Saturday, July 27, 2013
Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 9/19/07 w/ Additional Edits.
Written and directed by Harmony Korine, Gummo is a film about various lives in a small town in Ohio. Ravaged by a tornado back in 1974, the various people that included oddballs, kids, and other outsiders trying to live their daily lives in this poor, decaying small town. Shot in Nashville, Tennessee as Xenia, Ohio, the film is an unconventional portrait of the lives of various people in this poor small town. With an all-star cast that includes Chloe Sevigny, Jacob Reynolds, Nick Sutton, Jacob Sewell, Darby Dougherty, Carisa Gluckman, Max Perlich, and from Terrence Malick's legendary film Days of Heaven, Linda Manz. Gummo is a harrowing yet powerful film from Harmony Korine.
In the decaying town of Xenia, Ohio where many years ago, a tornado came across the land killing anything in their sight. Now in ruins and with many of residents living in poor neighborhoods, two young boys named Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) and the teenage Tummler (Nick Sutton) are riding through their decayed town looking for stray cats. When they find a black cat, they were about to kill it only to realize it belongs to a little girl named Darby (Darby Dougherty). Darby lives with her older, blonde sisters Dot (Chloe Sevigny) and Helen (Clarisa Gluckman) as they hope to find some decent men in their town by putting electrical tape on their nipples. After killing some cats, Solomon and Tummler give the cats to a supermarket owner named Huntz (Wendell Carr) who gives them a bit of money and glue but also tells them that they have competition.
Another young man killing cats, but with poison, is Jarrod (Daniel Martin) who is doing this to help take care of his dying, catatonic grandmother (Berniece M. Duvall). Meanwhile, Bunny Boy (Jacob Sewell) is also finding dead cats while he also encounter two kids (James Lawhorn and James Glass) as cowboys where he pretends to play dead. Dot, Helen, and Darby meet with their friend Ellen (Ellen M. Smith) as they look at a boy named Eddie (Charles Matthew Coatney) playing tennis as he talks about his newfound concentration thanks to ritalin. Hoping to escape from their current troubles with Jarrod, Solomon and Tummler turn to Cole (Max Perlich) to have sex with his daughter Cassiday (Bernadette Resna) where Tummler talks to Cole about his own frustration with the world.
The next day as Solomon gets ready to kill more cats, he exercises while his mother (Linda Manz) talks about his late father while tap dancing on his old shoes and joking with him with a gun. Tummler's father (James David Glass) also muses on his late wife as he and Tummler have a night of drunken arm wrestling contests and such. After their time with their respective parents, Solomon and Tummler decide to find Jarrod at his home only to have an encounter with Jarrod's comatose grandmother. Dot, Helen, and Darby also suffer when their cat Foot-Foot is gone where they have an encounter with a man named Terry (Jeffrey Baker). With things in Xenia still being the same, no one knows if things will ever change.
While the film has no conventional narrative or a plot with the entire narrative being very lose that includes random scenes involving a midget (Bryant L. Crenshaw), two skinhead brothers (Jason and Casey Guzak), an Albino lady (Donna Brewster), and various people through home video and such. Yet, the film is about environment and how people live in this decay town. While the script seems to be written as sketches or ideas, it's clear that Harmony Korine is trying to make this film as a part-documentary, part drama with a story. While the loose narrative that features narration from Solomon, Tummler, and various people, it's clear that the film reflects the slow, painstaking recovering of this town and how people live through this decay. While audiences might be shocked by the behavior of the character including some of the language, it only confirms the surroundings they're living in.
While the script is loose, Korine's direction is far more compelling with his shaky camera work to convey some sense of action, whether it has the dreamlike quality of Terrence Malick in some sequences to more experimental, cinema verite style where anything goes and he captures these moments. The use of old super 8 footage, video interviews, and everything gives the film a unique look and feel as if it was documentary-like. While the film has a fragmented, episodic-like feel, it manages to work to convey the sense of sadness in all of the characters and their surroundings. Overall, it's Korine and his earnest, eerie direction that manages to be a real high-point for the film.
Cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffer brings a wonderfully enchanting look to the film with its colorful yet grainy-like photography that emphasizes the film's unique look in terms of its beauty mixed in with ugliness. Editor Christopher Tellefsen brings a wonderfully stylized approach to the edits with jump-cuts, slow-motion cuts, and the use of stock footage to bring Korine's vision to life. Production designer David Doernberg and art director Amy Beth Silver bring a wonderful look to some of the homes, notably Solomon's home that is filled with a lot of stuff as if the house hadn't been cleaned including in one scene, bacon taped to a bathroom wall.
Sound designer Steve Borne brings a wonderful approach to the film's sound including the use of distortion for some of the film's music to convey the sense of chaos. Serving as costume designer is none other than Chloe Sevigny who brings a look that is definitely authentic to the film. With t-shirts of metal bands whether its something as extreme as Slayer or something as cheesy as Poison. Even some of the clothes Sevigny and her cast mates would wear would confirm the idea of the environment the characters are living in. The film's soundtrack consists a wide variety of tracks whether its music from a music box, Madonna's Like a Prayer, Roy Orbison's Cryin', or some accordion music. Then the soundtrack would have something as totally extreme as Scandinavian black metal to convey the film's anarchist tone.
The film's cast is definitely unique and memorable for the various segments they're in whether it's people like Jason and Casey Guzak, Lara Tosh as a young girl who finds a lump on her breast, James Lawhorn, James Glass, Wendell Carr, Ellen M. Smith, Charles Matthew Coatney, Daniel Martin, Bernadette Resna, James David Glass, Bryant L. Crenshaw, Berniece M. Duvall, Donna Brewster, Jeffrey Baker, Mark Gonzalez as a chair wrestler, and a cameo from Harmony Korine in a scene with Bryant L. Crenshaw. Though many of those people were non-actors, the performances they give felt real and true to what the film represents.
Other memorable small performances from Darby Dougherty, Carisa Gluckman, and Chloe Sevigny are great with Dougherty having a great scene involving a picture of Burt Reynolds with a mustache while Gluckman and Sevigny bring life to the role of young women trying to find good men in the poor town they're in. Max Perlich as a memorable scene as man who uses his own daughter for prostitution which is very disturbing as Perlich looks nearly unrecognizable in how he tries to please all involved. Linda Manz, in her first film role since the early 80s, gives a very memorable performance despite being in only two scenes. Manz's performance is a reminder of how much she's been missed over the years as she makes a wonderful impression though after this and a few other appearances that included David Fincher's The Game in the late 90s and hasn't done much since.
Despite having no dialogue, Jacob Sewell makes a wonderful impression as the Bunny Boy wearing a bunny hood as he does a lot of things many people wouldn't like, even in the film's opening scenes. Nick Sutton is great as Tummler, who muses on his own life and his own alienation while trying to find things to kill time, even if he has to do something bad. Sutton's performance is very layered and complex to unveil his emotions. Equally as great is Jacob Reynolds as Solomon, who also is trying to understand the world while still maintaining a sense of innocence, even around his mother. It's a fantastic performance in how he observes everything around him including the world around him, particularly through his imaginative narration.
Gummo is a compelling yet enchanting debut feature film from Harmony Korine. Those new to the auteur will no doubt find this film as essential though Kids is the best place to start. Anyone interested in unconventional filmmaking, abstract narratives, and performances that are non-traditional will no doubt enjoy this film. Particularly for its take on poor, Middle-class America. In the end, Gummo is truly one of the 1990s most under-appreciated films from one of cinema's strangest auteurs, Harmony Korine.
Harmony Korine Films: Dogme #6-Julien Donkey Boy - (Mister Lonely) - (Trash Humpers) - Spring Breakers - (The Trap (2016 film))
© thevoid99 2013