Gummo

Dir: Harmony Korine, 1997. Starring: Jacob Reynolds, Nick Sutton, Chloë Sevigny. Cult.

For the sake of argument, let’s agree that catharsis can come from viewing tragedies. We watch movies circulating around slums and the darkest corners of imagination not only to get a clearer understanding of them but also because we come away feeling a little more alive and grounded in our own circumstances. But there is a unique squalor of America not found anywhere else in the world. A sort of squalor of choice or adaptation where people dwell in their own filth and close-mindedness willingly, and with perceptions that someone forced to live in such a way might not understand. So in response to this catharsis, I’ll be the first to admit that Gummo sort of hit me like a drug. Say, heroin for example. I couldn’t quite grasp what was going on, but in the trailer when I heard Madonna’s voice singing, “In the midnight hour, I can feel your power, just like a prayer, you know I’ll take you there…” over cigar-smoking, cat-torturing youth, a boy in filthy bathwater, a tornado and a happy albino woman dancing in a parking lot, I was pulled into a trial run. But since it also induces a fever-like edge of comedy, I’m going to write this review in the form of a mock prescription.

If you like to be pulled out of yourself in order to see the irony and falsehood of the pursuit of the "American Dream," Gummo might be for you. Set in the tornado-stricken city of Xenia, Ohio, it features the lives of two boys, Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) and Tummler (Nick Sutton), who spend their days killing cats to sell to butchers, riding bikes with mismatched parts, sniffing glue, having sex, and philosophizing about life in an eerie way that only a person living in this reality can. Their town is filled with strange and disturbing people who are rooted so deeply in their own bitterness, racism, and boredom that their actions can only be received as a cult-like unison of abandon and self-destruction. Chloë Sevigny plays Dot, who along with her sisters Darby and Helen, occupy themselves with a benign sense of vanity and seclusion similar to Little and Big Edie in Grey Gardens. Not exactly hard to watch, but still strange.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Mar 22, 2010 5:57pm

Julien Donkey-Boy

Dir: Harmony Korine, 1999. Starring: Ewen Bremner, Chloe Sevigny, Werner Herzog, Joyce Korine, Evan Neumann. Cult.

Not to downplay this movie, because it’s wonderful, but the prime reason to see it is Werner Herzog, who, if you didn’t already know, is absolutely hilarious. Reason number two is that this is the only American film that is classified as a Dogma film under the Dogme 95 criteria. Whether you think the movement is a pretentious load of bull or not is irrelevant. The requirements, while altered I’m sure, are a welcome change in terms of the crystal-clear hoopla thrills that we’re used to. This film employs an array of interesting techniques and improvisational performances that should not be missed.

The story follows a schizophrenic young-adult named Julien (Ewen Bremner), and his dysfunctional family. His brother Chris (Evan Neumann) is a high-school wrestler who aims to please their domineering father; his sister Pearl (Chloë Sevigny) is mousy individual who is pregnant with Julien’s child; and their father is an impatient bully who you find yourself siding with anyways. Oh, and there’s grandma (Joyce Korine), but she’s kind of like a prop. The entire movie is shot with grainy film stock (possibly 16mm), and is presented in a way that resembles a crazy reality TV show. Julien can be seen hanging out with his handicapped friends, mumbling to himself or others on the street, cross-dressing around the house, etc. The most memorable and heart-breaking of his activities are his phone calls to his deceased mother. He sits in one room, while his sister is in another, and they have conversations over the telephone where she pretends to be their mother. Obviously this is not good for his condition, but it also is one of the few moments that allows you to understand that he has good intentions and is simply lonely.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Dec 8, 2010 10:36am

Kids

Dir: Larry Clark, 1995. Starring: Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce, Chloe Sevigny, Rosario Dawson. Drama.

Before Larry Clark was a known figure in controversial filmmaking he was a brilliant photographer. Some might argue that his photography is considerably better than his films, and I'd have to agree. By "better" I mean that they have a deeper effect on you and, despite the often bleak subject matter, they are clean, provoking images with good form. However, Clark's first film Kids, co-written by Harmony Korine, should be considered his directorial masterpiece.

In the early '90s Clark shot a series of photos that were documents of New York skate culture and depravity within the lifestyles of young people. Clark enjoyed interacting with his subjects, often finding a muse and/or love interest among them. Many of those New York kids would later be in his first film, more or less dramatizing and extending what could be felt through the grizzly portraits of them. The energy of the film is fresh and the entire line-up, omitting the producer, was quite amateur; Korine was 19 when he wrote the script; Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce, Chloe Sevigny, and Rosario Dawson were all debuting on the screen. Clark's ability to compose a frame filled with images you can't ignore ultimately stabilized the film, and Korine's efforts, matched with an ambitious cast, made it something to be realized and respected.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Jun 23, 2011 1:10pm

Late Bloomer (Osoi hito)

Dir: Go Shibata, 2004. Starring: Masakiyo Sumida, Naozo Hotta, Mari Torii. Asian Cinema.

Picture, if you can, a film with the nightmarish quality of a Harmony Korine movie in Japanese, with a bit more focus on the characters and plot, that is deliberately presented as an avant-garde horror film. Late Bloomer is about as close to that combination as you're ever going to get. Not only is it toxic and arresting like the films of Korine, who I'll admit is one of my favorite directors, but the film is extremely off-putting.

As far as craft goes, it is shot in black and white (needed, I assume, for the eerie quality and mass bloodshed), with out-of-date dissolves and overlapping images that I haven't seen in years. The soundtrack is also jarring, mainly consisting of minimal electronic and death metal.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Jun 22, 2010 5:51pm

Mister Lonely

Dir: Harmony Korine, 2008. Starring: Diego Luna, Samantha Morton, Werner Herzog. Drama.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see Buckwheat from Our Gang wash the back of his holiness the Pope with a scrub brush in a stand-alone bathtub in the middle of the woods? Has the idea of witnessing Moe, Curly and Larry shoot a flock of diseased goats ever cross your mind? Or perhaps, getting a bird’s eye view of several nuns free falling through the atmosphere during an impromptu skydiving trip? If so, Mister Lonely is the film for you.

Mister Lonely is the story of a shy Michael Jackson impersonator (Diego Luna) living and dancing his way through the streets of Paris. While performing at a retirement home, Michael comes into contact with a Marilyn Monroe impersonator (Samantha Morton). The two have lunch at which point Marilyn invites Michael to accompany her to a commune inhabited by celebrity impersonators located in the Highlands of Scotland. At first, Michael is apprehensive. But the beautiful and very uncanny Monroe impersonator convinces him to join her. Michael gathers his things in a scene, which in my opinion, is the embodiment of the entire film. Never has a moment in a film where a character interacts with furniture ever make me feel the way in which this particular (and peculiar) scene did.

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Posted by:
Travis King
Dec 17, 2008 7:02pm

Trash Humpers

Dir: Harmony Korine, 2009. Starring: Harmony Korine, Rachel Korine, Chris Gantry, Charles Ezell. Cult.

"It's kind of like an ode to vandalism. There can be a creative beauty in their mayhem and destruction. You could say these characters are poets or mystics of mayhem and murder, bubbling up to the surface."

--Harmony Korine, on Trash Humpers

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Dec 10, 2010 5:44pm
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