Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers has got America in a tizzy. It’s entertaining but it’s no classic. Korine is the master of non-linear narrative, or to put it another way at bunching weird stuff together that could go in any order and ends up making a movie. Spring Breakers, his first – and hopefully only – “mainstream” offering follows a straight forward and straight plot; the spiraling of four young girls’ lives into a world of hyper-violence and sexuality.
As many have commented, Spring Breakers isn’t about spring break, but more about capitalism, survival, hedonism and a crime-chic version of the American Dream. A tried and tested cinema recipe if there ever was one. It’s just that in Spring Breakers the gunmen are gunwomen and they’re wearing glow in the dark bikinis.
The perfect reality check is the story of Sheriff Frank McKeithen’s beachfront jail in the city of Panama Beach, Florida (the spring break capital of the world.) Bay County Sheriff McKeithen has been doing the press rounds, this week explaining his temporary and mobile jail. He calls it his “welcome center.”
It’s a practical solution. The county jail is an hours round-trip from downtown Panama Beach. When you have college kids exploding with excitement, booze and idiocy, it’s good not to have your officers’ in a squad car stuck in traffic.
The mobile unit and holding-pens serve the same functions as the regular jail – booking, fingerprinting and photographing.
McKeithen says spring break in his county can be “chaos.” It cannot be as lawless as Korine’s shoot-em-up version, but if you’re in any doubt as to the bacchanalia, perhaps (in photography at least) Emiliano Granado’s Beach Party shows this youngsters’ holiday tradition in the harshest and most honest light.
I prefer McKeithen’s version to Korine’s. The sheriff knows trouble is coming and makes preparations. Korine’s presentation – requiring unbelievably large and frequent suspensions of disbelief – is impractical.
What McKeithen, Korine, Granado and anyone else who takes a look at spring break, have in common is that the Florida resorts are bubbles in which people shed normative behaviours as quickly as they shed clothes.
It’s a bubble in which bad behaviour might be met with one of McKeithen’s open air cells, or just as easily it might be something one gets away with. Spoiler alert: all four of Korine’s femme fatales walk away scott-free from the bubble.
With repeated reference to escape; some place different; “creating ones own worlds” (James Franco’s character says he comes from out of space); paradise, Spring Breakers almost ad nauseum drives home the point that the bubble remains apart from the real world. Duh! Richard Brody for The New Yorker notes:
“The four young women are closed units whose sole connection to the wider world is in their deceptive phone calls to family members, a sweetened vision of kids socializing in a constructive way that’s as fake as the values of the parents or grandparents who fall for it.”
So, we’re fooling ourselves if we don’t profess to know what’s going on in the pools and hotels rooms. Sure, and with his anti-heroines walking away unscathed, Korine lets us play along with the fantastic unreality he has so cleverly exaggerated.
Okay, we can walk away now? Despite the sex (there’s lots of boobs) and the self-consciously ludicrous gun fetishism (Franco gives two pistols a blow-job), Spring Breakers is a walk into a harmless silver-screen fantasy-land, right? No. There’s one crucial element of the film that Korine fudges. Big time. Race.
“The director’s ultimate spring-break fantasy is a vision of murder camp—and of “black camp”—and he doesn’t make any effort to distinguish the two. The very mainspring of the movie is his stereotypical and reductive view of black life as one of drug dealing and gang violence.”
Once again, depictions of race are skewed. Clumsy at best, irresponsible at worst.
Brody’s observation that the UV light darkens the bikini-clad skin in the crucial climatic scenes of murder and mayhem might be over thinking it, but doesn’t detract from his overall point that while directing is a game, it’s a game poorly played when stuck on “old stories, old images, old stereotypes.”
The film was quite deifferent to that I had expected from the trailer. A success. Not enough thumping Skrillex dubstep, but some surprisingly good inclusion of Britney Spears (during the most celebratory of the violence montages).
All images: WMBB