Film Review: GUMMO [Harmony Korine Retrospective] (1997)

Film Review: GUMMO [Harmony Korine Retrospective] (1997)

Sep 16, 2018

IMDb: Gummo (1997)
Director: Harmony Korine
Stars: Nick Sutton, Jacob Sewell, Lara Tosh

Unleashed upon indie moviegoers in 1997, Harmony Korine’s now cult classic “Gummo”  is quickly approaching  it’s 20 year anniversary this November. In an era that was churning out successful Indie auteurs at breakneck speed, filmmakers such as Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, and Richard Linklater, to name a few were all becoming well known for their films made on small budgets (compared to the typical Hollywood fare at the time) and their ability to tell stories that were a breath of fresh air to cinephiles and movie lovers who grew tired of the same old fodder Hollywood was cranking out.

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In an era that was churning out successful Indie auteurs at breakneck speed, filmmakers such as Kevin Smith, Quentin Tarantino, and Richard Linklater, to name a few were all becoming well known for their films made on small budgets (compared to the typical Hollywood fare at the time) and their ability to tell stories that were a breath of fresh air to cinephiles and movie lovers who grew tired of the same old fodder Hollywood was cranking out.

Harmony Korine had successfully made a small name for himself 2 years prior when the controversial and well received indie KIDS became one of the most talked about films in years.

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Korine had penned the original screenplay in the span of 2 weeks, at age 19 for Larry Clark. The acclaim from the film helped Korine secure financing for his directorial debut, Gummo.

Gummo is without a doubt, a film unlike any other in modern cinema. It is nearly impossible to categorize. When I had first bought it on VHS, it was in the “Cult”, or “Arthouse” sections, which are two very broad categories, and Gummo is much more that.

The film is set in present day Xenia, Ohio, a town that never recovered from a tornado that hit a couple decades prior. The events are being narrated to us by one of our protagonists, Solomon (Jacob Reynolds), who alongside his best friend Tummler (Nick Sutton), two delinquent teens who spend their days riding their BMX bikes, killing stray cats to sell to a grocer to earn a few dollars, and huffing glue. There are 3 other main characters we encounter who are Helen (Carissa Glucksman), Dot (Chloe Sevigny), and Darby (Darby Dougherty), 3 sisters living in Xenia.

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It’s a bit of a stretch to call anyone a main character in this film, because of its structure. I suppose a better term would be “characters with the most screen time”. Again, this is merely due to the way Korine has structured the film, with no actual story, no changes in the characters throughout, leaving the viewer without attachment to any characters whatsoever, which is fine, as it seems his intention at times, to take a voyeuristic approach.

Korine has completely abandoned the classic 3 act narrative structure, in favor of giving us a hypnotic blend of vignettes, absurd colorful characters,poems, jokes, and anecdotes ,often narrated over random striking imagery lensed by the late Jean -Yves Escoffier to a degree of undeniable beauty. An array of film stocks are used (still Polaroid film included), and bleed with intense beauty. Often, the shots that do follow the actors in some semblance of story, are pure juxtaposition. A good portion of situations which in the setting and circumstance alone are downright depressing, are infused with life with beautifully composed shots.

For me, Gummo will always a film that I can literally say not only changed the way I think about film, but about various aspects in life.

Trailer: