MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

Mr. Lonely

The television was on, but I wasn’t much attention to it. My ears up perked up, however, when I heard a disembodied voice say, “From the director of Gummoand Julien Donkey-Boy.” Or, did I?

It would be difficult to imagine two less-promotable films than Harmony Korine’s wildly eccentric and inarguably challenging Gummo and Julien Donkey-Boy (a.k.a., Dogma # 6). Throw in Larry Clark’s harrowing AIDS-informed drama, Kids, which Korine wrote when he was 19, and you’ve got a trio of titles that not only defy easy encapsulation, but also resist critical summation by thumbs, stars or pull-quotes from Rolling Stone.

Apparently, my television was tuned to the Independent Film Channel, IFC, a place where images of Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe navigating a small wooden boat can’t be dismissed as mere apparitions. Neither could references to Julien Donkey-Boy and Gummo. I would be interviewing Korine the next day, so I began to pay attention.

While not mainstream, by any stretch of the imagination, IFC Films’ Mister Lonely easily qualifies as Korine’s most accessible credit. It will be shown Wednesday as a featured attraction at the Tribeca Film Festival, and, simultaneously, on several major cable and satellite services, through the IFC in Theaters and IFC on Demand pay-per-view programs. It begins its theatrical run Friday, in New York, before expanding to Los Angeles a week later, and other markets throughout May. Before very long, as well,Mister Lonely will be delivered via podcast through IFC on iTunes, and, of course, for DVD and the Independent Film Channel.

Since 2006, IFC in Theaters has launched nearly 50 films, day-and-date, both on VOD and in theaters, where the program is called IFC First Take. Its Festival Direct service showcases films that previewed on the festival circuit but weren’t considered to be commercial enough to inspire a full-blown marketing and distribution campaign. An IFC spokesman estimates that the VOD services currently are available to customers in 50 million homes, although only a small fraction of that number is ever likely to consider ordering a Mister Lonely, Anamorph, Paranoid Park or 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

In this way, IFC in Theaters and Mark Cuban’s similarly conceived HDNet have created an alternative distribution system for arthouse products. The hope is that filmmakers and producers will benefit from a new revenue stream, without cannibalizing the natural arthouse demographics. Film buffs, especially those in the boonies, would finally have nearly instantaneous access to important indie releases and festival favorites, while exhibitors might profit from customers newly awakened to the joys of such fare.

Naturally, most filmmakers want their works to seen as intended, on the big screen. The cold reality of arthouse economics – rising marketing and overhead costs, dwindling attendance – would demand, however, alternatives to poverty and anonymity be pursued.

Mister Lonely would appear to be a perfect candidate to test such cross-platform promotion. Because Korine already is a known quantity with IFC viewers, its subscribers already will be predisposed to take a chance on any new addition to his resume. Many will want to see Mister Lonely before it platforms out to an arthouse closer to them, so they can blog their opinions to the world in real time. Exhibitors could benefit, as well, from Internet buzz and fans who might want to see it again, but on the big screen. Good or bad, no one can complain about the price, which is $4.99 or $5.99.

For the uninitiated, though, a short introduction to Harmony Korine might be in order.

The 35-year-old filmmaker was born in Bolinas, California, which, in 1973, could have gone by the name, Woodstock-by-the-Sea. When he was a wee lad, his family would move to a commune near Nashville.

Sol Korine, Harmony’s dad, produced documentaries for a PBS station in Georgia. His specialty was profiling colorful Deep South rustics, not unlike the characters who populated the books of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Harry Crews, andAndrew Douglas’ 2003 doc, Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus. Although Harmony has never made a big deal of it, certain characters in his movies appear to have been influenced by people who appeared in his father’s films.

“The South is far less gothic than it was when my dad was making those documentaries,” said Korine, finishing off lunch in a poolside cabana at Beverly Hills’ below-the-radar Avalon Hotel. “Everyone has satellite dishes now, and is more connected to the rest of America.”

Korine would re-locate in his teens to New York City, where he lived with his grandmother and evolved into something of film geek. As the story goes, Korine lasted one semester in the dramatic-writing program at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, before dropping out to pursue a career as a professional tap-dancer. Photographer Clark would discover his future collaborator while he was skateboarding with friends in Washington Square Park. Like every waiter in Hollywood, Korine just happened to have a screenplay handy for Clark’s perusal.

Between then and his descent into relative obscurity in 2000, Korine gorged on the illicit pleasures of alt-culture fame and the adoration bestowed upon him by fanboys and Euros fascinated by America’s teenage wasteland. When his addictions became serious enough to scare even him, the wild child reconnected with his Nashville roots and embarked on a path towards sobriety.

Mister Lonely represents the fruits of those labors.

As the picture opens, a pair of professional celebrity impersonators – Marilyn Monroe(Samantha Morton) and Michael Jackson (Diego Luna) – meet “cute” while working the streets of Paris. Luna not only looks the look, but also dances the dance. The ever-adorable Morton may not be a dead-ringer for the iconic blond, circa The Seven Year Itch, but she’s close enough to fool the tourists.

No one ever said impersonating a celebrity would be an easy gig, and Marilyn dreams of returning to a lakeside commune in the Scottish Highlands populated by fellow wanna-bes. Among them are her possessive husband, Abe Lincoln (Denis Lavant), and their daughter, Shirley Temple (Esme Creed-Miles). She convinces her new friend, Michael, to join her for the group’s first gala show, which also features the Pope (James Fox),Queen Elizabeth (Anita Pallenberg), Madonna, James Dean, Sammy Davis Jr., Little Red Riding Hood (Harmony’s wife, Rachael) and the Three Stooges (Larry, not Shemp).

“I’m attracted to people who have obsessive natures,” explained Korine, who no longer looks as if he might be scratching out a meager existence on the streets of Greenwich Village, let alone commuting by skateboard. “These characters have always lived outside the system, and now see a poetic beauty in their self-imposed isolation. To them, it offers a logical end to their careers.

“It also was visually interesting to watch Buckwheat riding a large pig, Abe Lincolncutting the lawn and Sammy Davis Jr. tending the sheep.”

And, he might have added, without revealing a hint of irony.

“I wasn’t so much interested in the people they were imitating, but more the character underneath,” Korine added. “They’ve made a decision to live their life through the celebrities they admire … take that character’s identity for themselves.”

At the height of his personal doldrums, when he felt “disconnected from the world, and lost my love for film,” Korine visited his parents, now living on the edge of a Panamanian rainforest. He wanted to find a place where no one knew who he was, and he could become a “ghost.”

“One day, I saw a woman walking an invisible dog down the road,” he recalled. “She told me it was time to make a movie, and that’s what I did.”

Mister Lonely, whose title was inspired by the Bobby Vinton song, also contains a second story not obviously related to impersonators. It involves a group of missionary nuns who live in a Central American forest and drop provisions to remote villages from a small plane.

It would be cruel to reveal the miracle that turns the nuns and Father Umbrillo (German filmmaker Werner Herzog) from caregivers into cult heroes in their own right. Suffice it to say, it occurs during one of their airdrops and takes some mental gymnastics to connect to the folks in the Scottish castle.

Korine doesn’t make life completely idyllic for the communards, upon whom reality intrudes first in the form of forced livestock eradication right out of Hud and a less-than-enthusiastic response to their gala production. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, God delivers a cruel sermon to the missionaries on the subject of humility and hubris.

“Exposure to mainstream society hit all of them like a disease,” Korine observed.
Film buffs of a certain age might assume that Korine was influenced by the escaped loonies in Philippe de Broca’s King of Hearts or, perhaps, Peter O’Toole’s manic turn as Jesus in Peter Medak’s The Ruling Class. Not really, he says.

“I always thought it would be really nice to do a movie about communal living,” said Korine, who co-wrote Mister Lonely with his brother, Avi. “I didn’t think it would make sense if it was just a Michael Jackson impersonator living on a hippie commune. But, what if the whole commune was inhabited by a group of impersonators who wanted to start their own society, a place without judgment?”

What, indeed?

Korine remembers growing up in an environment that daily presented temptations no 5-year-old boy should ever be forced to accept or deny. Could it have had any lasting impact on the aspiring auteur?

“Everyone on a commune … everyone’s breast-feeding,” he recalled, in an interview for Guardian UK. “It’s a really early memory … sucking a lot of different women’s titties.”

Paging, Dr. Freud …

May 1, 2008

– Gary Dretzka

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.

Digital Nation

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon