Story of Fight Harm: The Most Brutal Arthouse Film Ever

Harmony Korine (director of Gummo and writer of Kids) has always marched to the beat of his own drum. Certainly in-line with his penchant for the bizarre was his cancelled film project Fight Harm.

In 1999, David Blaine (yes, that one) filmed him being savagely beaten by strangers on the streets of Manhattan. The idea was that Korine had to verbally insult passers-by to the point where they wanted/needed to cave his face in. Also they had to be bigger than Korine and they had to throw the first punch.

Harmony Korine – a small guy. / Courtesy

Production was put on hold at one point, following Korine’s arrest for… fighting on the streets of Manhattan. Apparently, explaining to the NYPD that it’s a film project and everything is being taped isn’t a good enough excuse.

Sounds like Bumfights to us, except the rules Korine established make it slightly less morally abhorrent. His hands-on attitude is pretty admirable, as well. It seems he wants us to laugh (and recoil) at him, and not those harming him – being beaten mercilessly for being a total instigating douche. He once stated that he “wanted to push humour to extreme limits to demonstrate that there’s a tragic component in everything”.

Pictured: Humour / Courtesy Discover Magazine

Production was stopped permanently a few fights in, due to Korine’s body not reacting well to repeated punching and kicking. Crazy, right? The 15 minutes of shot footage still exist in the director’s archives but no public release has happened.

One of the most detailed records of production exists in the form of a New York Press interview with Harmony Korine. Here are some extended highlights:

“I’d get a little drunk … I did a few – one after the other. But what I didn’t really think about was how short hardcore fights last. When you’re fucking hitting each other in the head with bricks, it can only go two or three minutes … Out of the six or seven fights that I did, maybe I have 15 minutes of pure, hardcore bone – breaking … It wouldn’t be funny if I was fighting someone my size … and no matter how bad I was getting beat up – unless I was gonna die … they couldn’t break it up.”

We get the impression that the set-up to these fights is probably hilarious, the first two seconds garner some shocked laughter and then it becomes absolutely horrific.

Cameraman moments before emotional breakdown. / Courtesy Videofx

Korine then details the last fight he had on film:

“You just see this fucking bouncer from Stringfellow’s … I’d get in their face and I’d say whatever, it didn’t matter, to get them to throw the first punch … No matter what I said the guy wouldn’t do anything … then some stripper, some bitch that worked there, walked out … I went up to her and I went like this [a feigned backhand smack] … I turn around and [the camera crew] are across the street … And as I’m turning around you see the guy take me by the back of the head and the belt and just throw me into the middle of the street … I took a brick – it was like a piece of broken sidewalk – and smashed him in the head when he got close … All this blood just went kshhhhht. Then I started taunting him. So he starts running after me. We’re going around this car, running in circles, and that’s where the whole Buster Keaton thing comes in. It’s really high comedy.”

In his most famous scene, Buster Keaton smashes a train into a bouncer’s face. / Public Domain Image

It’s evocative reading about it. Korine pelting a guy in the head with a brick is so severe that it’s surreal when partnered with the ‘catch me if you can’ routine. Korine goes on to talk about the bouncer knocking him out and snapping his ankle with a foot stomp. Good times…

Some incidental bruising. / Courtesy Wikimedia

Then, perhaps the most bizarre detail of all. For every fight, they needed a release form signed for it to be shown in the film. So, after Korine is nearly beaten to death, there’s a candid camera reveal with producers rushing across, asking for guys to sign off on the project. Korine talks about the bouncer’s reaction:

“[He] got so sad when he found out… He was like, ‘Oh my God, if I knew this, I never would have touched the guy!’ And so he signs the release form. And the girl beside him is totally in tears, the stripper. She’s like, ‘Don’t sign it! He’s not a director – he needs to be locked up in a mental institute!’”

Here’s hoping we get to see what remains of Fight Harm some day. Sounds like our kind of tragicomedy.