Paul Schrader and Harmony Korine Dabble in Sexploitation, 2013-Style

Paul Schrader and Harmony Korine Dabble in Sexploitation, 2013-Style
(l-r) Selena Gomez, James Franco, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, and Vanessa Hudgens in "Spring Breakers"
(© Muse Productions)

The spirit of Russ Meyer and Radley Metzger is alive, sort of, and infesting Hollywood independent cinema. Sexploitation movies are making a tentative comeback in 2013 thanks to two radically different American filmmakers – Paul Schrader and Harmony Korine – who have intermittently, and caustically, explored the effects of sexual dissolution.

The subject of this weekend’s New York Times Magazine cover story, Schrader’s neo-noir “The Canyons” stars Lindsay Lohan and porn star James Deen as sex-drenched L.A. twentysomethings—the man a depraved manipulator, the woman his vulnerable girlfriend – whose lives spiral out of control following a bout of four-way sex.

 

Written by Bret Easton Ellis and made for around $250,000 with the help of the Kickstarter crowd-funding program, the movie was rejected by the Sundance Film Festival. William Morris Endeavor is currently seeking distribution for it with a VOD tie-in.

Korine’s R-rated "Spring Breakers," which competed for the Golden Lion at Venice in September, stars preening, pouting teen stars Selena Gomez (whose casting I reported on here), Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine (the director’s wife), Ashley Benson, and their tiny bikinis. A24 Pictures opens it March 22.

A what-if wet dream, it's about four high-school girls who rob a restaurant to pay for a spring jaunt to Florida. After being busted at a drugs party, the quartet are bailed by a sleazebag criminal played by the flexible James Franco, who based his character on rapper and performance artist Riff Raff.

I haven’t seen it yet, but by all accounts, it’s an ironic, pop-crazy commentary on the convergence of rap-world thuggery and “Girls Gone Wild” debauchery. It comes 18 years after Korine broke through with his script for Larry Clark’s "cautionary" exposé of underage sex during the HIV epidemic.

Korine’s move from quasi-avant-garde observations of underclass squalor (“Gummo,” “Julien-Donkey Boy,” “Trash Humpers”) toward Cormanesque exploitation might be regarded as a concession to commercialism. The Times piece on “The Canyons” suggests that Schrader’s decision to work with Lohan on a film with a post-porn sensibility (and not just one, but three porn actors) is a desperate measure for the brilliant screenwriter ("Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull," "The Last Temptation of Christ") and director  ("American Gigolo," "Cat People," "Mishima") who has become less bankable as time has gone by.

It would be a surprise, though, if "The Canyons" wasn’t shot through with the kind of habitual agonizing over sex and its consequences, and usually the need for redemption. that the Calvinist-raised Schrader brought to “Hardcore,” “Taxi Driver,” “The Comfort of Strangers,” and “Auto Focus.” One way or another, Lindsay Lohan’s latest vehicle will have a moral sting in its tail.