There's no plot to speak of, its just an insight into underclass America. The filthy circumstances these people live in will make you cringe, as will their moronic forms of socialising, which includes cheered-on chair smashing.
The film is certainly laced with pretension, and there are pointless scenes that just reek of 'art-house'. I can understand why some people wouldn't like it; it's non-linear, quirky narrative is very likely to polarise audiences. However, I found the veritable aberrance of the film undeniably interesting.
While 'Gummo' isn't that good, its candid realism makes its uneventful narrative quite engrossing; it may well be the most peculiar film you ever see.
Throughout the film, I found myself saying, "Harmony Korine is the poet of chaos." There's never been anyone like him, and I suspect there never will be another.
"Gummo" contains a lot of what appears to be documentary footage taken in and around the town of Xenia, Ohio. Interspersed with this are scenes with actors who play the townsfolk. In most cases, Korine appears to use non-professional actors, plus Chloe Sevigny, who has a small but indelible part. Sevigny at the time had not yet become an established actress, having just appeared in "Kids," her debut film. Now of course she's gone onto major acting roles, such as on HBO's "Big Love." For "Gummo," she dyed her hair and eyebrows platinum blonde, and the effect is mesmerizing and frightening. Also unforgettable is the scene where she appears topless with black electrical tape on her nipples, a la Wendy O. Williams.
But the film is mostly focused on the troubled boys of the town, who go around torturing cats and each other. Korine trains his freakshow gaze also on the many people of the town who are semi-retarded. It becomes hard to define retarded (by which I mean mentally disabled in the clinical sense) when so many of the intellectually normal townspeople appear to have chosen to remain at the mental level of a retarded person. Korine appears to be very interested in this social phenomenon, as I have been in my own life. I call it the bizarre phenomenon of voluntary retardation.
Korine blurs the line between the clinically and voluntarily retarded in a disturbing way by including some footage of disabled people. Especially shocking is the footage of a woman who appears to have Down Syndrome playing a garishly made-up prostitute who is pimped out to the local teenage boys by her brother. That is the one scene in the film that brought tears to my eyes.
Anyone from a lower-class background (such as I) will recognize many of the faces and imagery here. Finally an artist has come along who stares into the face of lower-class horror and doesn't look away.
There are substantial weaknesses in the film, however, particularly in the direction of the boys who play the biggest roles. First is the young boy with the weird hairdo who is pictured in the movie poster; the other is his older sidekick. These inseparable boys are played by semi-trained actors who appear to have no idea what they are doing or what the film is trying to say. They walk around awkwardly, seemingly saying to themselves, "Why does this wacky director force me to wear this ridiculous hairdo?" Nothing they do seems authentic. Either Korine intentionally worked this awkwardness into the film for a distancing effect, to archly differentiate it from the more documentary-like footage, or he just did not know what he was doing with these actors. I tend to think it was the latter.
Also problematic is Korine's relentlessly negative view. As troubled as the under-class is, it is not 100% screwed up. Korine's view is so skewed toward the negative that at times it seems polemical and limited. In my mind, the hallmark of a great artist is a holistic view. Korine may be capable of that, but he does not exhibit it here. (He does exhibit it in his 2008 near-masterpiece "Mister Lonely," where he has the guts to show love.)
There is no doubt, though, that "Gummo" more brilliantly captures the horrific aspects of the impoverished rural under-class than anything that ever came before it. Highly recommended for fans of true art who have a strong stomach for nihilism.
The movie itself is not bad, the first scene is "artistic cool", but it´s nothing but a waste of time.
Another independent American film. Another movie to shock. Chloe Sevigny and her typical roles.
*I´m not missing the whole point as some people can say. I am only tired of these "innovative, rare, amazing" films.
They could've done a hell of a lot more with the rabbit character; I rather enjoyed his parts. And the editing, too. It really captured the family home-video feel. On the other hand, the music, while perhaps necessary, rather irritated me.
I have to be honest...I'm not sure how I feel about this one? And I'm a big fan of "quirky", which this film definitely is.
Part of me really enjoyed the visually sporadic "fly on the wall" feel that it has, while part of me feels like at least a slight narrative would have been nice.
Part of me felt like I was watching someone's (mostly well filmed) sometimes awkwardly personal home movies, while at other times I felt like things that were being done and said were a bit too contrived to be even feign realism.
I almost feel like trying to tie it all together by saying it's "a town living in the aftermath of a tornado" almost weakens the experience of the film as it really has no bearing on what follows and leads you to look for some sort of narrative which isn't there.
I think if it would have been approached as simply a look at "poor white trash" in "any small town U.S.A.", it would have been a much more powerful experience.
Harmony Korine has been hit with some pretty harsh criticism ever since he wrote "Kids" for Larry Clark, who directed it. It doesn't help that his debut as a filmmaker, "Gummo", was met with even more polarized reactions from movie-goers and critics everywhere. Most people think Korine is simply a madman with a camera; intent on shocking us and nothing more. Then, there are others; who believe his films possess a more emotional core. After seeing "Gummo", I can safely say that, for now, I'm on the side of the second group of (mentioned) people; there seems to be more at work here than just a scrapbook of pure shock value.
In fact, I'm going to come right out and say it; I liked Harmony Korine's "Gummo". I did some research on the filmmaker before pursuing any of his cinematic offerings; and I feel that this film is nothing more than an honest representation and approximation of the man's trippy, weird imagination. It's a difficult film to like, but you know where I'm coming from; it's also a difficult film to simply dismiss. Yes, it has all the necessities of a glorified exploitation film, and that may be all it is, to most people. But to me, there's a deeper human understanding; if only in specific scenes. But then again, "Gummo" is a film that imitates life; in the sense that it is made up of little scenes that tend to have little connection to one another. It's different, but in my opinion, it's also a little bit special.
Xenia, Ohio was struck by a disastrous tornado in the year of 1974 that destroyed many lives and many homes. Korine's central story exists purely in fantasy; in his world, the town never recovered. The tornado left behind countless oddballs, borderline-psychopaths, junkies, drunkards, and sexual deviants. Just about every character would feel out of place in the world that we live in today; but I imagine that's one of the many reasons why Korine decided to make the film in the first place.
For most of the movie, we follow Solomon (Jacob Reynolds) and his badass buddy Tummler (Nick Sutton). The scene that begins the film's central narrative is enough to provoke a few faint-hearted folks to exit the room or theater and walk far, far away; it involves the drowning of cats. What's the purpose of this? We learn shortly after that Solomon and Tummler have been selling the dead carcasses of these poor animals to the local butcher in exchange for money; yes, they are THAT desperate.
What follows is a series of random, often unconnected and irrelevant events involving the other residents of the town. There's two blonde-haired sisters (one played by Chloe Sevigny); a strange kid wearing only bathing suit trunks, tennis shoes, and bunny ears to cover his head; a brief vignette involving a particularly romantic albino; and a young woman with Down syndrome whose brother is pimping her in exchange for extra cash.
I recognize that this is a crazy, bizarre, disturbing, unnerving, perhaps even pointlessly shocking movie; but to me, it was never a boring one, and that counts for something in my book. There aren't many films that I've seen, in which the filmmaker behind the material decided it was time for something completely different and ended up boring me to tears; I often have deep, unending sympathy for the ambitious. In a whole, Korine's first film isn't even THAT ambitious; not in his eyes, and not in mine. It's a view of the world through his twisted, fragmented eyes; and there are as many odd moments as there are surprisingly moving and humane ones. Consider a scene in which an intoxicated loner (played by Korine) pulls some moves on an openly gay midget. I liked that scene a lot; and there isn't much more that I can say about it.
Another scene that really stood out for me came towards the end; the somewhat famed bathtub scene. Praised by Werner Herzog for the bacon taped to the walls surrounding the tubs; the scene, or vignette as one should probably say, depicts Solomon bathing in filthy water as his mother brings him dinner and eventually dessert, and also washes his hair with shampoo. There's something oddly beautiful and perhaps even symbolic/metaphorical about the film; and I'd be happy to dissect it one of these days. "Gummo" is a film that I will gladly watch again sometime because of its many moments of beauty; I was simply unable to resist it. On the contrary, I cannot say that I recommend it, for I fear most people will find it utterly and helplessly pointless in what it does (whatever that is, right!). However, there's always a chance that you might get as absorbed in Korine's imperfect, dangerous world just like I did; and once you're in, there's no getting out. "Gummo" is, more or less, truly provocative.
Hypnotizing, offbeat beauty is interwoven with disturbing imagery in Harmony Korine's directorial debut. In all of its pseudo-dreamlike weirdness Gummo carries the aura of an intensely personal piece. That is what I believe makes it a compelling and maybe even great film. Completely disregarding structure, Korine's series of vignettes imbeds us in a painful and haunting environment throughout the duration of its runtime. Strong use of music and visuals make this an unforgettable experience, and it makes us feel things in a way that movies rarely do.