For some reason that I don't quite understand I've managed to see all three feature films that Harmony Korine has made in
the theater even though I find him unbelievably pretentious and stupid. Kids (1995), which he wrote for filmmaker
Larry Clarke, Gummo (1997), and Julien Donkey-Boy (1999) make up a trilogy of nonsense, an over-heated,
underwhelming series of films that display the total lack of depth or thought in their creator. While Julien
Donkey-Boy contained some fascinating performances (notably from Werner Herzog and Ewen Bremner) Korine's
anti-style is always the star of the show.
In Gummo he creates a town that, as an unidentified narrator explains, was ravaged by a tornado and left in ruins.
The scenes that construct the film, however, have nothing to do with that premise. Instead they paint a portrait of a
dysfunctional world where nothing makes sense. Korine claims to be drawn to the beauty in such characters as midgets,
young people with Downs Syndrome, and cat-killing glue-sniffers, but his film shows that not to be the case. There is beauty
to be found in unlikely places but Korine's style is incoherent and manipulative. He pretends to be a great literary figure
whose visions break taboos and reveal the truth but in reality he is a talentless simpleton. He's even figured out the perfect
rebuttal to critics: If you don't like his films you "just don't get it."
However, his aggressively stupid scripts and characters don't hint at deeper meaning or thematic relevance at all. In fact, he
brags that two thirds of Gummo were filmed in one day, followed immediately by his pulling down his pants,
punching his sister, getting stabbed, vomiting, and passing out for three days. This scenario is highly implausible, as are all
of his boasts of debauchery in the media, but it would probably have made a better film than the one he actually
Mind you, I don't have a problem with the "outrageousness" of Korine's films. While I think that the persistent cruelty to
cats in Gummo, both real and simulated, is reprehensible, I'm not outraged or sickened by the human degradation
he shows. What I find disappointing is the total lack of meaning or clarity to any of it. He seems to include it only as bait for
critics: Say you're disgusted and he'll call you a stupid prude. Korine believes his own hype as an arty enfant terrible
too much to look at himself critically and, since he's received some praise, albeit far less than he probably imagines, he's
unlikely to turn a mirror to his own psyche any time soon.
The video on this release is actually very nice (You didn't think that I had anything nice to say, did you?). Cinematographer
Jean-Yves Escoffier has a keen eye for colors and composition and has given Korine a better looking film than he needs. In
fact, Korine seems to always get better collaborators than he deserves. Perhaps his adoption of the Dogme 95 doctrine on
Julien Donkey-Boy had less to do with aesthetic truth and more to do with finally being abandoned by skilled
technicians like Escoffier.
The audio is passable, although some of the mumbled dialog is incomprehensible. It doesn't matter, but in case you care
there are English subtitles.
Marketing material claims that the Gummo DVD features audio commentary. This is not true.
While the film itself does not feature any commentary, a brief interview with Korine is played over a slide show of stills
from the set. In it he proves to be the inarticulate poseur that the movie suggests he is.
Notably absent from the extras is the film's intriguing trailer (what got me in the theater in
the first place), most likely because of its use of Madonna's "Like a Prayer". It's a shame since the trailer makes a more interesting viewing experience than the film itself.
When I first saw Gummo four years ago I was convinced that the sum of the film added up to more than the
individual parts. Now, having seen Korine's subsequent work, I see it for what is is: Shallow, meaningless blather. Fans of
psychotronic films might want to check it out for its non-narrative tangents, but there is really little to recommend.