Harmony Korine on the Skate Videos He's Known and Loved
The 'Gummo' director explains how skateboarding influenced his filmmaking.
Photo via Getty
Harmony Korine, screenwriter of Kids and director of films like Gummo and Spring Breakers, is known for smashing conventions and absurd takes on American subculture. As a skateboarder, much of that weirdo outlook on life and art comes from a childhood spent joyfully, obsessively devouring all the skate videos he could get his hands on.
"For all of us growing up at that time," Korine says, "skate videos were super influential, and something that I still think about all the time. I re-watch the videos to this day. They connect you to your youth, in a way: what it was like being 14, on the couch, drinking Kool-Aid and smoking weed with your friends after school. It takes you there."
On the occasion of his new Epicly Later'd episode, which aired Wednesday on VICELAND, we asked Korine to look back on the skate videos that influenced him most.
G&S, Footage (1990)
Footage was a huge video for me. I was living in Nashville, and I'd never seen anything like it. It felt like where I lived. And the way it was made... there was something kind of low-fi about it. Kind of violent, wild, and playing with the medium… and skating. Wasn't Neil Blender in there? I think that guy Larry Jones had a part in one of the G&S videos... and who else? Scott Conklin?
To me it was like a strange collage, the way they were using music and slowing footage down. The grainy structure. To me, it's pretty wild. I don't really hear people talk about that video that much anymore. I don't know, at that age, seeing that, it kind of melted my mind a little bit.
My dad got me a VHS camera, and it was a big one. It was that thing where you'd try to film skating with it, and you'd reuse the same tape over and over again. It would almost start to edit itself and feel kind of melted and a little warped. Which is why it was good.
Alien Workshop, Memory Screen (1991)
Memory Screen is like the holy grail of skate videos.
Alien Workshop was in Ohio. I remember listening to fIREHOSE, too, and their album fromohio came out at the same time. I was like, "What's going on in Ohio?" When I made Gummo—even though we shot in Nashville—I set the film in Xenia, Ohio, because that was the address on the Memory Screen videotape. In fact, Xenia was known for having the worst tornado ever, and that probably fed into the narrative form of Gummo.
Memory Screen was also art. You know what I mean? It had this homemade quality. This outside quality. They were using a lot of Dinosaur Jr. at the time. It was music being made on tape recorders and answering machines. And it felt like seeing that was something I understood. It seemed there was immediacy to it. It wasn't even so much about skating, specific skaters, or the tricks. It was the stuff in between that I was the most excited about.
Up until that point with skate videos—the Powell videos and stuff—it was this kind of California sweetness. Everyone was getting into trouble, but it was all done with a wink. And then I saw Memory Screen, and it was like, "Wow." You're seeing all the fights, skating, and the music was intense. It felt like growing up and skating in Tennessee. We used to watch the tape after school every day and then go skating. And get beat up. That was, like, what you did.
Powell Peralta, The Search for Animal Chin (1987)
I grew up on the Powell videos, the Bones Brigade videos and stuff. Really, when I first started skating, it almost seemed like Animal Chin was the only video that existed.
It was always different. It always seemed like it was the rich kids who actually bought it. You know? And then you'd go over to their house and watch it. It was such an 80s thing. But growing up in Middle America, it seemed so foreign. The way they talked, the sun, the palm trees, the huge ramps, the pads. The skaters were older, like Mike McGill. All these people seemed like they were in their 20s. Lance [Mountain] and [Steve] Caballero. In some ways, they were like superheroes, which I couldn't really identify with. Even the idea of aspiring to that… it just seemed so foreign to me. But then you'd see a clip of Blender or Gonz or something, and that was something I understood… the humor in it.
Blind, Video Days (1991)
Everyone talks about and acknowledges Video Days as the best video. It was kind of goofy, it was fun, and it looked like it was made by kids, which is what everyone loved. The production was off, but it was still amazing looking. And the use of music was really inventive. Gonz skating to John Coltrane for ten minutes was so crazy.
But that was the video that really made me wanna skate, because the things they were skating were things that you could find almost anywhere. Or you saw the sequence of Billy Waldman in Rubbish Heap. That "I hate reggae music" thing. You were like, "That's what I do every day with my friends!" It felt like that. Even the skating felt like that.
It's strange. I probably stopped skateboarding just a couple years after that. Around that time was when I realized that I was never gonna be that great at it, and I started to like movies more. I don't know if I ever really wanted to make a video. I loved how Spike filmed those videos, but it's hard because I don't know what my take would be. Like with skating, I don't know if I have anything to add. And it also seems like it takes so much time. You have to sit there and watch kids jump down sets of 20 stairs. You have to be devoted.
Supreme, Cherry (2014)
The Supreme videos are cool, though. Cherry was [Bill Strobeck's] first one. It was great. That was one of the first skate videos in a while that I thought had real artistic merit. I really like Bill's footage; I like the way he shoots. It feels natural and intuitive, and it's not precious, but he's tapped into it. There's a style to it.
That's also seeing... that's New York. At least from what I remember. It felt like the skaters didn't really give a fuck about anything. New York, at the time I was there, was hardcore. It was just all about disappearing. And it always seemed it was such a hassle to have to film shit. You know? No one ever seemed stoked on it. Well, maybe Harold [Hunter].
Watch Epicly Later'd on VICELAND Wednesdays at 8 PM EST.