Controversy has always existed in cinema. Perhaps the first controversial film was DW Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation from 1915 which glorified the Ku Klux Klan and was a hateful, racist piece of work. Controversy can come to directors by accident if a film is greatly misunderstood or because of the political climate at the time of contemporary release, only to recover its reputation later. Many films are also deliberately provocative, often either in a way to express a political point or in a self-indulgent way that is far too common.
Some directors have made a career out of controversy and have themselves become more individually famous than their films. A way to establish a reputation and to get noticed in the film industry is by being controversial and it worked for numerous directors all over the globe.
Controversy can be a good and a bad thing. It can help a film that is innocent and misunderstood reach an audience it might not have done without all the media attention, but can also be a tool for attention-seeking directors to elevate their nonsense to a larger audience.
10. Harmony Korine
Most Controversial Film: Kids (as a writer)
Harmony Korine rose to infamy quicker than most. At age 18, he wrote Kids which was directed by Larry Clark (more on him later) and the result was a horrible and problematic piece of cinema, but nonetheless, Korine’s star was shining, mainly because of his age. Kids’ depiction of rape and underage sexual activity bordered on the pornographic and it feels as if it was written by a jumped up teenager, which it obviously was. Because of the nature of Kids, all eyes were on Korine’s career, which so far has been littered with narcissistic, self-indulgent trash and it is his writing that has generated the most controversy and attention around him.
His most recent and biggest commercial success thus far is Spring Breakers, which features a handful of attractive, young women spending 90 minutes wearing nothing but bikinis. Korine overtly sexualises the women and has his camera leer at them gratuitously. Korine’s career has been funded by controversy and his tiresome avant-garde efforts are so incredibly desperate for attention, but he’s not even good enough to create a public outcry anymore. His most controversial works were as a writer in Kids and Ken Park, and a personal feeling is that he hopes one of his films reaches those levels of notoriety again. Korine also once attempted to steal from Meryl Streep and was subsequently banned from David Letterman’s show.
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