Harmony Korine’s original 1998
book A Crack-up at the Race Riots was like a
vivisection of his unique manic mind. I call it a “book” rather than an
experimental novel or collection of essays because it has absolutely no
narrative structure, overt organization or plot, yet the covers contain a
captivating internal logic and flow. Between the front and back, are lists of
accurate facts, observations, jokes, fractured dialogue, found photographs and
suicide notes with the recipients’ names left blank. In form and tone, it is
closest to Tristan Tzara’s dark Dadaist fiction or macabre meanderings on the
Rather than try to recreate Korine’s
unfilmable text, the Dutch artist collective
’s re-release by
exhibiting a feature-length film inspired by the text at Berlin’s Peres Projects
was clearly the product of
Korine’s singular sensibility, Leo Gabin claim it as their own by creating an
entirely anonymous piece. Their film consists exclusively of appropriated and
manipulated online footage interlaced with audio transcripts from Korine’s
book. These recordings were made by the computer’s text-to-speech function to
retain the work’s disembodied format. The film’s unnerving score is partially
unique but mostly remixed. Through these tweaks, Leo Gabin retain and develop Crack-up
hypnotic sense of anarchy, impending chaos and weird wonder. Here they explain
how and why.
Honigman: Why produce the show now?
Leo Gabin: We remember
trying to order the book somewhere around 2003 but it wasn’t available anymore
back then. When we got to know Harmony in 2010 we got our hands on an original
copy (it wasn’t reissued back then). While reading it we immediately thought
his writing would fit with the way we make videos and we came up with the idea
to turn the book into a film. Harmony was into this idea and gave his blessing.
It’s like the most unfilmable book ever, at least in a conventional way, but we
felt it would really work with our approach to video.
AFH: Was Korine listening to
music when writing Crack-up? If so, how close
was it to what you’ve included as the film’s score?
LG: If he listened to music
while writing we don’t know, could well be, but we didn’t talk about that. We
do share a similar taste in music though. But the music we’ve chosen and made
is what we felt fitting for each scene and helps set the atmosphere of the
film. Sound plays a very important role, while the film is rather fragmented,
the score keeps it coherent.
AFH: What does Florida [the
setting of Korine’s book] mean to you? When I think of Florida, I have the stereotypical
associations with retirement and the emptiness that Elizabeth
Wurtzel describes in her memoirs. Then again, it’s still the state
that tips elections, so it seems like a slightly sinister placethat looks like it’s asleep but snaps awake at critical moments.
LG: Yeah, Florida is pretty
badass and due to being hit so hard by the economic collapse and real estate
crash we associate it with empty malls, parking lots, poverty, unemployment…
against a backdrop of sun, beaches and palm trees. It's hard to explain, but it
contains this kind of poetic sadness.
AFH: What does America mean
LG: Growing up with a lot of
American influences we always had a fascination for American culture. But TV
and music showed a filtered version. The internet suddenly opened a new window
on the culture, showing a less polished version. Through self-shot imagery you
get a more clear view on how everyday people are influenced by it, which is
even more exciting to watch. Being European we see a lot of similarities, but
the small differences are very interesting, both socially and aesthetically. We
always love being in America and try to stay there a couple of months per year.
AFH: Some of the material
that you appropriate carries its own loaded history.
There are clips with instantly recognizable associated controversies,
such as the University of Minnesota blackface video. Are these
references part of your underlying narrative, for want of a better
word, or are you hoping that viewers can overlook these associations
and experience the images afresh?
LG: Most of the time we tend
to select videos that haven’t been viewed much or without specific loaded
connotation. This way the viewer can indeed look at them afresh and if they
want, make their own associations. But with the reference to Al Jolson in the
novel, this specific video of the college girls was ideal to incorporate and we
think it works either way, knowing the video or not.
AFH: Did you search for
images and clips that directly corresponded with the descriptions in Crack-up,
such as a cashier with tattooed knuckles and a bloodied sweatshirt? Or were you
aiming to evoke the general mood of Korine’s text?
LG: The mood the book evokes
was what we wanted to capture in the film. The book goes against all literary
conventions, lacking linear narrative, plot and character developments, which
leaves more room for imagination and interpretation. But when using transcripts
it was important to us that these were literally as in the book.
AFH: What do you know about
the people posting the online material that you
LG: We know nothing or not
much. There are a lot of single videos online, posted with a username that
doesn’t reveal anything about the author, but sometimes you can get to know a
lot. Like this girl that does the “what’s on my iPhone video”. She has this
YouTube channel where she has been posting videos since 2007. She must have
been 12 or 13 back then, so you can literally see her grow up online. Besides
all the beauty and tutorial videos she also posts videos of her vacations, what
she got for Christmas, etc. There are a couple of people like her who we keep