Image provided by: University of Nebraska-Lincoln Libraries, Lincoln, NE
About The daily Nebraskan. ([Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-current | View Entire Issue (April 4, 2000)
Top: Chloe Sevigny as Pearl with Chrissy Kobylak as Chrissy star in “Julien Donkey-Boy,” which opens this weekend at
the Mary Riepma Ross Film Theater.
Left: Werner Herzog stars as Father in “Julien Donkey-Boy,” a film that captures the lifestyle of a family with a schizo
By Jason Hardy
In 1998, noted director Harmony Korine embarked on an
audacious attempt to create a film that captures the essence
Not only that, but he shot it live.
“Julien Donkey-Boy,” the first American film to be cer
tified by the strictly realist Danish group, Dogme 95, was
filmed entirely on Digital Video cameras and was done
without the aid of a formal script, leaving much of it to be
Despite what seemed like incredible demands, Korine,
most widely known as the screenwriter for “Kids” and the
director of “Gummo,” succeeded in creating a film that is
about as unsettling to watch as one would imagine schizo
phrenia is to experience.
This is a disturbing film.
From the start it is obvious that “Julien Donkey-Boy” is
something very different. The DV format, which was later
transferred to 16mm reversal stock and blown up with an
optical printer before finally being transferred again to 35
mm, creates a haunting effect.
The high contrast and grainy on-screen appearance pro
duces a very intense pallet of colors for Korine and the
actors to work with. Korine creates a neurotic effect by com
bining the overly sharpened, burned-out visual setting with
various oddly placed camera angles and movements, some
very close angles, seeming intrusive and spy-like, and others
that quickly rock back and forth, creating a more rhythmic
sense of madness.
The end result is a film that feels incredibly real, which
is part of what makes it so disturbing. A large part of this
realism stems from the fact that many of the people in the
film aren’t actors, but people who were randomly found on
location and included in the shots. Ultimately, this film
couldn’t have been made any other way.
“Julien Donkey-Boy” is centered around Julien (Ewen
Bremner), a schizophrenic who lives with his pregnant sister
Pearl (Chloe Sevigny), his teen-aged brother Chris (Evan
Neumann), his grandmother (Joyce Korine, Harmony’s
actual grandmother) and his deranged and abusive father
(Werner Herzog) in a house in Queens.
At the start of the film, Julien is seen in a forest mum
bling and excited about a bunch of turtles playing in the
mud. A young boy is also present, whom Julien strangely
attacks and murders, though the camera angle is from the
side, blocked by mud and branches, so it is hard to under
stand what exactly happened.
It quickly becomes apparent that Julien is not of sound
mind, but in his home he is surrounded by people who are
almost equally unbalanced.
Random scenes show his pregnant sister ballet dancing,
while his brother Chris repeatedly climbs the stairs with his
arms, training to be a high school wrestler, and his father
dances to the blues wearing a gas-mask and drinking
The entire film carries with it this sad and macabre tone
and offers no narrative voice, neither actual narration nor
plot direction. This in turn creates a wandering surveillance
video type of feel, as though the outside world is randomly
looking in on this very real and very traumatized family.
Much of this has to do with the fact that “Julien Donkey
Boy” is a Dogme 95 certified film. Dogme 95, which was
founded by Danish directors Lars Von Trier and Thomas
Vinterberg, is a self-proclaimed cinematic rescue group.
The group’s manifesto, which was presented at the Cannes
Film Festival in 1998, claims that technological innovation
has given rise to a corrupt cinematic climate, and the group
created a strict set of rules for filmmakers to follow.
These rules allow for only hand-held cam
eras and location shooting and outlaw produc- i ilion Dnnkox/ Rru#
tion design, soundtrack scores, optical work Ulldl L/Ulll\tiy-DUy
and genre story lines. _
Because of Korine’s dedication to realism 5TAKKllw»: twen tsremner,
and the guidelines of Dogme 95’s manifesto, Werner Herzog, Chloe
the entire film was shot on location in Queens, Sevigny
Yonkers, Harlem and New Jersey, and much of DIRECTOR: Harmony Konne
the action takes place in actual environments, RATING: R (language,
such as a children’s clothing store, a church sexual themes)
confessional, a public bus_ and even a New GRADE: B+
Jersey Baptist church, which allowed for the FIVE WORDS: Dtsturtxng,
cast and crew to invade and film their actual chaotic, yet effective fftm.
Korine even went one step further by omitting set dia
logue and playing the music used in the film live while the
actors were shooting. It was definitely an unprecedented
approach to filmmaking and a unique approach to story
telling, relying more heavily on camera placement than dia- /
logue. It was also an approach that worked very well.
The combination of Korine’s jarring cinematography
and the sad and psychotic subject matter of “Julien Donkey
Boy” together create a film that is not easy for viewers to
Korine pulls no punches, switching from random shots
of a masturbating nun to scenes in which Julien’s father
berates his almost completely naked son Chris, spraying him
with cold water in the middle of the street and later offering
Chris $ 10 to dress as his late mother and dance with him.
Images like these are hard to ingest, regardless of cine
matic artistry, but because Korine’s method is so effective, it
makes those scenes doubly sad and freakish.
Powered by Open ONI