sensitive monster, y’all did. Look at his shit, that’s what y’all are working fo yo’selves.”
So what is spring break today? In this film it is not the literal MTV-sponsored parties that take over and infect various beach locations across the American continent, although that version of spring break is certainly evoked for its imagery. In this film spring break is escape; spring break means we are all stars in our self-recorded iPhone films; spring break means all inhibitions are off the table, replaced by copious drugs and young flesh.
The film is like trance music in movie form. It is liquid. Scenes flow in and out of each other. A scene will start and then the imagery will jump to another, sometimes from the past, other times from the future, while the audio from the initial scene continues to play through. Other times repetition is used as a narrative device, most prominently Alien’s southern, sizzurp-inflected drawl, rolling out in languid syllables, so that each is enjoyed to the fullest, reminiscent, although with his own depraved contemporary hip-hop spin, of Humbert Humbert’s delectation over the individuation of his young love’s name: Lo-li-ta,as it trips along the tongue, but for Alien, his long relaxed exhale of Sppprrrrrrriiiiiiinnnnnngggggg Brrrreeeeeeeeaaaaaak, again and again, emanates more from the back of the throat, you might say the deep throat, and just to the side, to give it it’s arch southern twang. This intonation, repeated and repeated like a mantra, becomes hypnotic, and as every reviewer has said, in an unprecedented overuse of a descriptive phrase: it pulls us into a fever dream of sex, violence, and materialism.
In the mix Harmony threw a few other things: the ATL Twins and Dangeruss, a local rapper from St. Petersburg, Florida, where the movie was shot. And, of course, Gucci Mane. Real and synthetic all mixed up in this pot; demons and angels commingle. The bouillabaisse is defined by divergent poles of Britney Spears and Gucci Mane, all brought together by the grounding sound mix of Skrillex and Cliff Martinez. That’s what it all is at the end of the day, a remix.
Some motherfuckers say they are depressed by the film because of the way it depicts our times, these be the motherfuckers who have a stake in representing our times to ourselves, those other motherfuckers in the entertainment business who want to present the clean polished, heteronormative, nerds, jocks, and white-dudes-win kind of lifestyle. Well, here is the film that shows the white dudes, the privileged dudes, using black culture, YouTube culture, any culture that fits their needs to entertain themselves, to turn themselves into stars in their own minds and the minds of those around them. This is reality; this is Instagram.
The teens were a little shocked, too. They thought they were going to get a Selena Gomez film? Sorry, motherfuckers, this ain’t High School Musical. This ain’t a happy teen romp. This is the movie that takes all that stuff that makes your music and videos and social-networking lifestyles and uses it against you. But it ain’t just a critique, little bitches. It is also a celebration. This is why Selena and gang arein thefilm. Of course they are talented little actresses, but they also embody the time, their legends follow them into the diegetic frame of the film, coloring everything they do like a mist of metacommentary that is constantly saying, What you are watching is extreme, yes, but it is all subtext, bitches. Every time you watch Britney Spears or any of her current offspring swing around in skimpy lingerie, draping themselves across sweaty bodies of anonymous men, the message is just this: fuck, fuck, fuck; suck, suck, suck; violence; materialism; drugs, drugs, drugs; live fast, never die because you will live on through Facebook legends; spring break, spring break, spring break foreva!
You want a story? Fuck a story. No one wants stories nowadays. People want experiences. Music is the medium of the soul, no? Pop music is all surface and no substance, you say? Is that not the tale of our times? We play videogames ad nauseam, why? Not for the stories (even though some games like Grand Theft Auto are noted for their involved, multi-path, and open-ended narratives); we play for the experience. Here is a film that engages. Get in and go for the ride, little bitches, let it take you over.
The look? Neon, bitch. Neon, palm trees, beaches, booties, and strip clubs. Florida, motherfuckers. All caught by Benoit Debie, Gaspar Noe’s longtime cinematographer. (When Harmony first pitched the project he wanted it to be a Britney Spears-video-meets-a-Gaspar-Noe film, and that’s what he delivered.)
How did it all come together? Harmony. Harmony put it all in harmony. Twenty years after Kids,he has followed up his first zeitgeist film with a new portrait of the times. If Kids was neorealism, Spring Breakers is the neorealism of the Facebook age, chopped, screwed, and digitized. Where The Social Network was a movie about money, deals, greed, backstabbing, and the resulting court case—anything but the technology that defined the new way kids were socializing—Spring Breakers is the embodiment of such technological engagement. It is everything that we are today. You’re welcome.
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