March 10th, 2013 / 4:49 pm

Spring Breakers

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The controversy surrounding Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) lay not so much in its sexual inclination — to which most of Western painting, perhaps even religious, had been dedicated — but in the grotesque and primitive fashion the whores had been rendered. The painting may have been an antagonistic response to a more gentle work (Le bonhuer de vivre, 1906) by Henri Matisse, with whom the former had been in heated rivalry. It shows five prostitutes in a brothel in Barcelona, the still life at the bottom a phallic placeholder. Before racism, Europe simply eroticized Africa, where our artist had gotten tribal masks by which he was noticeably influenced. The offense, then, it seems, was less of a feminist encounter than an Anglo-Saxon European one; simply, we had been unwittingly drawn into bed with dark monsters from another land. As we gleefully await Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, which promises to be Girls Gone Wild meets Cops meets every rap video ever made, we are teased with promotional images and film stills. And it would take Selana Gomez — our lady of $4 million net worth; 14,417,325 twitter followers (as of 3/10/13, 11:29 PST); inside whom Justin Bieber first became a man — to swiftly strike a pose that came before her, Madonna, and Marilyn Monroe. An animal, when threatened, will bring their hands to their face; to retract them beyond is to exert trust, the ultimate form of control. To disarm the gaze of its power. Good girl.

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Four demographically benign girls rob a gas station to pay for Spring break, get arrested, then bailed out by someone with an MFA from Columbia — with culturally dissonant cornrows and a temporary grill — who leads them into a dark underworld of out-of-focus bathroom “selfies,” residual lube and glitter. This, per the trailer and some mild research, would be my synopsis. Harmony Korine does what the best film makers do: he places the camera before himself, a rogue yet detached spy that captures the irrational, and often ugly, world around it. Unlike with David Lynch or the Coen Brothers, the viewer cannot simply reduce the difficult aspects in the film to surrealism. The conceit is oddly humble. The verity of the lens i.e. detachment of the director makes the encounter problematic, as we are complicit in every action therein. The completely insane Trash Humpers (2009) feels more believable, thus frightening, than most of the didactic documentaries of today.

The weariness of inserting “Post-” in front of anything lies not its presumption, but in the implicit lineage to which such a chronologically laden prefix is tied. Assistant professors and people aligned by lateral dinner tables with opulent bohemian-ish centerpieces (usually pomegranates and dried twigs), have offered to their students and/or guests an idea of a Post-post-modernism, or meta-modernism, or various combinations of “post,” “meta,” or “alt,” the latter abbreviation for “alternative” seduced by the mainstream through its very opposition to it. It’s hard to tell what is kitschy and what is komplicit these days. The viewer’s responsibly is absolved in irony. When I watch Spring Breakers (oh, I will), it will not be to review it, for I’m doing so now. It will be to masochistically dive into the jeweled cavern of James Franco’s mouth. To smell coconut suntan lotion and fishy muffs hopefully through the fourth wall. Girls in bikinis, hipsters in theaters, an unpopped kernel in my belly button. The only Post- here may be a Postpartum depression for girls who are still babies. Criticism died years ago.

An ever more chill Matisse, as either a fist or nod to Picasso, paints The Dance (1909), stripping the incestuous narrative in painting of its sexuality. As Europe broke into WWI, he escaped further into the rainbows of his paintings. Culture may not be defined by its social transcription, but rather, by the aversion to it. The naked women are seen through childish eyes, drawn with childish hands, made all the more formidable by their disparity to the world. Bed-ridden, Henri draws a woman’s face on his wall with a pencil tied to a long stick — eyes closed, as if unable to look at him, or vice versa. In his final years, he cut senile shapes out of paper and made disfigured figures. Thank you, modernism. Before we shed too many tears for the man though, he did have sex with all of his models, whose youth grew in direct disproportion to his age. “In love, the one who runs away is the winner,” Matisse says, which is both profound and very sad. One worries about Franco, and how elaborate his method acting was, what he did-or-didn’t do with these nubile actresses. To honor a man with his art is asking to be disappointed by his actions. It’s impossible to fetishize mimesis because you just open your eyes. When I see others fuck, I wanna fuck. We’ll let Descartes handle that one.



  1. David Fishkind


  2. Meek

      I wonder what it’s a testament to that Chen’s posts provoke little discussion.

      In any case – funny, strange, and learned once again.

  3. the wrath of doug

      im not smart enought to tie all the ends of what i assume is an argument, about something having to do with old nude arts and new ones, by myself. please do it for me.

  4. Jimmy Chen

      oh, there’s no argument at all; these are simply hopefully meanderings which find questions more compelling than answers. good day, sir!

  5. A D Jameson

      There is always argument!

  6. mimi

      there is always hope…
      if jimmy chen is hopeful then there is always hope

  7. Emma Rayward

      spring breakers is a wonderful film, beautiful and hilarious and yeahhh

  8. Tantra Bensko

      Somehow, there just isn’t much to say in response, really.

      I enjoyed learning the details about Matisse.

  9. bemightee

      i enjoyed this post and i’m not just saying that because of the film stills….although i’m sure subconsciously they had an effect.

  10. This Week in Words – Mar 16 | Treehouse

      […] Jimmy Chen for HTMLGiant tackles James Franco, barely legal bikini-clad felons, and a little bit of art in this piece about upcoming film Spring Breakers. […]

  11. eggrollpizza

      The bitches love me cuz im fucking casper…the dopest ghost around

  12. Doug

      Actually, cool correction…Le bonheur de vivre (1906) by Matisse contains The Dance before The Dance (1910). Look at the back image in the painting. I only know this because I JUST read this amazing book by Edward Fry: Cubism Anyway, nice film comparison to Cubism…