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What a peyote-laced fever dream Harmony Korine must be on whenever he decides to make a film. Many people are drawn to the vivid color palettes and awkward moments of harsh realism generously sprinkled across his 3 decade-long filmography. Most of the movies that I’ve seen by him have been great: Mr. Lonely is a interesting little jump into the world of street performers and impersonators that feels like a live action version on the Island of Misfit Toys from Rankin/Bass’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with more heart, a tad bit of existential dread, and operatic forms of child abuse. It’s a nutty trip to say the least, but I can only wonder if it will prepare me for Gummo, his breakout feature film.
What strikes me as strange is the way the trailers present it as an oddball look at life for kids and young adults living in one of the poorest parts of Ohio: experimental for it’s time as well as interesting, to say the least. The metal-heavy soundtrack bursts through the screen as you watch these kids get into some rough situations throughout their daily escapes from life and all its turmoil. They play games of cops and robbers, talk shit amongst themselves while hanging around a cooler, and go out on dates with each other. It’s very much the same as Kids was for inner-city New York kids living their lives, or at least that’s the vibe the trailer gives off. Images of abuse are included as well, showing some creepy rituals that the parents force the kids to participate in. I assume that these rituals are done with the understanding that will hopefully ease the life of struggles that awaits the children, but it doesn’t make them any less disturbing.
I feel like if I go into this movie as blind as I possibly can, then I’ll be fully freaked out and disturbed by the images plastered all over the screen. Even what little I saw just from the trailer already gives me the creeps. The sense that some of these kids may be beyond help and, for a lack of a better word, damaged by what they have been through is nerve-shattering. It doesn’t feel like you should feel bad for them so much as you should feel bad for yourself. You, the viewer, are watching these kids ride their bikes but also live in this land of little hope and despair. Your voyeuristic tendencies get the best of you as you try to put together what you just saw from those two-and-a-half minute trailers. It’s almost like the movie looks like a slapped together chop and slop project that may or may not put you into a position of questioning if you are watching a bona fide snuff film. Luckily you’re not, and the stylized filmmaking reminds you that it’s just an ordinary movie.
My impression of Korine’s work is very much shaped by his later movies that had more conventional storytelling elements as well as generally more-relatable narratives, so I hope when I see Gummo that I don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is going to be like Mister Lonely or even Spring Breakers, which is widely considered to be his most mainstream film. Gummo really looks to be one of the harder watches I will have to deal with in the future, but I know somewhere, somehow, and over time that I will find myself thinking deeply about what I just saw. Without having been deep into subversive films and how they can change the way people watch movies, I think Gummo will be a great first jump into more interesting, challenging films that can shake one to their core.
Gummo screens next weekend at The Frida Cinema.
Friday, Feb 11 – 10pm
Saturday, Feb 12 – 7:45pm
Sunday, Feb 13 – 6pm