As would happen in the middle of a series, I haven’t had the timeÂ to hunt up and rewatch the rest of the Don Bluth and Hayao Miyazaki films thatÂ I need to see to finish their match up. So in the meantime, please enjoy my gushing review of one of the more bizarre and polarizing movies you will ever see (with a director who fits the same description).
A Freakish Vision Perfectly Realized
This is one of those movies tough to put on a rating scale. Going by how well it accomplishes what it sets out to do, it’s an easy 10/10. By how much I appreciated the experience, I’m still not sure myself. Not much lower though.
Every so often, I’ll come across a genuine mind trip of a movie, one that’s not just strange but challenging in some unsaid way. And that challenge only grows more layered across the runtime. Even in the trailer, I could feel a magnetic quality in Gummo. The brief testament to life’s beauty all but resonated with the odd, affectionate images of poverty. The film includes as much crude and disturbing content as some of the worst attempts I’ve seen to make money off of cynical shock vaule. But this isn’t cynical, and it isn’t really shock value, and most of it doesn’t even feel at odds with the rest of the vision. On one hand, I’m inclined to say that a plot with roughly three acts, which the film deliberately avoids, is the popular storytelling form for a reason. But where I’ve paused during my favorite movies to think about theÂ score-out-of-ten and what magnitude the experience had reached, I had forget this during Gummo. It only detracted from the experience.
I should ad that I didn’t intend to watch it at first. My first encounter with Harmony Korine was when “Trash Humpers” became a candidate for the movie to watch at next week’s Obscure Movie Group meeting. I decided to skip that week. (I heard it lost to Pink Flamingos.) But I read up on Trash Humpers just to see what corner of the no-budget, no-effort grade z film world the people in charge had dug it out of. Learning that it not only had drawn some attention but had a few critics giving it dead-serious praise was the first hook. In fact, making it look like a grade-z film was a deliberate choice by the director. From there I justÂ had to know more. And everything I came across was somehow intriguing.
Intriguing is the word of the day here. Korine has yet to achieve a fresh score over at rottentomatoes.com, yet the consensuses two of his movies have been givenÂ sound like they’re secretly on his side. His early films, including Gummo, seem to be his most admired as well as his lowest scoring. There is definitely a “trademark odd beauty” to them, but many of the negative reviews insist they’re as pretentious and detestable as they could possibly be. I’ve also noticed a few speculations on why people say such things. Here’s mine;
I think we can agree that people don’t gravitate towards things that are too outside the norm. We need to get used to the idea of something before we can trust it. If it doesn’t easily fit into one of the labels we have ready, we come prepared with “annoying”, or “stupid”, or at the very least “weird”. Gummo is “weird” to most people, and disturbing on top of it. For that, most don’t want to understand or consider it, writing the whole thing off as disguised ugliness. While simply declaring other critics’ opinions invalid is unfair, I think it’s a misunderstanding to say that Korine is “mean”, “smug”, “sour”, or “pretentious”. Korine has said that he made this film because he finds the people portrayed very interesting, and his sincerity is clear. What his film sets out to do is not to judge them, or us, but simply to show us life on their terms. This isn’t a statement. It’s a tribute. It’s a collage, both realistic and dreamlike. The images are funny, sad, adorable, pitiful, and oddly nostalgic. Sometimes what it portrays is dispicable, and the dislike I felt probably did drop my approval a little. But every moment has a place in this visceral image of life that Korine weaves, and as the main character says, though he seems to forget it himself at points, “Life is beautiful. Really it is. Full of beauty and illusions.”
I still can’t put my finger on Korine himself. Watching him in person, he’s awkward and sometimes unintelligible. Reading his prepared statements, he’s confident and assertive in his visions that seem operate on a different plane. He claims to admire or identify with the subjects of just about every movie he makes, which sort of sounds visionary and pretentious at the same time. But if it’s made one thing clear by now, it’s that Korine is not worried about how he comes across. Whether a good one or not, he’s a true artist out to express visions, not elevate our vision of him. He is, I agree, “the real deal”.