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Photos: James Franco, Selena Gomez, and Vanessa Hudgens on the Spring Breakers Set

It’s been almost twenty years since Harmony Korine introduced us to his listlessly horny, decidedly un-helicopter-parented vision of teen anomie, Kids. His films just got weirder after that, the characters ever more dissociated, the landscapes almost mythically depraved. But his new film, Spring Breakers, out this month, goes back and retrieves some of that empty-eyed titillation that made Kids so fascinating to watch, only this time it’s set to Britney Spears songs. The film has the heightened rap-video bacchanalian fever-dreaminess of the MTV Beach Houses of yore—lots of slo-mo jiggling bikini bottoms (“I could watch that all day,” Korine says, with semi-ironic relish. “It’s hypnotic. Ass-hypnotic.”)—along with a heady dose of Michael Mann. It was entirely shot in the suntropolitan sprawl around Tampa–St. Petersburg, on the Gulf side of Florida, an area best known as the setting for the most recent Republican National Convention and Magic Mike.

“I came down three or four months early and just drove around, getting lost, finding places,” Korine says. To get the project going, he signed up his friend James Franco, who was drawn to the character of Alien, a dreadlocked rapper–drug dealer “gangster-mystic.” At that point—Franco agreed right after he hosted the Oscars two years back—Korine rushed down to Daytona Beach to write immersively during that annual short-term student migration. The film also stars his wife, Rachel, along with Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens, and Selena Gomez.

Korine says it wasn’t difficult to get these Us Weekly denizens to let loose. Gomez plays Faith, the most morally conflicted (and only brunette) of the four college girls looking for a little drunken postadolescent transcendence on the beach. Their journey “is a mixture of profundity and retardation,” says Korine, who keeps the girls in bikinis most of the time; they’re also often clutching guns in this same state of Day-Glo display. He calls the film a “pop poem,” and despite its horndog nihilism, he’s hoping he’ll find new fans with it. Even the filming itself reminded him of the pop potency of what he was playing with. “We were using all real locations,” says Korine, and his underdressed young stars were always being chased by paparazzi. “One of the reasons the movie is so frenetic is that we were in a constant state of being chased, and trying to hide.”              

*This article originally appeared in the March 11, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.

Photo: Courtesy of 424 Films