Harmony Korine, the acclaimed film director and screenwriter, has lived a fast and furious life after bursting onto the scene as a feverishly creative teenager.
Korine, whose career started by chance when he was spotted by photographer Larry Clark while skating with friends in Lower Manhattan, New York, was then asked to loosely write a script about skaters and, in turn, to centre the plot around a teenage AIDS experience. Inspired instantly, Korine replied to Clark: “I’ve been waiting all my life to write this story” and thus completed the script for controversial and brilliant coming-of-age film Kids in just three weeks.
The film, which stars the likes of stars Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce, Chloë Sevigny, and Rosario Dawson, tells the story of 24 hours in the life of a group of sex, drug-filled New York City street kids during the mid-1990s. Having completed the script when he was just 18-years-old, Korine became an overnight sensation when the film was released to critical acclaim a year later, propelling him into the limelight and opening the door to dangers that come with it.
Just two years after writing Kids, Korine had promoted himself into the director’s chair and made his directional debut with the uniquely intriguing film Gummo which he wrote with typically impressive speed. Given his new platform, Korine was spilling out all the creative inspiration he’d been holding inside with prolific effect. Following up Gummo, he wrote his first novel, A Crack Up at the Race Riots, an experimental piece of work which was described as his attempt to write “the Great American Choose Your Own Adventure novel”.
Considering the amount of work Korine was publishing in such a short space of time—and acknowledging the fact that he was still so young—his unique personality had attracted the world’s media and, most notably, the great TV talk show host David Letterman. The filmmaker would go on to appear on the Letterman show a total of three times, promoting both films and his novel.
Meetings between Letterman and Korine displayed two bizarrely different personalities attempting to hold down a conversation. Korine, quite often replying with bumbling and stumbling answers, offered a glimpse into his somewhat confusing state of mind—much to the frustration of Letterman who couldn’t get a straight answer. Despite the difficulties, and Letterman’s comedic annoyance, the conversation between the two did offer moments of genuine sincerity as the host attempted to bond with the young filmmaker.
However, during the three separate visits across the 1990s, Korine’s physical appearance became more and more dishevelled as he turned from fresh-faced 19-year-old to heavy drug user struggling to maintain his fast life in the public eye. “I felt pretty debased and lost,” he later said in an interview with the Guardian. “I became like a tramp. I wasn’t delusional. I didn’t think I was going to be OK. I thought: ‘This might be the end.’ I’d read enough books. I knew where this story ended. The story finishes itself,” he added.
The sad truth is that Korine had become heavily dependent on crack and heroin; his success became less frequent and, worryingly, two of his homes burnt down in extremely mysterious circumstances. Booked to appear on the Letterman show for the fourth time amid this turbulent period of his life, an incident had occurred backstage which resulted in the director being pulled from the show and subsequently banned for life.
While no further details of what had occurred surfaced at the time, actor James Franco raised the topic while appearing on Letterman to promote Korine’s new film Spring Breakers years later. Franco, who was starring in the film and remained good friend’s with Korine, had checked the logbook prior to the show and the director’s name on the day in question appeared. With his interest piqued, Franco went looking for answers while live on air. While Letterman was clearly hoping to dodge the question, Franco said: “Harmony is a very sane guy now, a great artist and great person to work with, but I think he had a period where he was going a little off the rails, so maybe he was on something that night,” while alluding to the director’s past struggles.
Letterman then revealed: “I went upstairs to greet Meryl Streep and welcome her to the show, and I knock on the door… and she was not in there,” he said.
“And I looked around, and she was not in there, and I found Harmony going through her purse. True story. And so I said: ‘That’s it, put her things back in her bag and then get out.'”
You can see the full saga, which includes some wonderful early discussion with Harmony Korine, in the video below.