Friday, May 10, 2013

#998. Gummo (1997)

Directed By: Harmony Korine

Starring: Jacob Sewell, Nick Sutton, Lara Tosh

Tag line: "Prepare to visit a town you'd never want to call home"

Trivia:  Harmony Korine and his cameraman were frequently chased out of locations by angry fathers with shotguns, who suspected them of making child porn

Opinions vary on director Harmony Korine’s 1997 debut feature, Gummo. Time Out called the film “breathtakingly original, and absolutely true to the times”, while Ken Hanke, writing for the Mountain Express in Asheville, NC, went so far as to declare it “the vilest waste of 2 hours of my life”. So, is Gummo a work of art, or exploitative trash? Is there a deeper meaning hidden in this tale of society’s outcasts, or is the movie the equivalent of poking fun at a circus freak?

Gummo has no story, per se, but follows the exploits of several young people living in the town of Xenia, Ohio, which, years earlier, was nearly destroyed by a tornado. Tummler (Nick Sutton) and Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) are glue-sniffing teenagers who kill stray cats and sell their carcasses to the local butcher. Dot (Chloe Sevigny) and her younger sisters Helen (Carisa Glucksman) and Darby (Darby Dougherty) pass the time listening to music, playing with their cat, and putting electrical tape over their nipples to make them more erect. There’s also a boy wearing pink bunny ears (Jacob Sewell) who makes the occasional appearance.

All of these characters seem to be drifting aimlessly through life, and we spend the better part of Gummo hanging out with them. At one point, Tummler and Solomon pay to have sex with a girl suffering from Downs Syndrome, and later on, they break into the home of another teen named Jarrod (Daniel Martin), who lives with his comatose grandmother (Berniece M Duvall) (to see if she can still feel pain, Tummler instructs Solomon to shoot the grandmother in the foot with a BB gun). We meet others as well, including a drunk played by director Korine himself, who tries to convince an African-American dwarf (Bryant L. Crenshaw) to kiss him. There are moments in Gummo when Korine is clearly aiming for something higher (in one sequence, a young girl describes, in detail, how her father went about molesting her), and others where he’s content to wallow in the apathy and sadness that has taken hold of his characters' lives.

Which brings us back to the question at hand: is Gummo art, or is it trash? Damned if I know. But I will say this: it’s a movie that must be experienced to be believed.

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