Harmony Korine’s Real-Life Fight Club

Harper’s Magazine, December 1999, p. 28-29.

[From an interview with filmmaker Harmony Korine, in the September 29–October 5 edition of New York Press, an alternative weekly.]

Adam Heimlich: That brings us to Fight.

Harmony Korine: I couldn’t really finish it. It got to a point where I was getting really hurt and arrested and weird shit started happening. I broke my left ankle and I couldn’t tap-dance. I was gonna make this tap-dance movie too, and I literally can’t tap-dance anymore. It fucked the whole thing up.

Heimlich: Well, what was the idea?

Korine: With Fight I wanted to make a great comedy. I thought that was the best way to achieve it. I’d get a little drunk, but not so drunk that my motor skills weren’t working. I did a few fights—one after the other. But what I didn’t really think about was how short hard-core fights last. When you’re fucking hitting each other in the head with bricks, it can only go two or three minutes, so out of the six or seven fights that I did, I have maybe fifteen minutes of pure, hard-core bone breaking.

Heimlich: You’d provoke people until they hit you?

Korine: I would go around with a camera crew, and the only rules were that I couldn’t throw the first punch and the person I was confronting had to be bigger than me. Because that’s where the humor comes in. It wouldn’t be funny if I was fighting someone my size. They had to be bigger than me, and no matter how bad I was getting beat up—unless I was gonna die, that was the rule, unless I was like passed out and they were still killing me—they couldn’t break it up. Because that’s were the comedy comes in as well.

I’d have to say whatever it took to make someone fight me. I’d get in their face and I’d say anything, it didn’t matter, to get them to throw the first punch. And then once they threw the first punch it was on. And we just went, y’know, mad. In the last fight you just see this fucking bouncer from Stringfellow’s. This guy took forever. He’s a big bouncer, and he’s wearing a tuxedo and shit. No matter what I said the guy wouldn’t do anything. Nothing I could do. Just, ‘You fuckin’ little shrimp—get the fuck outta here." So then some stripper, some bitch that worked there, walked out with a balloon on her wrist. And she’s in high heels, y’know, “What’s going on?” So I went up to her and I went like this [a feigned backhand smack], like my dad used to do to me when he’d drive. Because I never used to be comfortable as a kid. I was never comfortable as a kid. We’d drive and he’d go like that right in front of my face. He wouldn’t hit me—he’d just go [demonstrates]. So I was always, like, nervous. So I did that exact same thing to her. In the video I turn around, and the camera crew is across the street, sitting on a stoop—four or five people. There’s some producer with a clipboard, writing shit down, keeping track of whoever gets in the frame. And as I’m turning around you see the guy take me by the back of the head and the belt and just throw me into the middle of the street. So I jump up and I’m like, “Yeah, right on!” He comes running out, and the guy is so pissed. I took a brick—it was like a piece of broken sidewalk—and smashed him in the head when he got close. Really hard. All this blood just went kshhhhht. Then I started taunting him. So he starts running after me. We’re going around this car, running in circles, and that’s where the whole Buster Keaton thing comes in. It’s really high comedy.

Finally he catches up to me and just goes boom. Busts me in the face. Right on the lip. I just go flying back. And this is the funniest part. This is where, really, the comedy comes in. I’m like, “Yeeesss,” because I’d get off on the pain. It’d just make me like, mmmmmm. Because as a kid, growing up in Tennessee, violence was just a way of life. Everybody, no matter how big you were or anything—I’m a teeny guy, and I was even a smaller kid—but it was like no matter what, you had to fight. It was one of those things, a real redneck thing. Violence was part of life. I hated getting hit, but I never minded it so much when it was a fight. I hated getting hit by teachers or by my parents—I didn’t like that. But a fight’s all right, as long as you have some kind of chance. So anyway, I got back up and tried to throw this trash can. There’s a trash can on the sidewalk, and I’m like, “C’mon you cocksucker!” I go to pick up this trash can and throw it at him, but the fucking thing is chained to a lamppost! And the guy just knocks me out. Literally knocked me out. I fell back on the street and hit the back of my head. So my left foot is—you can see on the video that my left foot is up on the sidewalk. And you just see the guy run up and go [mimes a two-footed stomp] and snap my fucking ankle.

Heimlich: Both feet?

Korine: Yeah, both. My ankle just goes like that [gestures as if snapping a twig]. I’m smiling in the video. You see me get up and go to hit him or whatever. I had no idea. Then the cops came. The producer is right across the street, and she tried to explain it. Y’know, “We’re making a movie here.” And she’s like, “Can we have your signature on this release form? It’s a film!” And the guy, the bouncer—it’s amazing—got so sad when he found out it was all staged. He was like, “Oh my God, if I knew this, I never would have touched the guy!” And so he signed the release form.