There’s something undeniably joyous about Harmony Korine’s “The Lotus Community Workshop,” the first section of the VICE and Grolsch beer–sponsored omnibus movie The Fourth Dimension. Eschewing a literal interpretation of the assigned theme, Korine instead touches (but does not dwell) upon some deep nerves of ugly Americana—dubious new age self-help philosophy, unemployment, mindlessly violent video games, Auto-Tune—and reveals himself to be a worthy inheritor of Vonnegut and Barth. Val Kilmer stars as a motivational speaker (also named Val Kilmer) who holds a workshop in a skating rink, doling out ludicrous practical advice and inspirational moonshine for the benefit of his audience. Despite living in a mansion, he and his cornrowed, anger-management-dropout girlfriend use BMXs as their primary mode of transportation.
FILM COMMENT recently sat down with Harmony Korine, Val Kilmer, and producer Eddy Moretti for a brief chat, during the Tribeca Film Festival, where The Fourth Dimension had its New York premiere.
Eddy Moretti: [Looks into interviewer’s purse] What book are you reading?
The Bluest Eye.
EM: Never heard of it. It looks good.
Harmony Korine: Be honest. What’s the last book you really read? Not just started. I’m talking about all the way through.
EM: Honestly? Confederacy of Dunces. And that was like four years ago.
HK: Is that getting made into a movie?
EM: They’re gonna fuck it up.
Val Kilmer: I think it’s going to be directed by David Gordon Green.
EM: I heard something about it, but they’re gonna fuck it up.
HK: There’s lots of jerking off in it. [Makes jerking off gesture]
So what comes first for you, character or plot?
I know you grew up in Tennessee, but where do you live now? Do you feel like that influences you?
HK: Yeah, definitely, I still live there now. Just like one street from where I grew up.
VK: Because you have no imagination you just thought, “Uhhh, let’s go here. I know where the store is.”
HK: Yeah, I just ended up going back home. To find some comfort there.
VK: Can I mention something about that? The documentary with arrows…
EM: Beautiful Losers.
VK: Yeah, Beautiful Losers. Harmony’s standing in front of a park for quite awhile talking about art, and then all of a sudden he’s like, “You know here, this is where they used to sell a lot of drugs, and over there, my friend got his head cut off.”
HK: Yeah, that was a major spot for me.
Where was “Lotus Community Workshop” shot?
HK: At the Brentwood Skate Rink in Brentwood, Tennessee outside Nashville. It’s a place I went to as a kid. It hasn’t changed. Same video games. Same prizes. Same lighting setup. Same people.
Yeah, it reminded me a lot of the one in my hometown. It’s not like they can upgrade any of that stuff. Did you see the other segments before you wrote yours?
HK: No, I saw them only two days ago. I was just focused on my own thing.
Can you talk about the genesis of Val Kilmer’s character?
HK: Well, I started thinking of doing this less as a short film or truncated feature and more of its own thing. I started working out the logic. I always liked the idea of making something like a social experiment that’s part play and part self-help speech, or a preacher. And then, before I wrote it, I started thinking about which actor I’d like to see do it, especially if it was going to be funny. And so I had seen a picture of Val with a beret or something, standing in New Mexico…
VK: And it all clicked.
HK: He was like in a beret and a bolo, and I just thought that’s so amazing-looking to me I have to write him into this piece.
So it was written for him?
HK: Yeah, definitely.
He gives a lot of advice. Where did that come from? At some points I was really reminded of Glenn Beck. Also in the way the audience was reacting to him.
HK: I don’t know if he thought of Glenn Beck when he decided how to play it. I just wrote the words trying to crack myself up imagining Val doing this.
VK: I didn’t plan how to play the preacher guy. It just emerged once we got there and started doing it. They are kind of in the same gang, not to denigrate all preachers. But that tent revivalist thing, sort of like the snake-oil thing, that’s what’s so humorous.
HK: And your character doesn’t sell anything.
VK: Well, that’s what I’m saying. It’s really genuine, it’s Harmony’s point of view. It’s fun-loving and innocent, but it’s also just off. As far as I could tell in real life, no one was offended. When you go to a movie, you want it to work. And they want to have an enriching experience and learn. And some of it’s just that sound—like just rhythm, rhythm, rally, rally, rally—and that is something that these guys like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh don’t have experience in. There’s a definite school of manipulation that is absolutely practiced by lots of people. Beck said it really accurately in an interview: “I’m a rodeo clown.” That rodeo clown makes $30 million a year. But he was also being honest and trying to say: “Hey I’m a really good hustler. Give me credit here.” You can’t believe that he actually believes these things.
So what did you watch to prepare for this?
VK: I just tried to dream Harmony dreams and seek out that… foreboding whimsy. Challenging whimsy. Dark whimsy. I had a great phrase earlier, I don’t remember it now.
Have you ever thought about doing a video game?
HK: Oh, whoa… Yeah? That would be great.
VK: That would be wild.
EM: Let’s do that. Oh, that’s great.
VK: It’s Harmony right, with his joy, right? And then he moves into me. It’s like the Hulk story: he eats the magical lotus fruit and then becomes a maniac.
HK: Yeah, exactly.
VK: And I want to be the guy in the video game who eats the lotus.
Did you enjoy doing the little song at the end? The spoken-word auto-tune thing is reminiscent of David Lynch’s latest album.
VK: I enjoyed it very much.
HK: That’s his ring tone.
Would you like to work together again?
VK: Well, it’s like Top Gun: why would you go back? You can’t go back!