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GUMMO(director/writer: Harmony Korine; cinematographer: Jean Yves Escoffier; editor: Chris Korine; cast: Jacob Reynolds (Solomon), Nick Sutton (Tummler), Jacob Sewell (Bunny Boy), Darby Dougherty (Darby), Chloe Sevigny (Dot), Carisa Bara (Helen), Linda Manz (Solomon’s Mom), Max Perlich (Cole), Bryant L. Crenshaw (Midget); Runtime: 89; Fine Line Features; 1997)
“I found myself becoming bored and tuning the film out.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This film has the look of a pseudo-documentary but is a work of fiction, with the nonprofessional actors seemingly changing mid-scene from reading a script to doing ad-libs. Harmony Korine (screenwriter for Kids), in his debut film as a director, shoots this film with all the verve and necessary shock and schlock he can muster. What results is a pointless but engaging romp through a Midwestern suburban city, Xenia, Ohio. Its dysfunctional inhabitants, mostly white redneck youths, either seem retarded or prone to violence as they are searching for something to do with themselves in a city still suffering from the devastations of a tornado. The film was actually shot not in Ohio but in Korine’s hometown, outside Nashville, Tennessee.

The film opens to a shaky home video footage of a tornado that passed through town and killed some of its inhabitants, as we view some of the damage and hear the youngsters cursing. We then follow two youngsters (the sallow looking Jacob Reynolds & Nick Sutton-discovered on a troubled teen episode of TV talk-show host Sally Jessy Raphael) who kill cats and sell them to a supermarket that sells them to a Chinese restaurant. The rest of the time they sniff glue, pay for sex with an older woman, and take one of their Granny’s off a life support respirator.

Another odd character, Jacob Sewell, plays a boy dressed in pink fluffy rabbit ears who pisses down on traffic from a bridge and walks through town playing toy gun games with some little kids, looking like he’s lost his marbles. Korine is non-judgmental about any of his characters. But is that necessarily a good thing?

What saves this film from being a complete absurdity, is the raw energy of Korine’s direction. He is on the cutting-edge of cinema verite, showing the pent-up hostility and alienation these trashy young people have. He seems to be painting his words with images of the most freakish things you can see in America’s wasteland, and not caring whether you believe what you are seeing or not–his aim seems to be to shock the audience and for the audience to respond and say how “hip” he is to be showing us all these revolting images. But is that enough to make this a satisfactory film?

Korine’s characterizations of people are all off-the-wall, such as the retarded woman who treats a doll as her baby or the albino cook who proudly says Patrick Swayze is her favorite movie actor and she would pay to have him touch her. Then there is the chubby simple-minded housewife with her face painted, who is sold by her husband (Max Perlich) as a prostitute to our very young protagonists. A drunk gay man (Korine) who tries to seduce an encephalitic black dwarf (Crenshaw). Two skin-head teens senselessly punching it out with each other for an interminable amount of time in their kitchen for fun and macho pride. And, the sisters (Darby & Chloe), preoccupied with making their nipples grow bigger, as theyput duct tape on them and then pull it off so as to make them stick out. They are shown in another scene fondled by a pervert, who is pretending to help them find their missing cat. But by showing all these freaks, is the director not just using them without any purpose but to exploit their oddness?

Linda Manz as Solomon’s mom, has a strange way of raising her son. She does a bizarre tap dance, then — jokingly, pointing a gun at him to try and get him to smile. Is this funny scene meant to be a comment on single moms?

The film has an attention-disorder disturbance (ADD) of its own, as it keeps going at random from one vignette to another without any decipherable plot or story line; this should be a real treat for heavy metal enthusiasts. But is this film only for punk rockers?

Others who might like this film, could be taken in by the audaciousness of the director’s style and the fast-pace of the film and its disposable use of images. To its credit, the film does capture some of the fears the youths have about growing up, and it does show that there are no role models around to help the children. But does the filmmaker really care about that?

This film will probably be viewed as one that you either hate or love, and no one can convince you otherwise. I was caught in a voyeuristic mode, then I found myself becoming bored and tuning the film out; I, therefore, can only say that the film did not work for me. It is hard for me to warm up to those who kill cats, yet I wanted to see how the minds of such people work. I found out – their mind’s don’t work.

Gummo lacked the needed pathos to make the youngsters’ story seem more than a provocative freak show; as a result the film had a disjointed look, even though Korine should be applauded for sticking to his personal vision.


Dennis Schwartz: ” Ozus’ World Movie Reviews “