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"What -- If I Can Be So Presumptuous -- Was I Thinking?"

A short overview of the next 30 years of filmmaker Harmony Korine's illustrious career.

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By Charles Taylor

Oct. 1, 1999 | Brilliance can be blinding. That may explain why after 30 minutes of Harmony Korine's "Julien Donkey-Boy," which played earlier this week at the New York Film Festival as a preview to its wide release Oct. 15, I felt as if I couldn't see straight and staggered to the nearest exit. Or it may just have been the lousy cinematography (alternately grainy and underlit) or the way the cast has been encouraged to drool and generally carry on. (Memo to star Werner Herzog: Keep your day job.) In any event, Korine's second film will no doubt prove as controversial as his debut "Gummo," or "Kids," which he wrote.

In an attempt to give Salon readers a head start on the emerging cultural debate as to the worth of "Julien," we offer, as our service to you, the following timeline for Korine's next 30 years.

2001: Even Korine's most passionate critical supporters desert him with the release of his third film, "A Wonderful Sunday for Toe Jam." Controversy swirls around the film's poster art, quashed by the distributor for being too disturbing. Defending his choice, Korine says, "The New Yorker runs charity ads with pictures of starving third-world kids and that's considered socially conscious, but I try to use JonBenet's autopsy photos and I'm an exploiter?!?"

2003: Korine hopes to recapture his greatest success by writing the sequel, "Kids, Too!" "Kids" director Larry Clark is unavailable, having embarked on a landmark series of adult films starring Britney Spears (the series reaches its apotheosis later that year with the release of "Rocco Spears Britney"). With a start date looming, Korine takes on directing chores himself and filming proceeds under conditions of strict secrecy. The release is canceled when the finished film reveals that Korine has cast it entirely with senior citizens who have suffered strokes, and employed dwarves waving semaphore flags to transmit the film's dialogue.

2005-2009: As unsubstantiated reports of unrealized projects swirl about him, Korine keeps a low profile. A stint as romance columnist for Raygun ends after a few months when Korine insists on answering readers' letters with randomly selected quotations from "Are You There God, It's Me Margaret."

2010: Declaring "Cinema dead -- again," Korine turns to the stage, announcing that his musical version of Jerry Lewis' "The Day the Clown Cried" will premiere at the Salzburg Festival. The project collapses when Korine's only choice for the lead, legendary 103-year-old director Robert Bresson, can't maintain the arduous rehearsal schedule. The Whitney Museum announces a showing of Korine's miniature model of the Vatican, made entirely of fingernail clippings. Sadly, it too never materializes.

2011-2017: The dark years, marked by rumors of decay, strange behavior, weight gain. Korine sightings are reported far and wide. He is said to have retreated to a Buddhist monastery, and to be gathering material for his magnum opus while working as night manager at a Piggly Wiggly in Des Moines, Iowa. Neither story is verified.

2018: A string of small roles in straight-to-DVD action flicks leads to a recurring role as Cappy in the WB series "Skeet Ulrich's Milwaukee Heat." Good notices turn to year-end personal triumph when the holiday issue of Talk magazine runs Korine's confessional article, "What -- If I Can Be So Presumptuous -- Was I Thinking?" In it, he admits to being so seduced by the Dogme 95 philosophy that a screening of "The Wizard of Oz" convinced him that monkeys could fly.

2019: Korine gets his first chance to direct in years, thanks to an unlikely source. Declaring "Film criticism dead -- again," New Criterion editor James Wolcott hails Korine as "the zippiest and most original practitioner of American humor since the glory days of 'Mister Ed.'" A Museum of Modern Art retrospective prompts HBO to green-light Korine's longtime dream project, "The Linda Manz Story" starring Judge Judy.

2029: Korine celebrates a string of hugely successful and lauded films by appearing with longtime leading man/muse (and recipient of the French Legion of Honor) Adam Sandler on "Inside the Actor's Studio." Host James "Lippy the Lionizing" Lipton sets the tone by announcing that the evening's theme would be "Harmony." After a preview of scenes from his upcoming project "Samuel Beckett's Green Eggs and Ham," the evening ends with a surprise for Korine when he learns that the governing board of the New School has honored him with the S.E. Hinton Chair in Cinema Studies. "A genius?" asks Korine, ending the evening modestly, "No, just an annoying little putz who got lucky."
salon.com | Oct. 1, 1999

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About the writer
Charles Taylor is a Salon contributing writer.

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Family pictures "Gummo" moviemaker Harmony Korine is not independent film's bastard child after all.
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