The fact that I’ve only seen Gummo once, when it came out in 1997, and yet remember it vividly- despite it being an abstract, fairly plot-less and meandering film about American trailer trash- says everything about this absolutely cinematic, low-budget indie film.

Let’s back up; I hated Kids, the “edgy” 90’s film that brought Harmony Korine into the spotlight. It was exploitative, voyeuristic without any redeeming quality whatsoever, a pretentious abuse of power directed by hack photographer Larry Clark who, in retrospect, butchered what might have been a fascinating film with a screenplay written by Korine. I say that only in retrospect, because everything Harmony Korine has directed himself has been amazing, though you’d never think that by reading his plot synopses. Spring Breakers? A bunch of messed up kids go on a shooting spree during Spring Break. Who would want to waste their time with that?

I would, because Korine has an eye for life so unique that he makes the mundane and grotesque vibrant and beautiful. Like John Watters, Harmony isn’t looking to exploit social freaks while he stands outside their petri dish looking in through a microscope- he’s right there in the petri dish with them. He is one of the freaks; they’re his people, and he converts their mundane existence into visual poetry. Really. Korine gives them dignity, and reminds you that these people are human beings trying to make it through life just like anyone else, even if they are much more dysfunctional. Korine pulls no punches in these grim, depressing, ugly depictions of America, yet the beauty he gives them is undeniable.

Gummo is all of that. In an era that loves to speak of white privilege, the film reminds us that the underbelly of America’s capitalist system doesn’t care about skin color… and that even among the White Trash, human life deserves to be preserved. Harmony Korine is its archivist.

2 thoughts on “Gummo

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