Art or smut? 'Spring Breakers' is a hotbed of controversy

Former Disney Channel stars strip down for director Harmony Korine...but what is the point, exactly?

March 11, 2013

Harmony Korine has been pushing boundaries since 1995, when his breakout film Kids shocked and disturbed the nation with its graphic portrayal of teen sex, AIDS and drug use. However, Kids was also a groundbreaking piece of art house cinema: shot documentary-style with non-actors (a young Chloe Sevigny and even younger Rosario Dawson were literally plucked off the street for their first film roles), making the drama feel as raw and real as possible. As a writer, Korine's intention may have been to shock his audience; but Kids accomplished even more than that: it woke people up with a bang.
 
Unfortunately, Korine's latest foray into the adolescent underworld--Spring Breakers, opening this Friday in select theaters--doesn't look nearly as promising. While the footage from Kids felt gritty and urgent in an uncomfortably close-to-home kind of way, the previews for Spring Breakers are all fake MTV flash and flourescence (or, according to the mostly negative early reviews, all style and no substance). A ghetto James Franco and a "hardcore" dubstep soundtrack by Skrillex don't help either. 
 
And then there's the whole nudity kerfuffle. Two of the film's stars, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, are best known for their roles on popular Disney Channel programs--Gomez on the TV series Wizards of Waverly Place, and Hudgens in the High School Musical film franchise. Gomez was 19 during the filming of Spring Breakers, and wears a bikini in almost every scene. Hudgens, who was 23 at the time, has a nude scene with Franco and Ashley Benson (of the ABC Family show Pretty Little Liars) as they engage in a threesome whilst snorting cocaine. 
 
Now, if nudity serves an artistic purpose onscreen, then I'm all for it. Seeing Michael Fassbender completely naked in Shame empitomized the stark loneliness of his sex addiction, Mena Suvari's nudity in American Beauty is a pivotal turning point for Kevin Spacey's character and Hilary Swank's bottomless reveal in Boys Don't Cry is the defining moment of the film's climax. In fact, one could argue that nudity in all sex scenes--whether they be romantic or not--should be required for realism's sake. 
 
But what about those films where nudity pops up for seemingly no other reason other than shock value? Seth MacFarlane's Oscar boob song was misogynistic on so many levels, but at least the films he mentioned had actresses exposing themselves for purposes that served the film's plot (Jodie Foster's rape in The Accused being a prime example). However, did Swordfish really need that shot of Halle Berry flashing Hugh Jackman to advance the story? Of course not, but let's face it: most people wouldn't have bothered seeing the film had it not been for that one "jackpot" scene. 
 
Perhaps that's why the nudity in Spring Breakers has been already been blasted all over the media. Reviews of the film itself have been less-than-glowing, so maybe the marketing strategists have decided that pushing the "good girls gone bad angle" for their once squeaky-clean Disney starlets is the best way to get those ogling eyes into theaters.
 
So, is this the kind of movie that Korine set out to make: an "artsy" teensploitation flick with nothing meaningful under the surface? I hope not, which is why I plan to go see the film when it opens in theaters and decide for myself. But unlike most other people who are likely to show up, I won't be there just for the nude scenes.
 
A trailer for the "YOLO generation" (oy vey):
 
 
 
What's your stance on nudity in film? Leave me a comment below or let me know via Twitter @leahkpickett