Les enfants terribles: Gaspar Noé versus Harmony Korine

The directors of Enter the Void and Trash Humpers consider human sofas, women who punch themselves and fantasies of remaking Beverly Hills Cop 2, somewhere in the wilds of Paris.

Nick Bradshaw
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Gaspar Noé (left) and Harmony Korine

Gaspar Noé (left) and Harmony Korine

We’re not sure why, but when we noticed that Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void was due for UK cinema release in the same week as the DVD debut of Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers, we wondered what would happen if you put the two indie wunder-bad boys together in a room. (Both films are, in their different ways, envelope- and button-pushing experiments with cinematic form and content, bravura if not infantile back-alley portraits of lowlife dereliction and excess. But we should refrain from over-rationalising the idea.)

It turned out that not only were the two already familiar but that Korine was then visiting an art show in Noé’s Paris – and no soon had we wished it than the pair had met up and delivered us the following audio recording.

As you’ll hear, the quality is on the guerrilla side: we’re not quite sure where in Paris they convened against a very audible backdrop of howling dogs, baying crows and what sound like steel saw-mills, but perhaps best not to ask.

Listen to the interview

Read the transcript

Q: Inspiration: where do you find it?

Harmony Korine: So Gaspar, do you come up with stories while you’re walking down the street?

Gaspar Noé: I don’t have so many thoughts; usually it’s a newspaper or something that sticks in your mind for a long time.

HK: For me it’s usually, I’ll be walking down the street and I’ll see some woman with rollers in her hair, and she has boxing gloves and she’s punching herself. And then I’ll start thinking it would make an amazing film to follow her. Maybe she has a really incredible home life. That’s usually how my films come about. So do you clip the newspapers?

GN: Yes, but usually I then lose the clips. I put them in boxes and then can’t find the boxes. Last time there was a story in the newspapers about a guy in Japan who goes to a cliff to stop people committing suicide, telling them that life is good. I thought that’s a good idea…

HK: That would be amazing, actually.

GN: I guess for Enter the Void the idea was some drug experiences that you haven’t seen portrayed.

HK: That definitely seems like Enter the Void. But then a lot comes from people we know, right?

GN: Mainly girls!

HK: Remember you told me something a long time ago that’s stuck with me, that you knew this guy here in Paris and one of his favourite things to do was pretend that he was a chair?

GN: No no no no no no no! I met him accidentally – I went to a nightclub, I was kind of wasted and wanted to sit down. And the sofa was kind of weird, kind of moving, so I put my hands on it, and it was a guy pretending to be a sofa. He’d put on something like a velvet curtain, and when I stood up I noticed that there were some feet coming out. But yeah, that’s a good story, huh?

HK: How comfortable was he?

GN: Er, kind of shaky for a sofa.

HK: Do you remember one guy we went to see, this guy who’s a bodyguard for prostitutes? From time to time he would introduce me to prostitutes, and the prostitutes would say “Well, there’s things I always refuse to do.” And I’d ask them what, and they’d say, “Well, they want to buy the used condoms and swallow them in front of me.” Can you imagine doing a movie about a guy’s perversions?

GN: I remember that guy; he had a motor scooter and he was reading Primo Levi books.

HK: Yeah, and although he was not Jewish he had tattooed the number of Primo Levi on his body.

GN: He was a real fan, and a film buff and a great pimp. One of the world’s greatest pimps.

Enter the Void

Enter the Void

Both Trash Humpers and Enter the Void rely on first-person camerawork. Do you like the camera to be an active participant in your films?

GN: How personal is Trash Humpers? How much does it talk about your own life?

HK: No, no, the camera’s viewpoint.

GN: In my case it’s more evident than in yours, a subjective perception of your own life.

HK: Yeah, I think your films always have that, right? The camera’s always almost in human form. Even in Irreversible the camera seems to be stalking, it’s like a physical presence in motion.

GN: Have you ever thought of doing a movie in 3D? Because if you do a POV in 3D it could be great, and with a voiceover and some Sensurround effects…

HK: You should remake the film in 3D! For me it just made sense, because Trash Humpers was more like a diary or document of these characters. If the camera didn’t have that presence it wouldn’t make any sense.

GN: Mostly each scene is one long shot.

HK: Yeah, there are no cuts in each scene, there’s no coverage, it’s like a home movie.

GN: But that’s the thing I like doing, when you do a master shot things happen in front of the camera. But when you start pre-cutting the scene you’re killing the energy. It’s better to do many different master shots and then pick the best.

Realism: what is important to show? Do you consciously depict the margins or extremes of society?

GN: I depict the centre. I’m the most centred man I know!

HK: You’re a centrist filmmaker?

GN: I don’t know why people think that’s the margin. That’s the centre.

HK: You mean there’s something more underground than what you’re showing?

GN: No! That’s the centre. I think that having fun, I think your mind is in the centre of life.

HK: Oh right, yeah, that makes sense. I also think in the end you just gravitate towards what you find interesting, and you film or photograph what you find compelling or desirable. That’s the kind of thing I almost feel is best not to think about. You have to jump off a bridge if you think about that too much.

GN: I think in your case what people can see are margins.

HK: Exactly! Most of the time what people find really disturbing I always mean it to be just like a comedy.

Trash Humpers

Trash Humpers

Pushing the envelope: are you aware of social taboos when making your films? Is your work set in dialogue with or opposition to prevailing norms of cinema and society, or do you work in blissful isolation? Is there an element of social critique in the films?

HK: If there is I think it probably just comes through accident. I don’t know, do you go in to a movie to critique or with any agenda?

GN: No, no. To critique you have to have a clear point of view on reality; I’m lost all the time. I just know sometimes you feel safer repeating things you don’t like to make sure you dislike them.

HK: Exactly. And I guess that would imply that you know where you’re going. I think most of the time you have no idea, you just end up there in a certain place, right?

GN: But also I think most people who do social critique are bare[-faced?] liars, trying to make money pretending they’re lefties.

HK: Yeah yeah, yeah. Most people who are social critics I think are getting paid off by the politicians. I think they’re working for Martha Stewart.

Death: are you scared of dying?

GN: Are we scared of dying? Harmony?

HK: I mean it’s not something I look forward to… [giggles]

GN: I [thought] you liked all kinds of experiences?

HK: It’s not anything that when I think about I get excited about. It’s also something I don’t think about that often. I don’t live in fear of it, but I’m not looking forward to it.

GN: Have you ever thought of committing suicide? Seriously – have you ever thought the only issue like next week would be to commit suicide?

HK: I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to a point where it was a serious thought, but you know, you think about everything in life. What about you?

GN: I’d rather go for murder. Killing’s funner than getting killed.

HK: Yeah, you seem like the type to murder, I have to admit that.

GN: The worst thing is that knowing that [one day] you’ll be dead can help you to work during the daytime.

HK: That’s true, I agree. You try and do as much as you can.

Enter the Void

Enter the Void

Are your films sentimental?

GN: My films are hyper-sentimental.

HK: Yeah, I think there is something sentimental about your movies.

GN: And yours too?

HK: Yeah, they’re like memories; dreams, maybe, that you wished you’d had.

GN: They’re mostly about a man losing a woman…

HK: Yeah, they’re one step away from romantic comedies.

GN: Could you do a movie for kids?

HK: I did a movie called Kids.

GN: No, for kids.

HK: Oh. Er… that was for kids!

GN: No, not for teenagers.

HK: Oh, for little children? I thought that movie Babe was terrific, with the pig that talked. Remember that one?

GN: Yeah, I haven’t seen it. But I saw lately Toy Story 3, and cried at the end. It’s in 3D, and the toys are almost getting burned, they cry all together…

HK: Yeah, I heard that was a good one.

GN: That’s the thing my parents ask me, “Are you ever going to do a movie for kids?”

HK: If the money was right, I’d be open to it.

Filmic narrative: reform, revolution or destruction?

HK: I think all of the above, and then some. I just think that you make movies the way you see things, and the way you want to see things. When you tell a story you tell it in a certain way, with a certain style.

GN: I think it’s not about reinventing the language, it’s just that you get bored of the usual language, the close-up of an actress talking, another close-up of another actor talking, then another close-up of the actress reading her dialogue, and then after a while all movies will be TV movies.

HK: That’s a really good way to put it, I think: there’s just a boredom that goes with making films in a traditional narrative. It’s just the same thing over and over again.

GN: Does it happen too that you get more and more bored by movies?

HK: Of course!

GN: When I was a kid I’d watch a movie every day; now I can barely watch a movie every two weeks, and at the end of the year I have two or three movies in mind that were worth watching.

HK: I think that’s terrible too, but I don’t know what that is: is it the movies being made, or is it me?

GN: It’s you: you’ve seen it and then you don’t believe the tricks any more. You believe the magic tricks as long as you’re not a magician, but once you understand how they’re done you don’t buy the acting, you don’t buy the make-up, the lighting, the story…

HK: That’s true. Except the movies I used to love I still love and they’re still kind of exciting. Like I know you could watch 2001 over and over again. I could watch Pam and Tommy’s sex tape…

GN: What’s your favourite porn movie?

HK: My favourite porn movie? I don’t really have one.

GN: Have you ever seen one called Defiance of Good? It’s the only porn movie where I thought the narrative was really strong.

HK: But you can always watch Chaplin movies over and over again and they’re going to be funny. You can always watch Buster Keaton. But I understand what you’re saying.

Taking the money and running: what would tempt you to Hollywood?

GN: Not the drugs, not the cocaine, not the swimming pools…

HK: I don’t think that exists there in the same way.

GN: What scares me about Hollywood is not so much the producers or the agents or the actors, what scares me are the guilds, that you have to work inside a guild system. I don’t think you can have as much fun working inside the Hollywood film industry as you can as an outsider in the European way or in the independent way as an American.

HK: Right. For me, honestly, it’s never even been an issue. It hasn’t been a huge factor in my life; the movies generally are pretty far away from that. I just think you take everything on a case by case basis.

GN: Do you have an agent who sends you scripts?

HK: I have an agent but he doesn’t send me scripts!

GN: I receive scripts from time to time but then they tell you who’s already going to be the director. The worst story was Cronenberg: after he did The Fly, or just before, they asked him to make Beverly Hills Cop 2.

HK: See, I would actually jump at the chance to make Beverly Hills Cop 2. That’s actually like a fantasy for me. But it’s never going to happen.

GN: But also – have you lived in LA?

HK: Never.

GN: I don’t like it; it’s too sleazy.

HK: It’s too sleazy for you?

GN: No, sleazy in that they’re all obsessed with money and celebrity. It’s not a sexy city…

HK: It’s mostly accountants and pencil-pushers.

GN: Yeah, and people trying to be on TV.

HK: Yeah, pick-pockets, accountants and pencil-pushers. None of them are sexy; all of them have forked tongues.

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